Ghibli Month: Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the HeartTsunderin: Whereas Only Yesterday was the Ghibli film I wanted to see the most, Whisper of the Heart is indisputably the Ghibli film I love the most. I barely know any people that remember this film, let alone talk about it, but I think there’s something beautiful in its understated glory. Perhaps my love for this film is what helped me love Only Yesterday: the films share a soft-spoken nature and a realistic message about growing up and deciding your own path. But look at me already digressing before I say anything about the plot.

Shizuku Tsukishima is quickly reaching the end of her junior high career and has vowed to read twenty books before the end of summer (instead of focusing her attention on studying for the entrance exams). Shizuku adores fairytales, and is constantly intrigued not by the stories, but by the fact that every book she checks out has been previously checked out by one Seiji Amasawa. More and more Shizuku begins idealizing what the well-read person could be like, but is pulled away from her daydreams by school, friends, and her obligations; one of which is writing the lyrics to a graduation song.

Despite everyone else reassuring her that her lyrics are moving, Shizuku can’t help but feel that her skills as a writer just aren’t good enough. Her worries are reenforced when a boy happens upon her rough draft and calls her words ‘corny’. From that point on, he becomes her mortal enemy—or at least the target of all of her hatred.

One day while heading the library Shizuku comes upon a cat who happens to be riding the train just like her. Enthralled with this vagabond feline, she follows it across the city until it leads her to an affluent neighborhood and, more importantly, an antique shop. It’s there she meets Shiro Nishi, a kindly old man who shares her penchant for the fantastical, and the Baron, a statue of a cat. Much to her chagrin however, she also finds out that her enemy is Nishi’s grandson. He is also Seiji Amasawa, which ruins any romantic notions she had of him earlier… or so she’d like to pretend.

She becomes closer to Seiji, but they both realize that their timing is terrible: in a couple days, Seiji is heading to Italy for two months to refine his violin-making skills. If that goes well, Seiji will then complete his training over a ten-year period. Despite Shizuku supporting him, this not only brings her a sense of loneliness, but also a sense of inferiority. In seeing that Seiji has his life so put together already, she begins to worry that she has nothing to offer the world and is not good enough for him. Thus, she makes a challenge to herself: she will write a novel in the two months Seiji is gone. If she doesn’t complete the novel, or if the novel is terrible, it will prove that she just isn’t good enough for Seiji. Luckily she already found a muse in the Baron and an audience in Nishi, who made Whisper of the Heart Baronher promise that he would be the first one to read her story.

She throws herself into her writing, ignoring all else. Studying goes undone. Food goes uneaten. For those two months she lives and breathes her writing and it shows. That is to say, her test scores go down the shitter. Due in part to these scores and in part to her seclusion from everyone, Shizuku’s family becomes worried and stages an intervention of sorts. Despite the prodding of Shizuku’s sister to force Shizuku to do better in school (see: force her to stop writing), their father takes a different, and somewhat unexpected approach. Rather than belittling his daughter for ignoring her studies, he puts his faith into her and supports her— although he does make the stipulation that she must eat dinner with the family. With this reassurance, Shizuku finishes her story and presents it to Nishi.

After he reads it, Shizuku comes to the realization that she must hone her skill to become the best she can. For Seiji, this meant that he had to travel to Italy. For her, this means that she must return to her studies so she can get into a good school, a school that will teach her the nuances of writing that she is unfamiliar with and unpracticed in. To top off her journey of self-realization, Seiji comes to visit her one day earlier than she was expecting. In the light of the sunrise they profess their love for each other and that they want to spend their lives supporting each other and their dreams. It might be a little bit of a corny ending, but I feel like it really ties the whole story arc together.

MadameAce: While I didn’t have that many high expectations for this movie going into it—for whatever reasons—it didn’t take that long to fall in love with the story and the characters. Whisper of the Heart has a lot of care in it, as I would expect from any film from Ghibli—but between the animation, the music, the characters, it was such a wonderful watch. I also found it a lot more relatable than many of the other films, even ones as dear to me as Totoro.

