Whisper of The Heart is My New Favorite Romance

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If you have not seen this film by Studio Ghibli, this blog post is not for you. Spoilers abound after the jump.

I made a heartfelt request for recommendations of anime love stories and/or romances a year ago, and I’m completely aghast that no one recommended Whisper of the Heart to me. Not a one. Well, it’s not like everyone who had a wide experience of viewing anime actually participated in the discussion, but it was a fairly good discussion as far as blog posts go.

For those who haven’t seen the film yet persist to read, suffice it to say that I recommend it wholeheartedly. It has the hand-crafted Ghibli animation magic that even in aged, un-remastered, standard definition .avi encoded viewing, rivals and perhaps surpasses peaceful, urban/suburban set juggernauts such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, 5cm/second, and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. And as love stories go {and yes Disappearance is a (harem) love story}, it exceeds them by far in my romantic, shounen heart. Watch the film.

For those who have, let us celebrate Valentine’s Day with some Ghibli love.

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The whole film is filled with quiet goodness, but there are two scenes that really, really took my breath away. The first is the impromptu jam session.

Shizuku at this point had two attractions, the first is for this mysterious Amasawa Seiji – a name that has appeared in the library card log of every book Shizuku has borrowed. She romanticized this character, as someone who must be quiet, reserved, and deep, to have read all those books. The other attraction is for this tall boy who picks on her. We know she’s attracted because she goes out of her way to see him, and more importantly, she’s turned down an admirer without specifying whether she likes someone else. That’s the dead giveaway.

But she doesn’t know they’re the same guy… and now, she’s softening up the harsh image of this tall boy who picks on her, asking about his violin crafting hobby, and begging for a performance. Of course he obliges, with the condition that she sings along. Readers, this kind of musical set-piece, is my favorite kind of scene¹ wherein there is a definite milestone in the romance. It won’t be spelled out yet, that will come later, but as a viewer, you’ll definitely know.

Just when you think it can’t get better, the old artisan arrives with his musician friends after delivering the most delightful clock I’ve ever seen in a film, and I initially thought they’d be there to just witness the love story bud. But no, that would be what a lesser film or show would do, complete with embarrassed looks and what not. This film went all out. The interlopers became part of the musical performance, and elevated the scene to the upper echelons of my regard.

Why  do I love this kind of scene? The set-piece nature reminds me how much of a fantasy the narrative is. It reminds me that it is a film, this isn’t real, but how lovely it is as crafted work: “LISTEN TO MY SONG!” This right now is when the kids fall in love and they don’t even know it, and this is when you know you’re in love with me too. Love, Whisper of the Heart.

But to fall in love is one thing, albeit this is what’s celebrated on Valentine’s Day. What keeps it being celebrated is the relationships moving forward, staying together. How does this film hold me in that regard. The second scene, is that of the ending. That marriage proposal that came from nowhere, them being in middle school, but given what we’ve come to know about Shizuku and Seiji, makes all the sense in romance.

Before we dismiss it as romantic fantasy outright, allow me to say this: I proposed to my now wife of five years and mother of my daughter on our second date. She didn’t say yes then2, but I had known her about as much time as Seiji has known Shizuku up close; and less if we factor in how long he’s been stalking her. This is why this scene makes so much sense to me. When you choose someone, you just do.

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The last thing I want to comment on is, how a romantic partner can inspire us to go beyond ourselves. When I knew I wanted to marry my now wife, I set aside my aspirations in being a writer and artist and set out to find corporate employment. I was successful at this and we had our big ‘ol wedding. For her, anything. It’s not like I’ll never write – I wrote more since I met her than I ever have in my life. Lightning strike me down if I say whatever writing I do does not gratify and fulfill me. Whisper of the Heart is the anime that made me want to be the little girl. There’s nothing that says Shizuku wouldn’t find more fulfillment as a writer than Seiji will as a violin craftsman, just as I know I’m fulfilled as a husband and father (who happens to write, work in a corporation, and make entrepreneurial ventures) as much as she is as a wife and mother (who happens to practice law and serve in the military).

Whisper of the Heart is my new favorite romance because it reminds me of how fantastic the romance in my own life is.

¹The other similar scene is from the anime Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad wherein Maho and Koyuki sing together in the neighborhood cultural festival for a band of fogeys. It was serendipitous as well, and just like Shizuku here in Whispers, Koyuki would fall in love with Maho in this scene.

