Directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s former protégé Yoshifumi Kondo (who sadly died before he could succeed Miyazaki), 1995 film Whisper of the Heart, much like Isao Takahata’s masterpiece Only Yesterday, is a lovingly crafted and well observed story about adolescent self discovery – and to this day remains one of the most remarkable films produced by Studio Ghibli. Like many Ghibli films, Whisper of the Heart’s story focuses on the internal struggle of a young girl (Shizuku) who’s lost and confused by the world which surrounds her.
Shizuku lives a simple life, consumed by her love of literature; a fact made apparent by her self imposed challenge to read twenty books over the course of the summer holidays. One day she notices that all of the books she has recently checked out of her local library have all previously been read by the same person: Seiji Amasawa. Her curiosity as to who this ‘Prince of books’ might be leads her to a choice encounter with a young boy of a similar age. The boy at first infuriates her, but later she discovers that he is in fact Senji.
The two grow closer, but Seiji’s desire to move to Italy to become a violin maker halts the progress of their budding relationship. Their separation (whilst Seiji goes abroad to study) leads Shizuku to the belief that her dream is to be a writer and so attempts to write a novel – aiming to complete it before Seiji returns from his internship in Italy. This escape into the world of fiction leads her on an imaginative journey encompassing powerful issues of love and loss – all in the form of a fantastical tale about the mysterious statuette of a German feline lothario (the Baron) that belongs to Seiji’s grandfather, a magical figurine that belongs as part of a pair.
Unlike most Ghibli films, which successfully make their supernatural realms feel so real, Whisper of the Heart by focusing on the suffocating feelings which accompany teenage romances instead manages to create something magical out of real life. That’s not to say there aren’t any of the trademark flights of the imagination we’ve grown to expect from Ghibli, there are, however, they’re diluted by the numerous breathtaking scenes of real life which brilliantly capture the odd and quirky twists of magic which can be found on a daily basis – whether it be the train hoping domesticated cat which seems to beckon Shizuko to follow it, or the stunning Grandfather clock she discovers which contains a hidden story of unrequited love behind its broken maze of clockwork machinery.
Sadly, Whisper of the Heart’s beautiful tale is slightly dampened by a clichéd ending which wouldn’t seem out of place in a poorly conceived Hollywood romantic comedy, yet should still be commended for achieving what so many teen focused films desperately attempt to recreate – the intoxicating feelings of young love.