The Ghibli Theater Watch: Whisper of the Heart

Damn you, world, for taking away Yoshifumi Kondo too early.

Kondo was the man who would have taken Miyazaki and Takahata’s place as their successor, had he not passed away in 1998. Whisper of the Heart remains the only full-length work he directed, though he worked on some other Ghibli films. It is also one of the few non-fantasy Ghibli films, and a great gateway film for people who are not fans of outré stories.

I am a little sceptical of the script, however. The library card subplot segues too easily into the curious case of the subway-hopping cat. Shizuku meeting Seiji-kun the way she does makes the cynic in me want to poke my finger at those points of the script and laugh in derision. I also have a mild reaction towards the last few lines of the film, during the sunrise – while I get the spirit in which they appear, it’s not as serious as it should have been. Meh, I am being obtuse, I know. I’m sorry. (I learnt just now that the American release did not have the words that bother me in them. That means I am not the only one thinking that way.)

The remarkable use of ‘Country Roads’ – or ‘Concrete Roads’, if you prefer that version. Those fuzzy-warm little moments involving the song. Like the scene where Shizuku shows Yuki the first draft of the lyrics and both of them hum the somewhat-clunky rhymes together. The apology scene by the three friends, where the offended poet throws her nose up in the air until they beg Shizuku-sama’s forgiveness. And of course, the jam sequence always has me grinning madly and bobbing my  head along to Seiji’s violin-playing. Yuji Nomi composed just two Ghibli soundtracks, and the one for Whisper of the Heart is magnificent!

My favorite character in the film is not who you would expect – it’s Shizuku’s dad. He works as a librarian, and apparently keeps an eye on his daughter’s reading habits. “Strange to see Shizuku reading non-fiction”, he remarks, when she pores through reference books when writing her story. Quick to take control when his daughters argue, and does so without raising his voice. The hasty puff of the cigarette when his wife complains at him lighting up at the table. And of course, his consensual support of her two-month trial. Most Miyazaki dads are awesome – and Mr Tsukishima is one of the best.

Muta the cat (or Moon, if you prefer) is the epitome of feline airiness, and is probably my second-favorite character.

I like the way there are multiple love stories going on in the film – most of them unrequited. Yuki and the guy who wrote her the letter, Yuki and Sugimura, Sugimura and Shizuku, the Dwarf King and the Goat who turns into a princess, Shizuku and Seiji, the Baron and Louise, Nishi and Eloisa. There’s also Shiho and the mysterious person she writes letters to.

All in all, Whisper of the Heart brings a lump to my throat every time I see it. There’s a very strong feeling of nostalgia it evokes in me. The scenes at the library. The winding and hilly roads the characters cycle through. The school scenes. Rain. Studying for exams. The sound of crickets on a warm summer day. And most of all, the thought that sometimes, some stories begin in the most unexpected ways, in ways you could never imagine.