2She proposed to me later on. Of course I said yes LOL.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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45 Responses to Whisper of The Heart is My New Favorite Romance

  1. schneider says:

    Didn’t I ever mention this film to you at all? I don’t think I sold it that much because I assumed you had already watched it. It ties with Porco Rosso as my favorite Ghibli film.

    Also, Shizuku is the Patron Goddess of NaNoWriMo participants.

  2. Pterobat says:

    I love this movie so much. Shizuku is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters, and the kind of kid I wish I was. She’s the coming-of-age story that nerdy girls wanted all along, not to mention a flawed, multifaceted character in her own right. Her story is steeped in an odd combination of realism and idealism that works superbly: you know they’re going to get married and it’ll turn out all right.

    As a note, this film is based off of a short manga by Aoi Hiiragi. The two versions are different in some ways, most notably being that Kondo and Miyazaki’s film version has higher emotional stakes, and Seiji is, IMO, a much bigger jerk in the original comic.

    • That’s a great description of Shizuku. As I’ve said in the post, I ended up wanting to be her, a rare transcendent hero — far more effective than the Jesus types in the likes of Nausicaa.

      I had a conversation with this righteous fool of a man who decried Whispers of the Heart because of the chauvinism/sexism. I found this utterly laughable, given that there’s nothing that says Shizuku won’t be a better writer than Seiji will become a violin craftsman. The answer is not as vague as it may seem: maybe, just maybe some guy is playing a Seiji violin in the OST of The Cat Returns LOL.

      • Pterobat says:

        He likely believed that Shizuku started her novel “for a boy”, which is technically true, and I rarely have the heart to get mad at anyone who is critical of sexism and media.

        I feel like I *could* have been Shizuku at her age, but didn’t have the wherewithal to accept that I wanted to be a writer at the time. Also, I don’t have any problem with concrete roads. :P

        Another interesting thing about the movie is that the plot point hinging on printed library cards could date the story, but it doesn’t seem to.

        • In this particular instance, I find the feminist criticism from this male writer rather inauthentic.

          Never mind, I turned my life around because I wanted to be good enough a man for my wife. I thought Shizuku didn’t do quite the same thing as I did. She’ll be fine.

          • Pterobat says:

            I can see his point of view, really, though I disagree. Shizuku wanted to create something for herself, the same way Seiji created his violins, and desperately wanted to tie the novel’s completion with his departure. The creation of the novel was ultimately, however, *for* herself because it was part of her growth and development as a creative person.

            However, even though I hold WOTH as a sacred cow of sorts (part of my anime “holy trinity” along with the original, non-filmic SDFM and NGE, and Shizuku one of my top fictional characters) I am unable to get mad at the possibility of someone disagreeing with me about the movie’s positivity.

            It’s just that criticism of sexism in media is so often laughed at that I consider those who make such criticisms to be fellow underdogs whom I wouldn’t fight with because the culture’s never on their side anyway. So when I disagree with a sexist criticism of a film, I’m mellow about it.

  3. bluemist says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I have not read this as per your warning but I will watch it someday. I don’t usually watch Ghibli movies because they are mostly fantasy stuff but I’m surprised that they do have a slice-of-life. Call it shame that I never knew about this at all even if I know the title all this time.

  4. toranosuke says:

    Mimi wo Sumaseba is easily one of my favorite anime films, and in fact I’m in the process of teaching myself to play Country Roads on Okinawa sanshin. I haven’t seen it in a while though… maybe when I get home for the summer, I’ll have to watch it again :)

  5. Vendredi says:

    “I’m completely aghast that no one recommended Whisper of the Heart to me. Not a one.”

    I’m not sure what surprises me more, that no one made a recommendation for Whisper of the Heart, or that you haven’t seen it yet given how long you’ve been watching anime this long!

    Whisper of the Heart is just one of those shows that you assume anyone who’s been watching anime for a decent length has already seen. It never gets talked about precisely because there’s nothing to talk about; it’s just that good.

    But yes, this is probably one of my favourite Ghibli films (if not the very top, then one of the first three that come to mind).

    • I started my Ghibli binge right around 2005 when I was dating my wife, though I had seen Momonoke Hime sometime earlier. We only had bootleg DVDs at the time, and the one’s that I watched last year: Pom Poko, Only Yesterday, and Whispers of the Heart (also My Neighbor the Yamadas) were on the shitty discs that never worked.

  6. manvont says:

    I assumed that you’ve already seen it, but I’ll just say that reading your first impressions of this underrated Ghibli classic brought a big grin to my face. Your second to last paragraph about how a good partner can inspire one to achieve great things is spot on.

    This movie has one of the best soundtracks for a Ghibli movie (and that’s saying quite a lot).

