Blu-ray Review: Whisper of the Heart | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, June 1st, 2023  

Whisper of the Heart

Studio: GKIDS

Jan 12, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Shizuku is a fourteen-year-old junior high student who spends her summer reading fairy tales rather than cram for her high school entry exam. Seiji is her same age; he longs to become a world-class violin maker, to skip high school entirely and study the craft in Italy. It’s obvious to everyone but our heroine, Shizuku, that the two of them are in love with one another. By the time she figures it out, it’s almost too late for them to be together. As Seiji departs on a two-month trial course in violin-making abroad, Shizuku dedicates herself to writing a fantasy tale, to prove (primarily to herself) that she’s as ambitious and as talented as the boy she’s fallen for.

Released during the summer of 1995, Whisper of the Heart will feel quite different to anyone who only knows Studio Ghibli for their imaginative fantasy films. (The art commonly used to promote the movie – featuring Shizuku flying through the sky with a well-dressed cat – is almost comically misleading in regards to the film’s actual subject matter.) Outside of a few, brief glimpses into the novel that Shizuku is writing, the film is grounded firmly in the normal world of mid-90s Japan, with its long commutes and blocky, VCR-sized laptops. The filmmakers emphatically embraced the traditions of shojo manga, a romantic genre within Japanese comic books that targeted teenage and pre-adolescent girls. What most significantly separates Whisper of the Heart, in this sense, from almost any Hollywood version of the same story, is that the film ends just as the characters admit their love for one another. It’s a romance tale without so much as a kiss.

Though culturally quite different than what you’d expect from an American coming-of-age film, there’s a sweet, youthful love story here that resonates beyond cultural barriers; if you can recall your first adolescent crush, you’ll likely recognize at least some of the feelings our teenage heroes are going through. The feature is also quite gorgeously animated: the characters come to life through carefully-executed facial expression and body language, and the backgrounds are remarkably detailed. The film is not without a few of the trademark, magical Ghibli moments, either: our heroes’ impromptu rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” – a recurring motif throughout Whisper of the Heart – is a heartwarming scene that should linger with most viewers.

Whisper of the Heart was the first feature from director Yoshifumi Kondo. Kondo was a talented animator, having worked on Ghibli classics like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Grave of the Fireflies; it’s said that the heads of the studio were grooming him as the potential in-house successor to Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Sadly, Kondo passed away from an aneurysm just three years later at the young age of 47. Many believe that his tireless work ethic may have contributed to his death, and that his untimely passing was the reason behind Miyazaki’s short-lived retirements. This film is a bittersweet testament to Kondo’s talent; it’s a shame he never lived to deliver a follow-up.

GKIDS’ Blu-ray has strong color and picture quality, and arrives with the option to view the film in the English dub or the original Japanese language track.



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