Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whisper of the Heart

Mimi wo sumaseba; animated drama, Japan, 1995; D: Yoshifumi Kondo, S: Youko Honna, Kazuo Takahashi, Takahashi Tachibana

Teenage girl Shizuki lives with her sister and parents in a small apartment, writing humorous lyrics about Tokyo in her song Concrete Roads, a spoof of Take Me Home, Country Roads. After reading numerous books she finds interesting, Shizuki discovers that all of them were coincidentally read by a certain Seiji. She would like to meet him, but doesn't know anything about him. Until she one day follows a cat and stumbles upon Seiji, who crafts violins. Inspired by his grandfather's toy of a cat Baron, Shizuki finally decides what to do with her life and writes a story about it. Seiji also declares he loves her.

Unlike the fantasy spin-off "The Cat Returns", "Whisper of the Heart" - the only anime film directed by animation expert Yoshifumi Kondo, a staff member of studio Ghibli - is a harmonious and refreshingly sincere realistic story that confined the fantasy elements involving the cat Baron from both films only to a five minute subplot involving the heroine writing a story about him. Written by Hayao Miyazaki, "Whisper" is a semi-biographical slice-of-life story revolving around a teenage artist who finds out what she wants to do with her life and finds her place in the world, extracting a gentle drama in the process and a fine minimalistic portrait of mentality of Tokyo's residents. The minute the viewers hear John Denver's song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (!) in the opening credits, in one of the most unusual musical inclusions in an anime ever, they are engaged and the authors take it from there, sustaining the quality tone until the rather overstretched ending that should have concluded some loose ends sooner since such a one-note film cannot support its running time for so long. The song serves as a leitmotiv throughout "Whisper", even giving the best scene in the film when Shizuki starts singing its lyrics while Seiji is playing the melody on a violine - until his grandfather and his two fellow musicians enter the house and spontaneously start playing the music with them, achieving amazing synergy. A few pale situations aside, this is a worthy and wonderful little film, similarly like Mochizuki's "Ocean Waves"


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