I just finished watching a film this evening. Let's see if this sounds familiar to you...
A young girl on the verge of going into high school wonders about life, purpose and love. She tries to juggle school, a profound desire to Do Something with her life, and a search for elusive first love.
Only seen this movie about 50 or so times right?
Sure, but not as a Studio Ghibli film.
Actually, we have alreay seen it as Ghibli film, Miyazaki's glorious Kiki's Delivery Service, but that was about a crisis of confidence of a cute witch in a psudo-European town with all the attendent fantastical elements you get with Miyazaki.
The film in question today is Whisper of the Heart, a more recent Ghibli production. Miyazaki wrote the script but did not direct, those duties fell to Yoshifumi Kondo, Miyazaki's picked successor. (Sadly Kondo died shortly after completing the film.)
Like all Ghibli films, Whisper has an engaging and wonderfully characterized heroine and a glorious artistic style. But it is also a major departure from the Ghibli norm, taking place in modern day Tokyo, not some fantastic otherworldy realm. While there is still magic in the air, it is the magic that the young see all around them and the magic of one's own imagination.
I suppose I'm beating around the bush a bit, but I really want people to discover the film on their own. While the plot never strays far from the conventions outlined in my synopsis, it still vaulted onto my list of favorite movies. The characters, despite being animated, are real, far moreso than in any Hollywood tripe. We all know these people, and in some cases we ARE these people. Their lives are normal, the stuff of our everyday existence.
As is par for the course with Ghibli, the animation is spectacular. The environments are insanely real and detailed. It IS Japan, up there on the screen, from the trains to the roads to the stores to the signs, all of it perfect to the last detail. The character designs are, of course, simply perfect. They even have Country Roads as a bit of theme, including the parody tribute to Tokyo, Concrete Roads.
I know, I just keep singing praises to the high heavens, but I'll admit that the film really touched me. It hit home in more ways than one for me, and I am man enough to say that I did indeed shed a tear. Either that makes me an enormously cheesy person, or it means that the film makers really knew what they were doing. I daresay it is the second choice myself. Whisper brims over with real emotion, and in modern film, that is one thing to treasure.