Whisper of the Heart (1995) – [subtitled]
I’m watching all the Studio Ghibli films chronologically and sharing my thoughts. Some again, some for the first time.

Yoshifumi Kondo’s first and only film for Studio Ghibli is, above all else, a tribute to young love, idealized and unrequited. But it is also, much, much more.

As a film, it’s wonderful, refreshing, and undeniably sweet. As a Studio Ghibli film, I must say, it is missing some of the magic and cohesion of its predecessors. Whispers is a heartfelt and sentimental look into the life, love, and passions of Shizuku, a 14-year old girl who is a dreamer, loves to read, follow cats all over the city, and translate random American songs from the 70s apparently.

In a lot of ways this is a love letter to adolescent love. It’s impossible not to take away a bit of its hopeful romanticism as you watch a young girl’s loathing turn to admiration, then naïvely, adorably, and literally at the last minute, turn into full blown love. But I found a different part of this film compelling.

It’s when we see the creative side of our characters emerge that really moved me. It’s Shizuku when she’s inspired to write her story, the hardships and the dedication that she has for it. Seiji’s woodworking, attempting to master the art of creating a violin, and then when he prods Shizuku into singing, her transitioning from reluctancy to joyfully smiling and clapping is the highlight of the entire film.

Whispers plays with the importance of discovering yourself and following your dreams while dealing with self-doubt and seeking approval. I just wish this theme was more deeply explored. I loved the moments where Shizuku’s story was visualized in classic Ghibli fashion, but it seemed fleeting, tacked on, and almost non-consequential. One of most profound moments of the film happens after she shares her completed story with old and wise, Shiro Nishi. After she self criticizes, he responds, “That’s true. It’s a bit rough, unpolished, and incomplete. But you’ve shown me the first jewel you’ve crafted. You tried hard. And you did great. There is no need to hurry.”

I’d be amiss if I don’t include my thoughts on the amazing John Denver song, Country Roads that features, quite oddly, in this picture. I’ve always understood the song to mainly represent a love of a place or time, or more succinctly, a missing of or home sickness for it. I cannot see how this theme fits within the film much at all, except perhaps as a meta theme the writers have for their youth.

Overall, Whispers is a bit disorderly, but still is a unique and sweet glimpse into the life of a young girl and those around her, discovering who she is and who she wants to become.