Shizuku lives a simple life, dominated by her love for stories and writing. One day she notices that all the library books she has have been previously checked out by the same person: ‘Seiji Amasawa’. Curious as to who he is, Shizuku meets a boy her age whom she finds infuriating, but discovers to her shock that he is her ‘Prince of Books’. As she grows closer to him, she realises that he merely read all those books to bring himself closer to her. The boy Seiji aspires to be a violin maker in Italy, and it is his dreams that make Shizuku realise that she has no clear path for her life. Knowing that her strength lies in writing, she tests her talents by writing a story about Baron, a cat statuette belonging to Seiji’s grandfather.
Whisper of the Heart is a lovely, inspiring movie. It is equal thirds love story, coming of age story and a reflection on what it means to be an artist.
The young love between Shizuku and Seiji is rather cute, and it is quite comical to watch Shizuku struggle to align her dreams of the perfect man, with the realities of her heart.
The overall tone of the movie is contemplative, and while there is not a whole lot of action that goes on, a lot happens. It’s almost reminiscent nature forces you to reflect back on your own life and connect with the movie in a deeper way.
I found it extremely interesting to learn about the life of school age children in Japan. Imagine having to write an exam at the end of grade eight that determines which high school you go to and in extension, whether or not you go to university! No wonder these kids wanted nothing to do with school.
Shizuku, though only in junior high, feels like her life is lacking purpose for she hasn’t done anything great with her life so far, and has no grand aspirations. At the same time, she doesn’t feel that school’s all that important, and would much rather spend her days reading. In contrast, we have Seiji who wants to be a violin maker because it is what he truly enjoys doing and is willing to sacrifice a lot to make his dream come true. The family relationships were wonderfully handled, and helped to truly bring the characters to life.
Whisper of the Heart speaks to all writers and artists. It reminds you that the artistic process takes time and effort, and that it is a journey in which not every step is successful.
It is also about the power and magic of books, as it is through books that Shizuku and Seiji meet, and the way books can transport you to other times and places is explored. Stories are truly the backbone of the movie; Shizuku and Seiji are looking to discover their own stories, and it is stories that create the mysterious undertone of the film. For everything truly does have a story.
What most impressed me about this movie was its fully immersive nature, despite being a contemporary film. The universe was so well constructed, and the story so heartfelt and compelling, that you really feel as if you are transported to another world. And every part of it feels magical too, not just because of the touch of magical realism, but because even the most mundane of buildings is approached with such care, that they come alive. It’s extraordinarily well done.
Shiro Nishi’s shop is a particular favourite, and I love the grandfather clock. But the streets of Tokyo are equally magical and intriguing due to the exquisite animation.
I just found out that this was the only film by director Yoshifumi Kondo, which is really sad, because Whisper of the Heart proves that he was a phenomenal film maker and I would have been very interested in seeing other films by him. But what a legacy to leave behind.