Shizuku is a teenager dealing with the usual problems of growing up; high school entrance exams, busy parents, a bossy older sister- and of course, relationships. Whilst reading library books over the holidays, she notices the same name in all the books- Seiji Amasawa- and begins to wonder just what this mystery boy who shares her tastes would be like in real life. At the same time, Shizuku starts running into an annoying young man wherever she goes; this boy couldn’t possibly be Seiji- could he?
Whisper of the Heart won’t satisfy those looking for a fantasy epic packed with magic and action, but if you’re a fan of the quieter slice-of-life genre, you’ll find much to like here. The themes of finding love amidst the complex web of teen relationships and working out future goals may be nothing new, but they will no doubt strike a chord with the majority of viewers.
Central to all this is lead character Shizuku- perhaps not as spunky or outgoing as the average Ghibli heroine, she is nonetheless a strong willed character who likes setting herself tricky goals, from reading twenty books over the holidays, to writing Japanese lyrics to “Take Me Home, Country Roads’. Through her attempts to achieve these goals, we see Shizuku grow as a person over the course of the film; not only becoming more aware of herself, but also taking the important step of beginning to empathise with others. Unfortunately, the limited runtime of the film does have a noticeable effect on the story- Shizuku’s relationship with Seiji in particular feels a little rushed in places, as he goes from peripheral annoyance to an important person in her life.
Given that this is very much Shizuku’s story, there isn’t much time to spare for the supporting characters- although we get interesting glimpses into the lives and personalities of the various cast members, only Shizuku’s best friend Harada and Seiji himself receive much in the way of additional development. It is however worth noting that fat cat Muta and cat doll The Baron make brief but important appearances here; both characters went on to feature prominently in The Cat Returns.
Apart from a few dives into Shizuku’s imagination, the film remains firmly grounded in more realistic settings, but the visuals are none the less impressive for it. Both interior and exterior locations are animated with the studio’s usual attention to detail, bringing to life everything from the streets of Tokyo to the cluttered interior of an antiques shop. Character designs, however, are less impressive- given that they stick closely to standard Ghibli lines, there won’t be anything here that hasn’t been seen in the studio’s other works. Background music remains solid throughout, adding an extra layer of depth and emotion to the feature.
A simple tale about the trials and tribulations that inevitably come with growing up, Whisper of the Heart presents an engaging story, but unfortunately lacks the time to explore the characters and setting as fully as they deserve. Nonetheless, as it stands, the film makes for a heart-warming tale that will bring a smile to the faces of drama and romance fans.