This Secret Santa thing has been going on for some time thanks to the Reverse Thieves. For some reason, they continue to let me recommend stuff to other people even as I decide to torch relationships with other anibloggers by giving them utter crap. I try, honestly. Anyway, let’s get on to the review.From the opening bars of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” playing over the opening credits, this movie definitely had my attention. I wasn’t very familiar with the Ghibli back catalog that weren’t directed by Miyazaki, and there’s a tragic story behind this one that I will get to later, so this was new territory for me. At the same time, it was also very familiar in tone and characterization.
The story begins with a young girl named Shizuku who comes across the name of a boy named Seiji in all of the books that she had checked out. In typical Ghibli fashion, she only meets him as the result of chasing after a cat. The two end up bonding over their own obsessive goal and embark on grueling training away from their normal environment. Seiji with his violin making and Shizuku with her desire to craft a story. When they come back together they are changed individuals with clear goals in life. All of it because of the way they pushed themselves on for the sake of the other. It’s an impressive love story like that.
On an emotional level, the use of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” marked this as a sentimental piece and the song is also used as a plot device. Throughout the film there are sentimental moments such as learning the story behind the cat figurine at the shop. The song itself is translated by Shizuku from a story about nostalgia for old places to one about needing to find the right way to change. There’s also a nice take on the original song early on in the movie about destroying the landscape toward urbanization which also plays a small role in the story. Also, the performance in the basement of the shop right at the beginning of the 2nd half is really the best moment of the film.
In addition, this is also still very much a story of love in adolescence. Shizuku’s friend Yuko is the one who commissioned the song translation for their middle school graduation ceremony. She is on her own quest for love with Sugimura, who has his own feelings toward another girl. That all comes to an abrupt head in the second half of the movie.
Finally, to wrap this all up, Whisper of the Heart was intended to kick off the directorial career of its debutant director Kondo Yoshifumi as a potential successor to Miyazaki. Unfortunately, he was dead of an aneurysm less than 3 years later having thought to have been overworked to death. He would direct no other films. In a sense this film did mark a turning point for Ghibli since their next film Princess Mononoke was their first to use a combination of CG and hand-drawn animation.
Actually, I refuse to end it on that depressing note. I think it will be better to say that Kondo took the one opportunity he ever had to make the film that he had always wanted to make and it turned out to be a masterpiece. It should serve as a reminder to anyone hoping for a chance to do something they want to do with their lives to take the opportunity when it comes.