Whisper of the Heart, Directed by Yoshifumi Kondō

Review by Michael Sullivan

This film is based on the manga by Aoi Hiiragi [柊 あおい] and was the first Studio Ghibli film to be directed by Yoshifumi Kondō [近藤 喜文]. Sadly Yoshifumi passed away in 1998 at the age of 47. This movie was number one in Japanese cinemas in 1995 and has now been re-released on a Double Play format; this allows the main film to be played on a DVD player with special features available on Blu Ray.

Whisper of the Heart has a very graceful story and the scenes of town life are punctuated with the songs of Cicada insects and the charming song of Take me home, Country Roads. Shizuku Tsukishima is in middle school and during the summer holidays she spends her time constantly reading books, she begins to notice that in the books she takes out of the library the name Seiji Amasawa is frequently appearing. She wonders who he is and what kind of person he is. One morning on the way to the library she notices a cat travelling on the train, when it gets off at a stop she feels compelled to follow it and she is led to an old antique shop where she catches her first glimpse of Baron Humbert von Jikkingen; A small figurine of a cat wearing gentleman’s clothes of the nineteenth century.

As the summer days pass she keeps clashing with a boy, she doesn’t know who he is, but he has a remarkable ability to irritate her. One day she goes to visit the antique shop but it is closed and the boy is there, this time though Shizuku finds it quite easy to talk to him and discovers that the boy is in fact the shop owner’s grandson. He invites her in to look at the Baron again and while looking at the house she discovers the boy has a talent for making violins. As it turns out the boy is Seiji Amasawa and Shizuku is left impressed by his determination to study in Italy and become a master violin maker. In contrast to herself he seems to be ahead, he is sure what he wants to do with his life. Shizuku then makes the decision to try and do her best, and test her ability. While Seji spends two months in Italy she becomes focused on writing a fairy tale about the Baron to see what she is capable of.

Whisper of the Heart is a very nostalgic movie, it provokes memories of childhood, and of the young age when everyone has to figure out what they want to do in future. The story is beautifully told through the eyes of Shizuku and her determination to test herself can’t help but touch the audience’s hearts. At some point in life everyone puts all their energy into something and it is easy to cheer on Shizuku as she does the same.

The parts of the movie that involved the Baron were so popular that Studio Ghibli decided to do a sequel, The Cat Returns, with the Baron as the hero of the story in 2002.

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