Review: Whisper of the Heart – Mimi wo sumaseba (1995)


Directed by: Yoshifumi Kondô | 116 minutes | animation, drama | Original Voice Cast: Yoko Honna, Issey Takahashi, Takashi Tachibana, Shigeru Muroi, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Keiju Kobayashi, Yorie Yamashita, Maiko Kayama, Yoshimi Nakajima, Minami Takayama, Mayumi Izuka

Shizuku Tsukishima, a young adolescent, lives with her parents and older sister in a flat in Tokyo. She writes poems, chats with her friends, argues with her sister and reads more library books than an average adolescent class put together. One day, Shizuku discovers that the books she borrows have been borrowed by the same person over and over again. And that’s just a boy she hates. Or maybe you don’t hate it, but still.

In the Japanese animation film “Whisper of the Heart” we follow this spirited teenager on the way to a bit of adulthood. That will then be Japanese. She meets a cat on a train and follows the animal to a high part of town. There is a shop selling wonderful trinkets, run by a friendly old boss. An apprentice violin maker is at work at the top of that shop. And that’s just the guy that Shizuku hates. Or maybe you don’t hate it, but still.

This animation film by director Yoshifumi Kondô, who died young, could just have been a Hayao Miyazaki film. Shizuku is the kind of adolescent girl who keeps popping up in Japanese anime, especially with Miyazaki. A lively type, with the emotions always at position ten. Luckily, she’s happy a lot of the time, because when she’s angry, just hide. The humor is always of the mild kind and evil characters are invisible.

What “Whispers of the Heart” does well is the perfect alternation of humor, poignancy and mystery. That mystery lies in the wonderful trinket shop and in the stories of its equally wonderful owner. The emotion lies in our heroine and her fumbling with a first tender love. That variety ensures that you never get bored. By skipping a few unexplored sidelines, the film could have been shorter.

Despite this unnecessary length, “Whisper of the Heart” is yet another successful Ghibli film for young and old. Moving but never sentimental. With a heroine to lose your heart to (as long as she doesn’t sing, because you don’t want to suffer that), a wise story and a nagging melancholy about the things that are lost. And with a prominent role for John Denvers evergreen “Take Me Home Country Roads”. That too.

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