Over the course of Studio Ghibli’s 35 years of movie-making, only seven of its theatrical releases have been directed by people other than the company’s co-founders, Hayao Miyazaki and the late Isao Takahata. While the eighth film of its kind, Earwig and the Witch directed by Miyazaki’s son Gorō, will be released later this year, this summer holds significance in the fact that its been 25 years since the first time such a project was released from the studio. That film is Whisper of the Heart.
Directed by the late Yoshifumi Kondō, Whisper of the Heart is based on the manga of the same name by Aoi Hiiragi. It tells the story of a 14-year-old girl, Shizuku Tsukishima, who has a mysterious encounter with a boy who has checked out all the library books she reads before her. Through getting to know him and his passion for violin-making, Shizuku is motivated to tackle her own dreams of becoming a writer, no matter the odds.
With the fact that the film was directed by someone who served as an animator for previous projects by both Miyazaki and Takahata, it’s fair to say that both of their influences rubbed off on Kondō. On one hand, Whisper of the Heart feels grounded in its suburban Tokyo setting, first love, and the struggle of living in a society when there’s a strictly set path for everyone to follow. That grounded feeling is very reminiscent of Takahata’s work. On the other hand, Whisper of the Heart evokes magic throughout; whether blatantly through the imagination of Shizuku’s story or with a flair of subtlety whenever the Baron figurine is in the scene. That magical feeling is very much like Miyazaki’s work (who, by the way, wrote the screenplay for Whisper of the Heart).
I wouldn’t be doing the film or its director justice by only comparing it to the films that preceded it. Whisper of the Heart stands on its own as a telling reminder of how you can go after your dreams, so long as you’re willing to put in the hard work that comes with it. While not everyone around you may completely understand your intentions for doing so, if it’s important for you, then that’s all that genuinely matters.
Is it really a surprise that John Denver’s song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” is used throughout the film? The lyrics about taking the once windy Clopper Road “to the place I belong” go well alongside the journey Shizuku is embarking on herself. The fact that the film ends with not a success story but a good start is empowering; depicting will over fate, as screenwriter Miyazaki once mused in the documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.
I was the same age as Shizuku the first time I saw Whisper of the Heart and was immediately able to relate to her desire to be a writer. All these years later, I still continue to be motivated by this film for the same reasons as when I was a teenager.
Although this was the only film directed by Kondō in his lifetime, it’s fair to say that 25 years after its theatrical release, Whisper of the Heart still has the same timeless, watch-worthy essence like many of the other Studio Ghibli films that came out before and after it. Whether if you’re a teenager who’s figuring your future out or an adult who’s still figuring your future out, the film maintains the power to encourage viewers to touch the stars without fear, even when the afternoon currents mix.
Whisper of the Heart is available to stream exclusively on HBO Max.