Whisper of the Heart (DVD Review)

U – 111mins – 1995



“I finally thought I was going to get a little adventure around here…”

Juggling domestic duties and revision while consumed by her passion for classic fantasy literature and lyrical translation, restless high school junior and avid bookworm Shizuku Tsukishima’s (Brittany Snow) grades are slipping as her entrance exams are nearing.

“Things never turn out like they do in fairytales.”

Shizuku’s curious and formative mind is further complicated by boy troubles and a most intriguing mystery involving a snotty stray cat called Muta, the beguiling and evocative dapper feline statuette known as Baron Humbert von Gikkingen which she finds in an antique shop, and a male name appearing in every book Shizuku borrows from the school library: Seiji Amasawa…

Securing its spot as one of Studio Ghibli’s most instantly recognisable properties alongside My Neighbour Toroto courtesy of the suit-wearing, top-hatted kitty (voiced by Porco Rosso’s Cary Elwes), I was surprised by how sporadically the iconic character is used – particularly given how his popularity predicated a spin-off/sequel in 2002’s The Cat Returns.

Primarily a tender love letter to youth (first crushes; high-reaching dreams; blossoming feelings; awakening creativity), Whisper of the Heart’s fantastical element is provided courtesy of Shizuku’s unrestrained imaginative writings on the Baron’s romantic backstory, colourfully visualised for the screen.

Used as a plot device, Olivia Newton John’s 1973 cover of the John Denver hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is as intrinsic – and infectiously memorable – as the moggy muse and is just another reason to be charmed by this adorable, uplifting and aspirational animated wonder.

Directed by Miyazaki’s protégé Yoshifumi Kondo (the first of the Japanese studio’s theatrical productions not headed up by either of the company’s co-founders), Kondo was being lined up as a successor to the Ghibli throne. Alas, the blossoming talent tragically passed away just three years later, just 47.

Whisper divinely showcases the transition from adolescent naivety into focused and passionate adulthood without sacrificing the awe and magical wonder of childhood’s boundless spirit. Stirring, soulful and sublime in its simple-but-inspirational values, Kondo’s sole directorial contribution to Ghibli’s hallowed cannon is also enchanting in its twee-but-touching execution.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 5 stars

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