On Wednesday I had the chance to see the 1995 Studio Ghibli movie Whisper of the Heart for the first time—the first Ghibli movie to not be directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata.
This romantic coming-of-age drama film was directed by Yoshifumi Kondō (who was animation director on Anne of Green Gables—a big deal in Japan—Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke) and written by Miyazaki, based on the 1989 manga of the same name by Aoi Hiiragi.
It tells the story of a teenager named Shizuku Tsukishima, a creative bookworm who’s kind of going through the motions until, one day, she ends up following a cat to an antique shop run by Shiro Nishi and gets inspired by a cat statuette called The Baron. On the romantic side of it, she falls for a fellow bookworm named Seiji Amasawa, who has read a lot of similar books to her (ah, the days of library cards).
When the two are separated because Seiji decides he wants to train to see if he has what it takes to become a violin maker, it inspires Shizuku to figure out if she also has what it takes to complete her own passions.
In the version I saw, there was an introduction by Steven Universe’s Rebecca Sugar (which made seeing all the stone and gem references in the movie that much more fantastic), who stated that part of the reason she loved the film so much was it was all about showing artists and creative people putting in the work to develop their craft. We get scenes of Shizuku researching in the library; we see the long nights spent writing and developing her craft taking a toll on her sleeping, her studies, and even her self confidence. Still, this is her path to see if she has what it takes to be a writer.
Watching it, I felt motivated creatively, not just because it was a story about a writer, but because it truly understood the uncertainty of the process. Shizuku feels anxious about whether she has the talent it takes to actually be a writer and gives herself a deadline of two months to complete her first big idea.
What’s more, Shizuku’s parents are supportive of her passions, despite being concerned about her grades slipping. Her father sees that this is something she must do and trusts that supporting her, rather than stopping her, is the right chose. He sees the work she’s put into it and respects it.
The romance between Shizuku and Seiji is cute, and it’s great to see that their love for each other also means supporting each other’s art. Shizuku is inspired that Seiji wants to figure out what his passion is, and rather than ask him to stay, she uses this as an opportunity to challenge herself. In return, Seiji finds himself more in love with Shizuku; we don’t see them being competitive. It’s only love, support, and desire to be the best for each other.
I can’t say where Whisper falls in my top Ghibli movies, but I will say that Shizuku is a fantastic heroine and for all my creatively inclined people, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, it’ll remind you of the work and honing of craft needed to be great at anything you love.
(image: Studio Ghibli)
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