Review: Whisper of the Heart’s Nostalgic Warmth and Charm

As a film review, no spoilers.

Watching From Up on Poppy Hill last week had me falling in love; a sincerely nostalgic and beautifully presented film from Studio Ghibli.

Reading up on what everyone else said about the film afterwards, I saw many comparing the film (fondly) to another Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart.

So of course, I needed to watch it myself. And as I feel after every Studio Ghibli or Miyazaki film I watch, I cherished every minute of it.

Whisper of the Heart tells the story of Shizuku Tsukishima, a 14 year old junior high student who loves reading books she checks out from the library. One day, she notices the books she’s been reading have also been previously checked out by one Seiji Amasawa.

Shizuku starts to imagine what this Seiji is like in real life and thanks to a commuting cat, she meets him. He is actually a student at the same school and while he annoys her at first, they soon grow much closer. Seiji’s dream of becoming a violin maker and having to travel to Italy gives Shizuku the drive to find her own dream and she decides to write a story inspired by a cat figurine, The Baron, that she sees in Seiji’s grandfather’s antique shop.

Like From Up on Poppy Hill, Whisper of the Heart is an incredibly nostalgic film with warmth and heart. But as much as I love Poppy Hill, I think Whisper of the Heart has much more depth.

It is much more a coming of age story as we see Shizuku struggle with finding herself and worrying about her future while Seiji is her inspiration as someone who knows what his dreams are and is determined to achieve them. It is also a love story between Shizuku and Seiji that is presented in a way that never takes over the film, but progresses naturally as part of Shizuku’s growth.

Released in 1995, Whisper of the Heart‘s visual style already gives it a humble simplicity that allows you to focus on the story. But story cues like the mention of the phasing out of card catalogs give it that much more a feeling of nostalgia, back when word processors were more common than tablets and smartphones.

And of course, the both realistic and fairy-tale depiction of teenage life makes us all wish we had the adventures and love story that Shizuku and Seiji eventually have.

Again, like From Up on Poppy Hill, Whisper of the Heart is rooted in reality instead of a grand, fantastical world common of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. But that doesn’t mean the film isn’t any less magical. The visualizations of Shizuku’s story of The Baron and the revelation of its importance to Seiji’s grandfather Shiro Nishi give the film that extra dose of magic that in turn makes the reality of Shizuku’s everyday life a magical adventure.

And for another example of magic, look no further than the wonderful impromptu performance of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” (A song that will definitely stay in your head and probably make you tear up every time you remember it in the days after watching the film.)

The film’s simplicity and sincerity allows it to be meaningful and very accessible to any audience. It’s easy to fall in love and to go back to a time when we were all younger, but it also allows the audience to escape into a world that might be more common of the storybooks Shizuku finds in the library.

It’s also very funny. Aside from the nomadic cat Moon/Muta, there are several great scenes at school that garner warm laughs as well.

There is no questioning the guaranteed profound effect a Miyazki and Studio Ghibli film will have on a person. And Whisper of the Heart is no exception. It is a wonderfully magical film that breathes charm and sincerity and has an incredible amount of warmth and heart.

As magical as any fantasy, but rooted in an everyday reality, Whisper of the Heart is another film from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli that is meant to be cherished.

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