Whisper of the Heart: Blu-Ray edition

I think every anime fan goes through a ‘Studio Ghibli’ phase at least once. After the major success of Spirited Away across the globe, the studio and its co-founder Hayao Miyazaki were officially put on the radar of Western movie lovers. Not long after, the back catalogue, as well as all future releases of Studio Ghibli, have kindly been made much more widely and commercially available by the likes of The Walt Disney company, Optimum and Studio Canal – the latter kindly graces the Blu-ray edition of one of Ghibli’s classics, Whisper of the Heart, into UK stores. Being somewhat prequel to my personal favourite Ghibli feature, The Cat Returns, the blu-ray release gave me another chance to view the film I hadn’t seen since my first viewing in my teens when I went through my own Ghibli period in my anime fandom. So how does an upgrade in visuals and disc format reflect on the aging on this story?

Let’s start from the beginning; the film follows a young girl named Suzuku Tsukishima who’s in her final year of junior high. She should be spending her free time in the summer studying for her exams to get into High School but instead the imaginative girl has her head up in the clouds, constantly reading fantasy stories from the library. Her dreams turn romantic when she realizes that a mysterious boy by the name of Seiji Amasawa has checked out all the books she’s read too. Whilst helping out her friend by re-writing the lyrics to ‘Take Me Home, Country Road’ for graduation, she bumps into a fellow male student who calls her lyrics ‘corny’. Upset and angry but she doesn’t let it affect her too much until she randomly decides to follow a cat after getting off a train just to experience an ‘adventure’, leading her to bump into the boy again. She eventually discovers that the cheeky boy and ‘Seiji Amasawa’ are one and the same. After exchanging their dreams whilst studying for exams, love eventually blooms as Suzuku aspires to become a writer and Seiji reveals his wish to study in Italy and become a violin maker. Do their dreams conflict? Or can the pair be together and have their dreams come true as well?

Despite being considered a ‘classic’ of Studio Ghibli’s the feature is actually very different compared to other classics such as Kiki’s Delivery Service and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The obvious difference is that Whisper of the Heart isn’t a fantasy based tale; Suzuku isn’t a witch, there’s no moving castles and nothing truly ‘magical’ takes place within the actual story itself. Instead the film is a coming-of-age story; Suzuku goes among her daily school life, helping friends with crushes and deals with her regular family problems, she then falls for a boy at school herself only to find that he plans to leave the country to go after his own dreams. This shakes Suzuku’s world and realises she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her own life after junior high, she questions who she is and what she does, and it’s through her love of writing and Seiji that she grows as a person. The story itself is cute, nothing overly original or amazing, but nicely paced (if a little slow at the beginning) and captures the innocence of falling in love, whilst incorporating elements of growing up and the reality of how chasing after your dreams isn’t always so easy, subtly and very well. Since Suzuku is young of age, however, and very much into fairy tales this gives Studio Ghibli an opportunity to weave the ‘feel’ of fantasy into the story. The clear point where Studio Ghibli goes wild in this territory is within Suzuku’s attempts to write an original story about the cat statue she finds in an antique shop. There’s flying, glowing jewels, floating worlds, magicians and so forth; we don’t actually find out the full story of what she’s written, just mere glimpses into her thoughts, but it was enough to warrant a sequel based upon the Baron due to demand from the Japanese public so they hit the right notes somewhere within their montage of magic. Smaller parts of the film also play their part to create a fantasy setting before the Baron even gets a line at about 3/4 into the movie. As Suzuku has a large imagination she often refers to fairytales when viewings her surroundings and is quick to let her ideas go wild the moment she learns of Seiji’s name with possible Prince Charming-esque thoughts. As the main character sees magic in everything, the audience is meant to see it as well, and her innocence flows with the narrative making her a likeable lead even if she’s a little stubborn and air-headed. On top of this; the backgrounds were created by Japanese surrealist painter Naohisa Inoue, and the film really does take it’s time to pan the screen, focus on the backgrounds to really show off the slightly obscure structure of the Japanese housing to give the sensation of mazes, mountains and vast lands without it actually being any of those things. Sure, you could’ve taken off a chunk of the movie’s running time by cutting out the longer segments of the sightseeing but then you’d lose the mood the film is trying to put you in. At the heart of it all though, no amount of painted backgrounds or flying in the sky for a small duration of time is going to hide the fact that Whisper of the Heart isn’t a grand adventure in the world of mythical creatures and impossibilities; the film is very much down to earth and it’s Suzuku’s head that brings the fantasy in but slowly grounds her into the real world once she releases some of her creative energies onto paper and her relationship with Seiji inspiring her. The story of growing up and falling in love is a timeless tale, and although the superficial side of the story (such as the laptop) look dated, the emotions the plot invokes never get old.

Now let’s get to the part that everyone has been waiting for, where we talk about the Blu-ray edition and how much better it looks now that’s been re-released. I’ll be honest; I know next to nothing about the technical side of HD upgrading apart from the fact that ‘it looks prettier’, but based upon what I purely saw the visuals upgrade are – like the film – subtle. The colours are brighter (giving the summer period of the film more warmth to it), the surreal backgrounds have slightly more depth, and the whole picture is faintly crisper and smoother. The animation still looks simple and its age is noticeable so whether you’re watching it on DVD or Blu-ray isn’t going to make a massive difference or blow you away, but if it went to those lengths to do so it wouldn’t have complimented the film’s tone. Both are grounded and restraint, but if you want Ghibli to look super good in HD you’re probably better off checking out a newer release.

The extras for the Blu-ray are very similar to the original DVD release; viewing background artwork for Baron’s story, original storyboards, the Japanese trailers and trailers for other Studio Ghibli films available in the UK. The blu-ray also incorporates a ‘Behind the Microphone’ segment that provides small interviews with the English dub cast and ‘4 Masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue: From Start to Finish’ which lets you look at the artist’s work come to life alongside music from the movie. Again, nothing that really adds much more to the experience or obviously points out the notion to spend extra on the double-play box set.

Whisper of the Heart is a pleasant film that captures the feeling of a young romance and why fairytales are loved so much, neatly into a cute story of a teenage girl growing up. It’s easy to see why it’s a beloved classic as it’s very easy to watch and the aura surrounding it is magical, but it’s not a recommended choice for new Ghibli fans or those who prefer a more epic story. The blu-ray edition doesn’t really add much to the experience nor include anything major to warrant the additional charge but if you don’t already own it, or are a collector, there’s no reason not to pick it up.   

7 / 10

darkstorm

By day, I work in the television industry. By night, I'm a writer for Anime UK News. Twitter: @lilithdarkstorm

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