My Favorite Movies #3: Whisper of the Heart

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.

The Baron

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?

10 responses to “My Favorite Movies #3: Whisper of the Heart

    • 7 would probably enjoy it. 4 would probably get bored. Nothing inappropriate just a little slow. Ponyo has A LOT more going on. This is a lot of slow, more introspective narrative stuff. It’s about the characters, not the fantasy.

  1. When I think of animation, I always think it’s a kid’s movie. But ever since Pixar started doing movies, I can’t help but want to see them and it seems like they are geared more toward grown ups than kids. I don’t think kids would get half the jokes. So in Japan, they don’t have to go to high school? I never knew that. That is so weird. I watched this movie right after you talked about it on twitter and the animation really is beautiful. It was a great story.

    • It’s sad, I think, that animation is geared so overwhelmingly toward kids. Or if it’s geared toward adults, it’s just disgusting, inappropriate crap. Animation is a MEDIUM not a genre. It’s used to tell stories, and some stories work better in animation. Even for adults.

  2. If you like Hayao Miyazaki, you may want to watch “Grave of the Fireflies”. Mr. Miyazaki seems to be a pacifist and explores the effects of war on children in depth in this film. I do not recommend this film for children, since it is pretty dark. But it is an excellent ‘poster movie’ for peace. Be Blessed.

    • I DO NOT recommend “Grave of the Fireflies” AT ALL.

      Miyazaki actually had NO CREDITED INVOLVEMENT in this film. It was written and directed by his mentor and producing partner Isao Takahata, who is not only a pacifist but, based on what I’ve seen of his work, a nihilist as well.

      “Grave of the Fireflies” is totally devoid of hope and purpose. While the animation is beautiful, the story serves one purpose, and that is to be, as you called it, a “poster movie” for peace, and that I will never recommend. Takahata’s other films are equally pointless. I thought “Pom Poko” and “Meet The Yamadas” were both some of the absolute worst films I’ve ever seen, and it’s hard for me to comprehend how the master Miyazaki learned from such a subpar storyteller as Takahata.

      Pacifism is objectively pro-Evil. We live in a world at war, not by choice, but by the very nature of REALITY. Evil is real, and it must be opposed. Evil does not care about “peaceful resistance”. It does not care about rational debate. It cares about only one thing: The complete destruction of all that is GOOD. If we do not resist Evil, we are allowing it to exist and flourish and grow. We MUST make war against evil, and therefore, Pacifism is objectively pro-Evil.

      I do not mean to belittle your choice in movies with this reply. My intent is merely to head off a dangerous path of thought that you spurred, and I thought this was a good opportunity to do so for the many who may think as you do.

      • Hi! In reply to your latest post, first: Thanks for the clarification on the writer/director. I have a Studio Ghibli collection, and was under the erroneous impression that it was a Hayao Miyazaki film.
        Second: I recommended the film because of its beautiful animation, not because of its pacifist/nihilist objectives. I do agree with you on your views regarding our world at war, fighting Evil. I spent 4 years in the army to that effect. 🙂
        Third: No offense was taken, as each of us is entitled to our own opinions; and lastly: Thanks again for a lucid and intelligent response. Far too often, people make aspersions to one’s character because of one’s opinions, simply because they disagree. So I appreciate that you obviously put a lot of thought in your answer. Be Blessed.

      • W00T! Thank you for your service. Would love your continuing thoughts as this blog goes on. (And yeah, the Ghibli stuff can get a little confusing, especially after it’s been imported and tweeked by H’wood.)

      • Hello again! Just wanted to say that I have not watched “Pom Poko” yet, but will do so, just to see if I am in agreement with your assessment. I did watch “The Yamadas”. Pardon my french, but, “What a piece of poo”!

        Actually, after “Shall we Dansu?”, my favorites are (not necessarily in sequential order): Howl’s Moving Castle (even though Mr. Miyazaki strayed about 175 degrees away from the book with the same title by Diana Wynne Jones); Galaxy Quest (it’s just too funny, having done time as a Trekkie myself!); Idiocracy , which is scary funny, because it seems to be a (Hopefully NOT True!) prophecy regarding the dummification of civilization, and (Oh boy! I’m gonna get it now!) Star Wars: Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith. (My reasons are far too complicated to discuss in a blog. Giggle!)

        So I’m ready. Let me have it! :-}

      • Howl: W00t. Like the movie better. Book seems to fall apart at the end, like she didn’t know how to end it.

        Galaxy Quest: Yes please. My friend Kelli is right with you.

        Idiocracy: Haven’t seen.

        Star Wars 3: …you’re dead to me.

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