Shizuku is a character that speaks to many young girls. It’s not often that female protagonists are portrayed as bookish types or as aspiring writers. There were very few instances when I couldn’t remember being in’s shoes. Right down to the part where Shizuku’s begins failing her classes because she gets so caught up in her writing: something I remember happening to me all too well. Furthermore, her parents have the reaction most children want their parents to have to this situation. They are understanding that this is important to Shizuku and they support her. I like that the movie doesn’t tell its audience that wanting to write is bad, even if it’s affecting your grades negatively. Instead, Shizuku comes to the realization that she cannot neglect her grades in light of her writing, but that doesn’t mean she should quit her passion.

Much like Kiki’s Delivery Service, this is a coming of age story. I’m not generally a fan, since I feel that these stories are often tiring and overdone, with the same message repeated ad nauseum. However, in Whisper of the Heart, I will gladly make an exception. Shizuku’s course through the movie is what a lot of people go through growing up, and for me, it was creepily almost an exact replica. The movie is uncannily realistic, but unlike real life, it’s also fanciful, in that the ending implies that everything will work out for both Shizuku and Seiji if they work hard at their goals.

The setting, I feel the need to add, takes place in Tokyo. For me, personally, this adds to the nostalgia, as I could easily recognize some of the places Shizuku travels to. It is also remarkably well animated, and there is not a single non-beautiful moment in this film. Furthermore, there are some settings Shizuku finds herself in that many Ghibli fans might recognize from a later and much more well-known film, The Cat Returns. We’ll get to The Cat Returns later this month, but it is an addition—not a sequel—to Whisper of the Heart, and it is actually the story that Shizuku’s writing. I had heard about the connection between the two movies beforehand, though I never watched Whisper of the Heart until just recently. Both these movies can easily stand independently of each other. I think it says a lot about Shizuku’s character and the depth going on in this film that The Cat Returns exists as well. If you are a fan of The Cat Returns, then Whisper of the Heart is definitely a must-watch for you.

Tsunderin: While this is a coming of age movie, I feel like the message of this film is more timeless than that of a usual film of this genre. At the end of the day, Whisper of the Heart is a film by artists for artists. No matter what one may do—artist is a very flexible term, after all—there comes a point in everyone’s life where we struggle to figure out what we want to do. What that ‘one thing’ we have to offer to the world is. However, when we find that thing it’s so easy to get discouraged because we’re not instantly the best at it. We feel insecure, like we’re not good enough, and because of that it’s almost too enticing just to give up altogether. But what makes a successful artist is the drive to push past that feeling and realize that no, you’re not going to be the best at it and  you may never be the best at it, but if you’re willing to work hard at refining your craft, as long as you enjoy it it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

This is why I think the scene of Nishi showing Shizuku the geode is the most important scene in the movie. An uncut geode looks like nothing more than a regular rock on the outside, but it holds so much untapped beauty on the inside. In the summarized words of Nishi, if you take the time to polish the gems within yourself, you’ll have something very valuable on your hands.

tumblr_lkhqy2jXor1qehmh1o1_500From these three coming of age movies we’ve had so far, I think it makes a lovely trifecta of things one should keep in mind as they continue to grow up. From Kiki’s we learned that it’s important to keep friends nearby and to do things in life our own way, without worrying about what other people think because it’s our differences that make us truly wonderful. From Only Yesterday we get the reassurance that just because we finish school, or even after we enter the workforce, we don’t have to know what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives. In fact, it’s more important that we keep exploring, searching for those events, places, people, things that truly make our heart happy. Yet, we must also examine why they make us happy. And now from Whisper of the Heart, we learn that we need to nurture not only the skills that make themselves apparent, but also the skills we love to share with others. It may be difficult and take us to places outside of our comfort zone, but the journey will be worth it because our skills will become more sharp and precise, and we’ll learn more about ourselves on the way.

Whisper of the Heart isn’t perfect, though. There are some plot points that aren’t ever resolved within the story, but they’re forgivable. The one I can remember off the top of my head is the love triangle between Shizuku, her best friend Yuko, and their childhood friend Sugimura. There is a climax where Sugimura, who doesn’t realize Yuko has a crush on him, confesses his feelings for Shizuku, but they both decide to drop the idea of a relationship to avoid hurting Yuko.

go Study, You Little Shits

Go Study, You Little Shits

Yet, there’s no follow up. We never see what happens between Yuko and Sugimura, which makes me a little disappointed. However, it’s forgivable because it adds to the realism of the setting: some things in real life just fizzle out and are swept aside for more important things much like this romance. (I’m not saying that Shizuku is intrinsically more important to the setting than Yuko, I’m just saying that in the face of entrance exams I probably wouldn’t want to deal with relationship drama either.)