    • I really need to pay more attention to the OST, as my rotation is pretty much filled with tracks from the big fantasy films — though I love the music from Kiki’s Delivery Service and I Can Hear the Sea.

  7. kimaguresan says:

    Seen it, loved it. If I had been paying attention a year ago like I do now, I wonder if I would have recommended this? I’d like to think I would have, hindsight and all. V-Day is tomorrow, maybe I’ll sit down with my wife and watch this.

  8. Shinmarizu says:

    I just watched The Borrower Arrietty (which would be perfect for kids), and this is a great way to maintain my rekindled Ghibli fixation. Thanks for the suggestion; we don’t get enough good romance pieces anymore.

    • I don’t know about “anymore” because good romance is pretty rare to begin with. There was never some kind of faucet that gushed good romance works and suddenly turned of at some particular year.

  9. hearthesea says:

    Always loved that ‘Country Road’ scene. There’s such a lovely warmness there. Definitely one of my favourite Ghibli works, mainly for how it manages to be impacting in such a natural, understated way.

  10. Fadeway says:

    We watched Mimi wo Sumaseba on SCCSAV two days ago, so that’s a neat coincidence :)

    I loved the musical performance scene and the cement road spinoff, as well as Seiji’s pokes at Shizuku, but that aside, the movie didn’t become my favourite or anything. I don’t watch much romance, so it’s probably a genre thing, and while I haven’t seen much of Ghibli, I don’t think I’m a fan of their slower style either.

  11. JoeAnimated says:

    Like Fadeway said, we just finished this last Sunday with the Classics group, and I have to say, it was a great watch. Ghibli films always impress me, and I’m glad i was able to watch this one. My only regret this time was not including my kids to watch with me, but there will be other opportunities.

  12. Shinmaru says:

    Whisper of the Heart made me a gooey mess. I love it!

  13. kevin says:

    this is how gund— ermm — ahh—-

    anime, yes, i said anime.
    should be. yes. i didn’t mention anything about giant robots.
    and no, fuck no i didn’t think of giant robots when we’re talking about a love story in the suburbs

    oh deary me, i must need some of those meds…

  14. ces06 says:

    Watching Whisper of The Heart made me feel all fuzzy inside. It’s at the top of my Ghibli list along with Porco Rosso. It’s a beautiful love story indeed. Some people say “Why an anime? It’s better off as live action”, but screw it. When you’re in love, everything looks like a beautifully drawn Ghibli setpiece, lol.

  15. jreding says:

    Actually I haven’t been that much interested in the romance but I still find this movie to be almost perfect. It conveys pure happiness. A few scenes which caught me in particular:

    - The cycling scenes almost give this dreamlike feeling of weightlessness as the flying scenes in Kiki’s delivery service.

    - The attention to small, naturalistic movements, e.g. when Shizuku wakes up, reaches to her bedside lamp and misses it at first.

    - The scenes with many characters moving at the same time, besides the musical performance you mention there is also a scene where Shizuku is at school and discusses the songtext she wrote with her classmates.

    - The melancholic feeling when Shizuku’s sister, with which she shared this cramped room for so many years, finally moves out.

    Btw I just love the first picture in your post!

    • I’ll be looking forward to catching these details when I watch it over the weekend with the wife.

      Yeah, Ghibli films have these incredible sentimental images that are usually found during the end credits.

  16. TWWK says:

    Whisper of a Heart is a wonderful film – I’m a big fan of Studio Ghibli (and increasingly an apologist as it seems more and more [younger?] fans find their films boring or overrated) and this is very possibly my favorite. Very romantic and very realistic in that young dreamer kind of way. I also agree that in the romance department, it’s superior to any of the films you mentioned.

    By the way, if you get a chance, have a read over a guest post I did at Anime Instrumentality – I briefly mentioned the dancing scene in context of the Japanese love of Irish music and seisiuns, which are like Irish jam sessions.

    http://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/2012/01/fractale%E2%80%99s-ed-and-japan%E2%80%99s-nostalgic-drive-toward-irish-music/

    • I’ll have to check out your post some time.

      Haters are dumb. Don’t apologize for this because a lot of the hate flying around is crap. Engaging these is an exercise in futility just as it’s so stupid to deal with oldfags and their apologetics for some retarded good old days.

  17. MarigoldRan says:

    It’s not an anime, but Emma is one of the loveliest stories in manga.

