When we think of great films by Studio Ghibli, there are several that come to mind. Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, and Castle in the Sky are just a few examples. For me however, there’s a film in the studio’s repertoire that I love more than any other. What’s strange about my admiration for this piece is that it isn’t what many people associate with Studio Ghibli. It’s not exciting, it’s not fantastical in any way, it’s a drama set in suburban Japan. In fact, when I first saw this movie I didn’t really get the point of it. But despite it all, this film has one thing going for it I have found far more charming as an adult and is the reason why I love it so. It has a lot to say about life, love, growing up, and following your dreams. In fact if it weren’t for this film, I may not have decided to pursue blogging more seriously. I’ve seen it numerous times; I can’t even remember how many, and probably consider it one of my favourite movies of all time.
In case you haven’t gathered from the title of this post, the film is called Whisper of the Heart. I’m about to tell you why you need to see it.
The film centres around Shizuku Tsukishima, a 14-year old Japanese junior high school student obsessed with fairytales. She spends all her time reading books and daydreaming, much to the dismay of her family and friends, and wants to become a writer. She’s so obsessed with books, that the film starts with her trying to figure out who the mysterious person is who keeps checking out all the same library books as her. This hunt leads her to cross paths with Seji Amasawa, a boy in another class at her school. What follows is series of events that change both the way Shizuku looks at the world, but also how she looks at herself. I’d go into more details but I don’t want to spoil anything.
What makes the film so amazing is how it handles the subjects of inspiration and motivation. One thing that you need to understand going into the movie; certainly I didn’t when I watched it 10 years ago for the first time, is how structured and regimented certain aspects of Japanese culture are. Specifically, when it comes to education and determining one’s future. What’s expected of Shizuku, is that she’ll study hard, not day dream, and get into a good high school (you have to take entrance exams for high schools in Japan, in case that wasn’t clear). What Shizuku wants to do, is write a story that proves to herself that she can become a great writer. Of course, these ideas clash causing the central conflict of the film. At first, it seem like a typical slice-of-life, coming of age drama. However, I remember watching this years later finally understanding what the film was trying to convey and why everyone needs to see this film.
The movie is not about Shizuku breaking society’s expectations of her to pursue her own path. If this was an American animated film, that might happen. But this film is ultimately about compromise. The film tells you to both work hard and be reasonable, not abandon all rational plans to wind. Essentially, Shizuku learns to be smart about her dreams, not foolish. The lesson isn’t an easy one either, as her aspirations to put a strain on her studies and her relationship with her family. That might seem like kind of a downer, but in reality this message is why we need more films like this one. What most people don’t understand is that following your dreams is a ton of work, especially if that dream is completely different from your current reality. It’s why I’m not quitting my job to suddenly become a full-time blogger. I’m not at a skilled enough writer to even pursue that. However, I know I want to keep writing to try and become better at it, ultimately a concept that the film drills into you by the end of it.
Sure the movie aesthetically is gorgeous; you expect that of Ghibli films, but that’s not what you take away form it as the credits roll. What you get is a great life lesson that’s presented in a way that is endearing, inspiring, and melts your heart. All the pretty “packaging” make the message that much sweeter.
If you consider yourself a Ghibli fan or a fan of great cinema and you haven’t seen this, you need to see it now.