Whisper of the Heart
(Mimi wo sumaseba) (1995)
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo

Artistic Value: * * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * * *

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Tsukishima Shizuku, a young schoolgirl, finds that every book she borrows from the library has previously been borrowed by someone named Amasawa Seiji. Curious about who this person is, Shizuku sets out to uncover his identity, which leads her both to her first love and to real personal growth.

I can think of few films that are as charming and delightful as is Yoshifumi Kondo's animated Whisper of the Heart. The director has managed to craft such a genuinely sweet and beautifully told movie and has filled it with so many memorable and poignant incidents that the viewer is sure to be both enthralled and touched by the experience of watching it.

There is little drama in Whisper of the Heart. There are no great ordeals, dangerous adventures, or life threatening disasters. The movie instead reveals to the viewer a short period from a young girl's life, presenting the events of that time in such a way as to draw him into Shizuku's world and to cause him to re-experience emotions that he had, perhaps, long ago forgotten. He is, consequently, likely to be deeply moved by the simple trials and ordinary occurrences he witnesses.

The film's screenplay was written by Hayao Miyazaki, who, as always, displays amazing insight into the minds of children and young adolescents. Shizuku is a brilliantly realized character. She is in many ways a very ordinary person, with the same fears and hopes countless others have experienced. Like many other sensitive adolescents, she has artistic aspirations, and, while the stories with which she gives expression to these aspirations are neither particularly sophisticated or profound, her earnest literary efforts help to make her a sympathetic and likeable individual. Her translations of the song "Country Road" are especially delightful and give the viewer the opportunity to be charmed by the girl who wrote them. One of these translations also provides the movie with its most memorable comic moment. Shizuku is among cinema's great characters, being, perhaps, the most perfectly realized young adolescent girl of any film.

What is more, the movie is visually stunning from its first moment until its last. Kondo manages to bring out both the innate loveliness of the most mundane objects, as city streets, suburban homes, and passenger trains, as well as the feelings of wonder, magic, and adventure with which these things are often suffused when seen by the young. The director's realization of his protagonist, Shizuku, is, however, perhaps even more delightful. He gives her all the inelegant grace and all the vibrant energy so many teenagers have and, thereby, allows the viewer to be utterly captivated by her.

Although I am hesitant to describe Whisper of the Heart as a truly great movie, I would not argue with anyone who says it is. The film is so pleasant, joyous, and bewitching that it is sure to affect any sensitive viewer.

Review by Keith Allen

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