Whisper of the Heart (DVD)
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Jason, Bellville. 2 October 2009
There’s a scene in this movie that I will not hesitate to list among my all-time favourites in anime. This puts it in the company of, amongst others:
1) Major Kusanagi’s diving sequence in Ghost in the Shell;
2) The opening action sequence in Appleseed;
3) The highway pursuit in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
You would think then that the scene in question is also some elaborate action set piece, or maybe an effects-laden moment of surrealism. Actually, it’s a scene in which the main character Shizuku follows a cat from the station across town. It is accompanied by a country folk tune that gradually builds up in tempo as she closes in on her goal and as her curiosity is aroused ever and ever more. It’s just perfect.
This is a Studio Ghibli production, which would explain the attention to the smaller details. And as you watch, you’ll realise that few others can take a simple premise and flesh it out so beautifully. The plot revolves around the aforementioned Shizuku, a schoolgirl who is also something of a bookworm. She is intrigued by a fellow pupil, a boy she will eventually come to know as Seiji. You see, she has something of a voracious appetite for reading, but his is even bigger. And in getting to know him, she comes to realise just how complacent she is with her life and the direction she wants to follow. And that is the crux of the movie: a tale of self-discovery.
Everything is fleshed out, from Shizuku’s odd but loving family to her classmates who get their turn to shine when Seiji pays Shizuku a visit in her classroom. But the biggest co-star is the town in which the story plays out. This is no mere painted background; it is a living breathing environment. There are no static figures; people move and go about their business, and when Shizuku happens to run past them, some will turn to look at her in curiosity or annoyance. The town is something she interacts with, as can be seen when she is walking along a steep uphill road and she actually leans into slope. It’s the attention devoted to details like these that I appreciate because it speaks of animators who are doing their utmost to draw the viewers into their world instead of the bare minimum.
I do have a gripe with this title though and it is with the cover art of the UK version. Looking at that cover, you’d think that this is more of a fantasy title. Which it isn’t. In fact, the bit on display appears in the movie for a grand total of thirty seconds, as part of a dream. I suspect that the marketers for this one were aware that when much of their target UK market thinks of Studio Ghibli, the first name that comes to mind is Hayao Miyazaki. And he uses plenty of magical and fantasy elements in his work, so let’s put something magical on the cover to lure them in thinking that he had a significant hand in this production. Don’t get me wrong, the cover isn’t bad; it just that the Aussie cover shows a much more substantial and significant event from the film, while the US version bests both of them by providing a most elegant summary of the story in a single picture.
But I’m just splitting hairs over all of this. The bottom line is that this is a remarkably good movie regardless of the cover art. It’s fresh, it’s honest and it is real. It’s just so full of life. And besides, who knew a country and western score could be used to such good effect in an anime?
Region 2 - Europe (except Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus), Middle East, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Greenland, French Overseas departments and territories.