Tour de Ghibli: Whisper of the Heart
Brief Synopsis: A young girl in Tokyo is at a crossroads in her life and tries to determine what she wants her future to hold. With the help of a young boy and his grandfather, she embarks on a journey of self-understanding.
Themes: The big theme of this movie is the importance of knowing yourself. Shizuku’s internal struggle comes from not knowing what she wants to do with her life, and she feels pressure coming from without, when people tell her what she should focus on, and within, when she thinks that she needs to defy “conventional wisdom.” The film does not say that following the conventional path is inherently better than forging your own path, or vice versa. Rather, the film is about learning who you are and therefore learning which option is better for you.
Animation: Like most Ghibli films, Whisper of the Heart is very beautiful, but it’s a bit different than most. This movie is one of the few from the Studio without any science fiction or fantasy elements. (At least in the main narrative; there are a few fantasy sequences that illustrate Shizuku’s thoughts about a story she is writing.) The animation is meant to create the sense that you are really in Tokyo, rather than creating a sense of wonder.
Sub vs. Dub: This was the first (but not only) Ghibli film for which I saw the Japanese track first, and it’s superb. As of now, I’ve never seen the complete English track and I really don’t want to. From what I have seen, it is terrible; it actually gives me fond memories of the Laputa: Castle in the Sky English dub. The actresses playing Shizuku and her friend Yuko never hit the right tones, and even Jean Smart, an actress I like, can’t get her lines right. Furthermore, a plotline about Shizuku poorly translating the song Country Roads into Japanese gets lost when the girls just sing Country Roads in English then talk about how bad the writing was. The only part of the dub that is good is Cary Elwes as The Baron, but he has about 5 lines. (He was brought in because The Cat Returns, a sort-of sequel in which The Baron has a much larger role, was released in the U.S. before this movie, and he played that role in The Cat Returns.)
Verdict: While this isn’t among Ghibli’s top tier, it is a wonderful film that effectively tells a good story wrapped around a teen romance. (Ok, I do like to pretend the last few lines, which tie into that romance, don’t happen, but 5 seconds of weird plot isn’t enough to undo the 110 minutes that came before them.)
*Note* While this film wasn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki, he wrote it. Therefore, I am tagging him. I will do the same for The Secret World of Arrietty.