    And go and watch Simoun, if you haven’t done it. Though it’s not exactly a romantic series, it’s a very well done romance, on top of everything else.

    http://www.thatanimeblog.com/index.php/2011/01/secret-santa-simoun/

  18. ojisan says:

    Just to add another valentine facet to the love-fest above – the thing that I like best about this movie is how it’s a love letter to a neighbourhood – Tama New Town and Seiseki-Sakuragaoka as they were in the ’80′s. Even though I’ve never been to Tokyo, I can tell that this isn’t an invented setting but a lovingly recreated one. The whole sequence in which she first meets the cat on the subway & follows it just blows me away every time I view it -

  19. SignOfZeta says:

    One of my favorite Ghibli movies, and yes the “jam session” is amazing. The flight scenes…equally amazing, in a completely different way.

    What really hit home though is the extremely authentic feeling of hero worship combined with romance than young people so often fall into (me at least). She doesn’t just have a crush on him, she honestly thinks he’s the coolest thing ever.

    We need more Ghibli like this, and a bit less of the “mutations and guts” from Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl. Ponyo was great, but its a new Totoro. I want a new Porco.

  20. MarigoldRan says:

    And here is a passage that is the opposite of innocent romance:

    “Their faces slack above the rims of their shields, the Men of the Middle-North squinted across a lightning-illuminated world, one devoid of sound, bleached of color. At first, many could not credit their eyes. Many stood blinking as if trying to awaken.

    Instead of earth, Sranc. Instead of distance, Sranc.

    Fields upon fields of them creeping on their bellies like worms.

    They had come as locusts, where the lust of the one sparks the lust of the other, until all is plague. They had come, answering a cunning as old as the age of their obscene manufacture. They had come to feast and they had come to couple, for they knew of no other possibility….

    And the Horde howled, a noise so savage, raised in so many ulcerated throats, that many Men of the Ordeal dropped their weapons to clasp their ears. A cry that pinched the nape of even the bravest man’s neck….

    And sent the very landscape rushing….

    So did the Horde crash against the Army of the Middle-North. The dead could scarce fall, so packed, so violent was the melee. Men grimacing in thrusting panic. Nonman faces squealing and snapping. Sranc, crushed by the heave of their countless brothers. Sranc, their every bestial instinct bent to ferocity. Men cringed from their eye-blink speed, gasped against their gut-twisting stink: the rot of fish mongers clothed in fecal rags….

    But the Shining Men stood their stubborn ground….

    Battle became a kind of dread harvest. Sranc died burning. Sranc died punctured and trampled. Sranc died scratching at shields. Yet they came and they came, surging beneath the witches and their comb of brilliant destruction, a shrieking chorus that wetted the ears with blood… The judges paced the line, their gilded Circumfixes held high, their mouths working about exhortations no one could hear. Hell itself seemed to churn but a keel away. And they wondered that mere Men could hold such wickedness at bay.

    The Second Apocalypse: Book 5. Chapter 7.

  21. Xard says:

    Well, I really did not take part in that discussion in that case because I surely would’ve recommended this. Whisper of the Heart is one of my favourites too and the best non-Miyazaki (granted he directed fantasy scenes, wrote the script and did storyboards… ^__^’ ) Ghibli film IMO

    The final scene was very specific “author insert” by Miyazaki who wanted to counter the non-commitment and related attitudes he perceived on rise with youth of the day. I respected the ending for what it was and what it’s point was but it always struck me as “out of nowhere” and not properly build up to to be honest.

    Your personal anecdote has made it more beliavable as part of the story to me and for that I must thank you.

    • Word of God?

      As for my personal anecdote… I’ve known for some time that my life is rather unrealistic.

      • Xard says:

        Well from Nausicaa.net

        Q: Wasn’t Seiji’s proposal a bit too sudden?

        Many thought so. In the manga, Seiji merely says “I love you”, but Miyazaki changed it to “Will you marry me?” Miyazaki defended his position by saying, “I wanted to make a conclusion, a definite sense of ending. Too many young people now are afraid of commitment, and stay on moratorium forever. I wanted these two to just commit to something, not just ‘well, we’ll see what will happen’.”

        I respect in in the same sense I respect Eva’s ending starting to bombard viewer with questions and breaking the fourth wall utterly in EoE’s live action sequence: for succesfully conveying whatever theme was went to be transmitted. However as a part of the narrative I’ve never been able to fully justify it before to myself as I’ve felt it’s despite everything too unrealistic progression if they’d known each other for such a small time.

        Once again “life is stranger than fiction” rule makes the fiction more beliavable in my eyes :)

  22. nix says:

    Wow. anime again. anime is not just for kids but for kids by heart

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