If ever there was a movie character that I could identify with, I have only just met her. In “Whisper of the Heart”, Shizuku Tsukishima is a teenage girl with no grand ambitions. Rather than studying for her exams, she is always reading books or writing lyrics, just “goofing around”.
She lives in a tiny, cramped apartment with her parents and older sister in Tokyo, where she is tired of her mundane existence and all the concrete that surrounds her.
On one of her many trips to the library where her father works, she discovers that all the books she is reading have previously been loaned to the same boy: Seiji Amasawa. Shizuku imagines him to be a sensitive, thoughtful person, so she is horrified to discover that he is in fact a boy she had met before and thought him to be a “jerk”.
One day, on her way to take her father his lunch at the library, she follows a mysterious cat who sits beside her on the train. He leads her to a posh neighbourhood, where she follows him into an antique shop. Inside, she is fixated by a beautiful statue of a cat, standing upright and dressed in top hat and tails. The elderly owner of the shop tells her that the statue is known as The Baron, and that there is a story in The Baron’s past.
She realises she is late, and has to leave with a promise to return. En route to the library, she runs into Seiji, and still thinks he is a jerk. However, she meets him again at the antique shop, where his grandfather is the owner. There she realizes that he is a sensitive, thoughtful person. Seiji’s ambition is to become a master violin maker, but he will have to go to Italy to learn his trade.
Shizuku gradually comes to accept that she loves him, but she feels inadequate because she does not know what to do with her life. Her once good school grades have begun to slide, she no longer takes the same pleasure from reading that she once did. She misses her old self and wants to prove to herself that she is good enough for Seiji, who is going to Italy for a two month trial at a relative’s violin shop.
Always encouraged by her friends about her writing, she decided to write a story, and asks Seiji’s grandfather if she can write about The Baron. He agrees, as long as she lets him read the story first. Shizuku works hard on her story, so hard that her schoolwork suffers even more. She wants to leave school after junior high and concentrate on achieving her new ambition of becoming a writer.
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, and with a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki, “Whisper of the Heart” is a charming, touching love story that shows that inspiration does not have to be close to be effective, that it can come from unexpected places. Seiji even shows Shizuku that the concrete skyscrapers of Tokyo can be beautiful.
As we have come to expect from Studio Ghibli, the animation, backgrounds, and attention to detail are stunning. Yuji Nomi’s soundtrack is the final exquisite layer to this inspiring movie.
I myself have someone who inspires me, who I admire for being so brave and determined to go to a foreign country to learn his trade at a young age. As someone who has never had ambitious plans for life, I can only respect and look up to someone who has. He doesn’t even know I exist, but he doesn’t have to.
Lately I have made half-hearted attempts to do what I want in life, but “Whisper of the Heart” has made me physically ache for my own small ambitions to come true. I am genuinely shocked at how much this gentle story has shaken me. Yet it did so because it held up a mirror.
Like Shizuku, I can write, and like her, I have to try hard to find the little gems inside me, and polish them until they shine.