Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo sumaseba) (1995)

wef“Whisper of the Heart” is the one and only film ever directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, a director who master Hayao Miyazaki intended to reign as his protégé. Miyazaki was going to retire from film and let Kondo take over from where he left off, however, Kondo sadly died at the age of forty-seven, and this was his only piece of art that was left by him. Obviously, Miyazaki never retired, but Kondo’s film does show traces of Miyazaki’s imagination and it’s clear why Miyazaki intended him as his successor.

“Whisper of the Heart” is a film that will speak to the female audience almost strictly, but that didn’t really polarize me from being entertained. What this strives in ultimately is being a romance that’s original, and has a sense of emphasis and depth within its plot. Though heavily fantasy oriented, it’s still a well developed romance about a young girl who believes in magic, so much so it consumes her life. Shizuku is a young girl who loves to write, and she loves to read, but one day while traveling she comes across a cat on her train and follows him to an antique store. There, she meets an old craftsman who introduces her to a statue named the Baron, and that curiosity leads her to a romance that could change her life.

Every book she happens to take from her library are also taken out by a boy who she’s anxious to know about, but can’t quite figure out how to meet him. “Whisper of the Heart” is a simple story in a grand spectacular framework, it’s a basic teen romance, but you have to consider the elements within the story. It’s a real shame Kondo died before he could continue flourishing his work for his audience because his direction is beautiful, and immaculate, it’s not hard to see why Miyazaki chose him in the first place. And then there are the backgrounds and landscapes painted by Inque Naohisa which are utterly amazing. The scene where Shizuku sets out on to the balcony really does explain Naohisa’s raw talent. And “Whisper of the Heart” really practices original lore with fascinating mythology present within the seams of the tale.

Miyazaki wrote the script himself, which shows through the representation of the Baron and his appearance in Shizuku’s imagination while she writes her first novel. “Whisper of the Heart” is never gushy, or mushy, it’s just sweet enough and cute enough to be entertaining and leave us in the end without having us ever feel like we’ve invested in to pure fluff. “Whisper of the Heart” is unabashedly whimsical and engrossing exploring this girl and her imagination at the same time. She sees life through rose-colored glasses, but is never afraid to approach reality. Calling it a teen romance would really undermine the film’s substance and thus I prefer to think of it more in terms of a romance fantasy where everything works out like its supposed to.

Usually such idyllic concepts don’t appeal to me, but the films so wonderfully made, I didn’t really care. And yes, that incredible sunrise in the climax was hand drawn and painted. I saw the American version obviously, and the performances were very well done with Jean Smart, and Courtney Thorne Smith, and a special appearance by Cary Elwes. Harold Gould is very memorable as Nishi, the antique repairman, but Brittany Snow is adorable as Shizuku the humble and wide-eyed heroine who seeks a journey of coming of age, she has a very sweet voice, and also flexes her musical abilities in a rousing musical number where she sings “Country Roads”. David Gallagher holds his own in the cast as Seiji, the emphatic violin craftsman who also seeks a purpose in his life.

“Whisper of the Heart” may not be entirely one genre, but it works with an engrossing story, well drawn out characters, and a very sweet ending. As for the audience, I imagine “Whisper of the Heart” will translate more towards girls than boys in the long run. “Whisper of the Heart” is pure romance and fantasy that while under minding will really be depicted as such by a majority of its fans. Unless you’re a girl, I really don’t see what the male audience could find in this, and it’s never ashamed to admit it’s such. While slightly drippy and polarizing for a more diverse audience, “Whisper of the Heart” is a great romance that you’ve probably never seen. It’s guiltless, entertaining, well acted, has a wonderful story, unique lore, and beautiful characterization. What more can you ask for? Miyazaki’s to be protégé would have continued his legacy well.