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Whisper Of The Heart
voice cast: Youko Honna, and Kazou Takahashi

director: Yoshifumi Kondo

111 minutes (PG) 1995
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Andrew Hook
If I've been one of those people who say they don't particularly like anime for the simple reason that they have preconceptions about what it might be but who haven't actually seen much of it, then I'm changing my tune now. I've always been a lover of animation, but the stylised graphics utilised by the Japanese often seemed to fall short of the cartoon-ish comedy that I enjoy. Here, however, the animation is so brilliantly realistic - particularly in the background scenery and attention to detail - that I cannot help but be converted to the genre.

No doubt many people reading this will be familiar with Ghibli Studios and screenwriter Hayao Miyazaki's other work, such as Howl's Moving Castle, but whilst I had heard of these I came to this movie completely fresh. This is probably a good thing, as it seems that compared to those movies Whisper Of The Heart (aka: Mimi wo sumaseba) takes a much more realistic approach to its subject matter, with the very few fantastical sequences linked to a story that the main character, Shizuku Tsukishima (Youko Honna), is writing rather than any actual departure from reality. Having few expectations, I could take the movie as it came. As such, it's a rather sweet tale constructed around the notion of personal discovery, with its inherent morality integral to the plot without being forced on the viewer, and definitely a movie for romantics.

The story is simple, Shizuku is a 14-year-old schoolgirl obsessed with her studies and literature but who finds she has no particular goals in life. Then one day she realises that her library books were all previously checked out by the same person: Seiji Amasawa. She begins to wonder what he looks like, until a train commuting cat happens to take her to him, and not without some trepidation, a faltering love story develops.

Whilst the main characters are in their early teens, this certainly doesn't feel like a teen movie. Certainly not for western teens at any rate, with slow pacing, and quite traditional storytelling. Interestingly, the movie can be watched in Japanese (with subtitles) or as an English language version, and comparisons of the dialogue suggest that the filmmakers were well aware of the differences between the potential audiences. Maybe it's because I have a penchant for foreign films, but I would suggest avoiding the English version. Particularly when Seiji makes an announcement to Shizuku at the end of the movie - the difference in dialogue is particularly telling at such a crucial point in the film!

Ultimately, this is enjoyable fare although I'm not sure if I would have stuck with it if I hadn't been required to review it. It moves very slowly and the subject matter is a few years removed from what I'm looking for. However, the quality of the animation is excellent with every inch of the screen - no matter how minor the scene - realistically designed. So my main excitement is that if anime was looking this good in 1995 then what must it be like now? I'm off to find some more Miyazaki movies to find out.

The DVD includes several extras as well as the aforementioned English and Japanese language versions. There are several trailers, none of which are particularly inspiring, some screen shots of the fantastical sections of the movie, and also the chance to see the film played out as storyboards. I imagine these are for the completists only, but nevertheless might be of interest to a regular buyer.
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