MadameAce: If there’s one thing about this movie that bothered me, it’s the relationship drama. I can’t say that I like that Shizuku gains her courage to write because she wants to prove herself in Seiji’s eyes. However, she also gives him to strength to improve himself in many ways as well, so I’ll let this point go. Unfortunately, the relationship drama everywhere else just annoyed me. At various points in the film, Shizuku’s friends proclaim that Shizuku loves Seiji when she’s still in the mortal-enemy phase of her relationship with him. Because hate is love, I guess. I remember being in middle school and this being how my fellow classmates would act, but the realism doesn’t make it any less annoying. Throughout watching this movie, I was put off by how often all the girls made big deals about romance and who liked whom.

In many regards, I would also say that this is an accurate portrayal of reality. Girls are constantly told that romance is for them and that they need a man. When Yuko at the beginning of the film is having boy problems—one boy wrote her a love letter, but she has a crush on his friend Sugimura—Shizuku asks her who she’s going to pick. From my perspective, I know she doesn’t have to choose anyone, but societal pressure—especially from her classmates—may tell Yuko otherwise. In this regard, I’m glad that this story is never really resolved, because these things don’t always work out. Something similar also happens to Shizuku. When she rejects Sugimura’s advances, he gets angry and questions whether or not it’s because of another guy. At this point in time, though Shizuku may like Seiji, she doesn’t tell Sugimura that. In fact, she just tells them that they can continue being friends, but nothing more. Probably the worst part of this scene is when Sugimura oversteps his bounds and grabs Shizuku’s arm to prevent her from leaving. The assumption by Sugimura is that if she’s rejecting him, it has to be because of another guy and for no other reason.

I think that all of this is a very accurate portrayal of gender roles. In that regard, I’m glad that it’s a part of the movie, even if it took me a while to come to that conclusion.

Maybe Shizuku wants to prove herself in Seiji’s eyes, but in the end, her strength to write a novel comes from herself and not from him. It’s not a masterpiece when she’s done, but she’s at a good place, and if she keeps going, she can only improve.

Don't Give Up! Even When You Feel Like This!

Don’t give up! Even when you feel like this!

Tsunderin: The creative process is never an easy process to go through; just ask any artist or the thousands of image macros now floating around online describing the same exact thing this movie does. And whereas it’s wonderful to have a community of like-minded folks at varying places on refining their skills, there’s something special about a group of talented people, already presumed to have reached the later stages of this, giving those that may look up to them a metaphorical thumbs up. Even if you’re not seeking to be a writer, an animator, or the other things traditionally linked to Ghibli, there’s something very heartwarming and reassuring when they make a whole movie that basically says, “We’ve all gone through this. Don’t give up!”

True, there are some parts that are corny and may have you rolling your eyes a bit, but I think everyone should watch this film. Watch it several times. For me, this is the best pick-me-up I’ve ever run across; my ‘Eye of the Tiger’. I hope that Whisper of the Heart can inspire all of you as much as it has me.

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About Tsunderin

Greetings and salutations! Feel free to just call me Rin—we’re all friends here, or nemeses who just haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. I’m a video game lover from the womb to the tomb, and Bioware enthusiast until the day they stop making games with amazing characters that I cry over. And while I don’t partake as often as I used to, don’t be surprised to find me poking around an anime or manga every once in a while either. A personal interest for me is characterization in media and how women in particular have been portrayed, are being portrayed, and will be portrayed in the future. I’m not going to mince words about my opinion either.

4 thoughts on “Ghibli Month: Whisper of the Heart

  1. Pingback: Ghibli Month: The Cat Returns | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  2. Very fun to read and thought-provoking review of my favorite movie. Thank you for writing it.

  3. Pingback: The Cat Returns – Movies Studio Ghibli

  4. Pingback: Fanfiction Fridays: How Kiki Brought Home Every One of Ursula’s Paintings by sorcerous_encampment | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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