“Whisper of the Heart” may seem like an odd favorite movie for a macho man like myself, but it truly is one of my absolute favorites and speaks to me on a very deep level. I can’t even begin to count how many times this movie has lifted me out of the doldrums of life. It is absolutely beautiful in every possible way. Here’s the gist:
A junior high Girl is terrified to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, but when a mysterious cat leads her to an out of the way antique shop, she’s swept up into her own real life fairy tale.
Written and storyboarded by the greatest animation director of all time (and in my opinion the greatest filmmaker of all time, live action or animation), Hayao Miyazaki, and directed by his protege Yoshifumi Kondo, this leisurely paced coming of age story is a masterpiece of storytelling about storytelling. The main character, Shizuku, is every creative person ever, desperately wanting to follow her dream but terrified of failure.
It’s not until she meets an unlikely mentor and a boy her own age pursuing his own dream that she gathers the nerve to actually try following her heart. Through her mentorship by this older man and her love/hate relationship with the boy, she’s pulled out of her fear. If only we all had similar driving forces and encouragers behind us.
There are a couple cultural hang ups American viewers might run into, but Disney has done a fantastic job in the translation and dub of this Japanese film. One cultural difference is in the way school is structured in Japan, and since so much of the story surrounds Shizuku’s decision to go to high school or not, the uninitiated may take pause. In Japan, you have to test into high school, and it’s not mandatory to even go to high school. High schools also have specialities, such as arts or science, so functionally, deciding what high school to go to in Japan is like deciding what college to go to here in the US.
Besides minor things like that, this is a universal story. Teen love triangles. Studying for tests. Pursuing dreams. There’s not a single person on earth who wouldn’t identify with this story on some level, and if you don’t, you are the exception and you’re a little bit strange.
Like I said, Disney’s American dub is fantastic with Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale (who’s actually good in this), Jean Smart, and Harold Gould filling out the main roles. Now, I do take issue with Disney using named stars instead of good voice actors for their Miyazaki dubs. Name actors are more expensive and serve no purpose as far as marketing this type of film. But when you get the awesome Cary Elwes to play the voice of a cat in a dream sequence, you earn my forgiveness.
I love this movie. From the classic Studio Ghibli animation to the the music to the story itself, I can’t find a thing bad to say about this movie (not that I’ve tried very hard). Miyazaki’s films are all beautiful, but this one is especially poignant, I think, not only for the pursue-your-dreams theme but also in the tragedy that followed its production. Miyazaki had intended for Kondo, the director, to be his successor as far as his animation company was concerned, but Kondo died from an aneurysm only a couple years later at age forty-seven. “Whisper of the Heart” was his only film.
Everyone I’ve showed this film to has been blown away. They go into it with no idea what they’re about to experience, and by the time the film is done, most are near tears. And this film is NOT just for fans of animation. Like I said, everyone can love this movie; adults, kids, families, everyone. I can’t think of a movie that moves my heart quite this.
What’s the whisper of your heart? What’s that dream you’ve been too scared to follow? Or have you followed your dream? How’s that going for you? When you think of animation, do you think of kids movies? Do you think adults can still enjoy animation? Do you think adults could use more animated movies target at us?