Friday, 28 October 2011

Whisper of the Heart (耳をすませば)

Whisper of the Heart (耳をすませば) 1995
Released back in 1995, Whisper of the Heart was the late Yoshifumi Kondō ’s directorial debut and only film he directed. He unfortunately passed away in 1998. A key animator before entering Studio Ghibli, Kondō worked on numerous productions; Lupin III, Panda! Go, Panda! and Future Boy Conan. It was working with the likes of Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, that he became established within Studio Ghibli, and was predicted to succeed them. 
His film follows a middle schoolgirl named Shizuka whose life revolves around her love of stories and writing. She discovers that all the library books she has checked out have been previously taken out by the same individual. Shinzuka soon meets a schoolboy whom she exceedingly dislikes. However she soon discovers that he, Seiji, is the fellow avid reader. The two start to form a relationship, in which Seiji aspirations of being a violin maker, inspire Shizuka to expand her horizons, and write her novel about Baron, Seiji’s grandfather’s cat statutette. Whisper of the Heart is a somewhat ‘muted’ family drama that takes place in a realistic Japanese setting, whilst also focusing on a growing teenager’s dreams and romance. It’s a relatively simple plot to follow that steers clear of a cliché and formulaic narrative of generic anime. While there’s nothing dramatically unique in the story, it still remains interesting and magical.
In terms of the characters, Studio Ghibli has been very successful in creating engaging and memorable individuals. However Whisper of the Heart doesn’t hold the same magic. Shizuka is the typical teenager girl lead, meanwhile Seiji isn’t special in anyway either. The two are voiced well, but neither have a personality that is truly interesting. By far the most memorable character is ‘The Baron’. As previously talked about in my review of The Cat Returns, the ‘Baron’ became a Japanese “Boba Fett” after little screen time. There’s a creativity to his design, and he brings a charming personality to a cast of averageness. Maybe this was intended to symbolises the drabness of reality and urban life, contrasting with the expansive, and creative element of a teenager’s imagination. 
For the most part Whisper of the Heart looks like your typical Ghibli production. Characters have the distinctly simplistic yet charming styling. Meanwhile from the realistic and colourful backgrounds, to the intricate detailing on the ornamental grandfather clock, there’s an essence of magic to the film. Yet where this film’s animation really stands out, is the visualisation of Shizuka’s novel. In fact, the sheer popularity surrounding these scenes inspired the studio to work on The Cat Returns. Floating Islands, reminiscent of Nausicaa contrast perfectly to the straightforward look of reality, its a very imaginative design. 
Overall, Whisper of the Heart is a very enjoyable film but not as memorable as other Studio Ghibli works. It has some hiccups but nothing that damages the film’s narrative or general viewing experience. Yoshifumi Kondō’s debut is an engaging and entertaining one which showed a lot of potential and talent, making his death even more tragic and heart-breaking.

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