Mini-Review: Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Whisper of the Heart [耳をすませば] (1995)

Starring Yōko Honna, Issei Takahashi, Maiko Kayama, Yoshimi Nakajima, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Takashi Tachibana, Shigeru Muroi, Keiju Kobayashi, Yorie Yamashita, Minami Takayama, Mayumi Iizuka

Directed by Yoshifumi Kondō

Expectations: High. I love Studio Ghibli and even though this isn’t directed by Miyazaki, I have high hopes.


Shizuku is a young junior high school student, busy reading every fairy tale she can get her hands on. It’s much more fun than studying! She soon notices a certain name that keeps popping up on the library index cards of the books she checks out. Who is this boy who reads all the same books? He must be someone very special! Shizuku quickly develops a crush on him that only mystery could facilitate. Written by Hayao Miyazaki, Whisper of the Heart hits every note perfectly and cleverly. Set in the mid-90s when libraries around the globe were undergoing the shift to computerized record-keeping, Miyazaki and director Yoshifumi Kondō manage to tell an enchanting love story completely based around the slowly dying old ways of the library, in what may be the most heart-warming anti-technology tale of all-time.

Whisper of the Heart isn’t your standard Ghibli fare, instead taking a much more realistic angle than Miyazaki’s films. Every frame of the film is filled with the detailed minutia of everyday life, from the quiet movements of a cat to the way the hanging handholds gently sway with the movement of a train car. It is nothing short of breathtaking. The attention to detail present here is absolutely unparalleled. My Neighbor Totoro features a lot of similar strokes of everyday life, but Whisper of the Heart revels in them, as it does not have a fantasy world to jump into as the story progresses. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are moments when fantasy takes hold, but the fantasy here is told in our real world sense of the term, it exists solely within the daydreams of Shizuku’s mind. These moments punctuate the reality of Shizuku’s situation, while also providing the viewer with some fun sequences. How else were they going to work a trademark Miyazaki flying scene into such a realistic film?

Whisper of the Heart is full of genuine emotion, heart and quality morals for any growing person. It is a touching film that is suitable for all audiences, but never seems like it is specifically targeting children. It’s just one of those films that’s so good, you can’t help but be enamored with it. I had been neglecting this film because it was not directed by Miyazaki (and somehow I thought that would effect its quality), and I was completely wrong to do so. If you’re thinking similarly, do yourself a favor and check this one out. Whisper of the Heart is hands down one of Studio Ghibli’s finest films. It’s an absolute shame that Yoshifumi Kondō would never get a chance at making another film as he died only three years later of an aneurysm. Highly recommended.

4 comments to Mini-Review: Whisper of the Heart (1995)

  • Mike_D

    I’m always so afraid to watch these great anime’s. It’s such a whole new can-o-worms. The aesthetic is so different from American movies, I sometimes feel: you go down this path, it’s a long time comin back. You gotta make a bit of an aesthetic adjustment, and then if you’re hooked, how do you get out?

    Check out this title I ran into: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin:_Spirits_of_the_Past

    It’s shit like this that makes me feel like I’m staring directly into the sun.

    (I don’t know if I ever told you my “Tree Idea”, but it was relatable to this. I always left it alone because of how untranslatable it would be as entertainment. But leave it to anime to approach it without reservation. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The torch to sci-fi has been solidly passed to anime and American cinema has basically surrendered their running for it after “2001: A Space Odyssey”.)

  • It’s definitely virgin territory for me too. I limit myself to just Studio Ghibli and some well-renowned classics because otherwise I feel like I could lose myself in that world. I imagine that one day I’ll dig a little deeper and regret the time it took me to get there.

    That Origin movie sounds pretty dope. Anime is definitely carrying the sci-fi torch (it’s clear even though I don’t watch hardly any at all). We dropped it after 2001? Shit, I guess so. I’m having a hard time coming up with anything close to that magnitude in the following years.

    Anyway, I think you would fucking love Whisper of the Heart. A young girl full of hope and wonder on the path of the writer…

  • Mike_D

    -I won’t say it’s virgin territory for me, it’s just so potentially engrossing that it can require an investment independent from general film appreciation. They don’t seem to lend to each other. And I’m wary of the cost of dual-citizenship.

    “Dropped the ball” is definitely hyperbole, but man… it’s chess to checkers. Granted, the difference may be animation vs live action and not Anime vs Western Movies, but until we start seeing America’s serious animation scene come into play, Anime has done way more than enough to earn it’s crown.

    -Have you seen Perfect Blue? Ass-kicking good!

    -Whisper of the heart: I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks for the recommend. I actually meant to open my original comment with: PERFECT FUCKING SCORE!!?!?!

    • I understand completely the “independent investment”. I feel the same way about watching B-movies and Classic film beyond the major releases that have risen to the top.

      At some level I think it is Anime vs. Western film though because they are willing to take story risks on clever sci-fi ideas that we would never give the time of day, and that’s the bread and butter of great sci-fi.

      I haven’t seen Perfect Blue. It sounds awesome though, will add it to the list.

      Yep, I gave Whisper 4 stars. I don’t like saying it’s a perfect score because it’s not perfect, but it’s excellent and as close as you can ask. Its power transcends animation in ways that I had never seen before.

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