Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Director:  Yoshifumi Kondo
Cast:  Youko Honna, Issei Takahashi, Takashi Tachibana
Plot:  A young girl finds that all the books she chooses in the library have been previously checked out by the same boy.

Genre:  Animation / Drama / Family
Awards:  -
Runtime:  111min
Rating:  PG

Tipped by Hayao Miyazaki to be his successor, Yoshifumi Kondo unfortunately met with an early death.  He left behind Whisper of the Heart, his only film for Studio Ghibli, perhaps the only animation studio in the world truly capable of matching Pixar’s string of quality output.

Written by Miyazaki based on a comic by Aoi Hiragi, the film is a throwback to the realist school of animation popularized by Isao Takahata (the other giant of Ghibli), whose films such as Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and Only Yesterday (1991) provide an “aesthetic template” for Kondo to build upon.

Whisper of the Heart tells the heartwarming story of Shizuku, a young schoolgirl who lives with her parents and an older sister in the city.  She enjoys writing and reading books, often borrowing them from a library nearby.  She later discovers that all the books she has previously borrowed have been checked out by the same person – Seiji Amasawa – a schoolboy who likes her.

Unlike Shizuku, Seiji has a goal in life – to be the best violin maker in the world.  This inspires Shizuku to work on her talent, which is to write stories.  Kondo’s film is fairly conventional but its moral themes of friendship, love, and hope are readily identifiable and easily embraced by viewers, many of whom are likely to take it to heart and propagate “the goodness” that the film espouses.

Kondo’s animation of city dwelling is brought to life through vivid portrayals of minute details that otherwise would have been overlooked by a less curious and observant animator. There is so much to look at that one viewing is not enough to take everything in, let alone appreciating the artistry involved in the making of each frame.

Shizuku is one to fall in love with.  Morally, she has good values and hates to hurt the feelings of her friends.  In one sequence, a boy professes his love for her.  However, it is the same boy that her best friend likes.  She is faced with the dilemma of hurting her best friend’s feelings or that of the boy. 

Kondo brings the struggles of a young girl down to a level anyone would be able to empathize as she copes with the challenges that life throw at her.  Whisper of the Heart is a fine film about self-discovery.  It is an optimistic one that gives us one more good reason to aim for a better future, and to learn what makes us human.  Pity this would be Kondo’s final film.

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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