“Whisper of the Heart” isn’t a Ghibli movie on a grand scale. Unlike the epic nature of “Spirited Away” or “Princess Mononoke,” this one is small, intimate and down-to-earth. Director Yoshifumi Kondo is interested in the moments between breaths and frames scenes with more interest in subtlety rather than monumental motions. Not to say the movie never becomes a display of wonder and self-discovery, but the way it chooses to do so is delicately done.
A true coming-of-age story, we follow Shizuku, a girl on the cusp of entering high school trying to find her way in the world. The movie freely swings between exploring Shizuku’s homelife and her debriefs with her best friend. But the core of the movie surrounds a budding romance with a boy checking out the same library books, and Shizuku’s evolving relationship with writing.
Since watching the movie on a train from Vienna to Prague, I’ve become obsessed. I’ve never seen the artistic process of writing so accurately depicted on screen. Kondo lets us watch the quiet moments of what Shizuku understands her life to be. From finding fascination in a library book illustration to the shaking of her knee as she struggles with what to write, Kondo shares these little moments because these are the ones that matter the most. Similarly, Kondo uses the film to explore Tokyo, and the film almost feels like a love letter to the city. From the swaying of metrocar handles to the blimps and airplanes that fly overhead, Kondo believes that small details make a world of difference in the life of an artist.
The movie begins with Shizuku simply being an avid reader of books, and doesn’t allude to her being an aspiring writer. Sure, she translates “Country Roads” (specifically Olivia Taylor John’s cover) for her choir friends, but she doesn’t seem to consider herself an artist yet. She finds her inspiration in someone else’s passion, which pushes her to write her first story. It’s all presented as incredibly organic, that she decides to challenge herself and discover what she is made of.
Recently, I’ve embarked on one of the biggest challenges of my life, working on a short film in the Czech Republic. After months of preparation leading up to three days of shooting, it was finished. All that was left was the edit. When I came to my apartment after the last day on set, I just decided to lay in bed and cry. It felt natural and overwhelming, this release of frustration and relief that the thing you’ve been imagining in your head was finally said and done. When Shizuku hears that the story she’s been exhausting herself over is (as first drafts often are) rough but good, she just breaks out into sobs, and I … couldn’t help myself and feel so seen, and feel both empathetic and sympathetic. For something so pleasant and calm to be so vulnerable and raw, it blew me away and meant a lot. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t immediately charmed just by this film’s opening sequence, but it was at this point I knew “Whisper of the Heart” would be a movie I’d be watching for the rest of my life.
And I already have rewatched it! On my flight home from Prague, after saying all my goodbyes to my newly found friends, I felt like I needed the movie in my life again. I had been crying (yet again) reading the lovely notes my friends had written for me. I couldn’t help but have my thoughts drift to thinking about the beautiful words given in our goodbyes, and worrying if I had been kind enough to deserve such love. I was struggling with the uncertainty of our friendships after we returned from study abroad. On that eleven hour flight I watched this film and thought about Shizuku and Seiji and commitment. Despite being filled with such passion, the young couple know very little about where their futures lie. But Shizuku and Seiji know this, that they still have the rest of their lives to live. And yet, the two decide to commit to each no matter what happens next. I realized at least that’s possible; goodbye is temporary. What you can do is commit to the people you love, and hope that you’ll find each other in the end.