Whisper of the Heart Blu-ray Review
Many anime features focus on a fantasy world filled with mythical creatures, incredible feats of courage or heroism, or even adult themes such as gratuitous violence or strong sexual content. Studio Ghibli made a name for themselves by bringing stories to the screen that are both fantastic and universal (SPIRITED AWAY, 2001 and HOWL’s MOVING CASTLE, 2004 being two of my favorites). These stories contain fantastic elements but always have more than a grain of truth that grounds them and makes them relatable for audiences around the world. WHISPER OF THE HEART constitutes one of their earlier entries; while it didn’t see worldwide distribution in theaters the film had a limited run in video and has just been released on Blu-ray.
WHISPER OF THE HEART opens with a startling choral rendition of Take Me Home, Country Road (aka Country Road) – yes, the 1971 John Denver classic. On the screen we see a bustling city and people going about their business. We’re quickly introduced to our dramatic heroine, Shizuku Tsukishima (voiced by Brittany Snow of PROM NIGHT and HARRY’S LAW), a young girl running errands while her parent’s work and study. When she gets home, Shizuku sits down with her parents for a moments reprieve before heading to bed.
Shizuku is a typical Japanese teenager: studying for entrance exams, she is finishing the equivalent of middle school. But in Japan the high school that admits you basically sets your course for university and then your career. Instead of focusing on this upcoming requirement, Shizuku spends most of her time in the clouds; reading books and writing lyrics – most notably alternative lyrics to Take Me Home, Country Road which will come up time and again throughout the story. It’s a quaint idea to use this song as a connecting piece between all of the vast choices facing this youngster – but I’m not sure it works on the American audience.
During the summer Shizuku and her classmates are attending school to study for their tests. Shizuku checks out books through the library and finds out that a young man has checked out every single book that she is reading… and she meets Seiji Amasawa (David Gallagher, more recently of SUPER 8), a young man in her grade who is studying and hoping to become a master violinmaker. Though she initially doesn’t like him, they soon form a bond and start spending time together. But with all of the changes coming up in their young lives, Shizuku and Seiji both have choices to make that will affect their futures – even though they may have feelings for one another.
Shizuku initially forms a bond with Seiji’s grandfather, who owns an antique shop that holds a cat statue that quickly captures Shizuku’s imagination. This causes her to return and also gives her a creative outlet and she soon begins to write the story of the mysterious “Baron” (voiced by Cary Elwes). We get to view glimpses of her story in dream-like sequences featuring some incredible artwork and some of the finer moments in the film – but they are too few and far between for my taste and the story is just a bit too cheesy to be a believable beginning to a new career or life.
Watching this mid-1990’s film on Blu-ray is a bit jarring. The movements of the characters are choppy and even though the picture is sharp it is unnerving and makes you wonder if there is something wrong with the disc. Even though it is presented in a fairly classic anime style, the movie lacks some of the things that have made Studio Ghibli films relevant around the globe. Specifically the story lacks a true fantastic element and while the story of young love is universal the specifics of the Japanese lifestyle make it difficult to follow sometimes. If you’re a fan of the medium or want to catch a glimpse of a very different lifestyle then check it out. Otherwise, I would stick to the other films in their collection.
Video: (1080p, 1.85:1 Widescreen) The picture is clear but the animation style is poorly represented in the wider shots, with choppy character movement that may immediately turn off some viewers. If you get past the opening, though, you’ll lose yourself in the vibrant world of WHISPER OF THE HEART.
Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio dubbed, or the original Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Original Production Audio is also available with English subtitles) I preferred the Japanese track with subtitles, even though the English track was decently done. An early offering, WHISPER OF THE HEART does not feature a lot of household names and the English voices often don’t match the flavor of the moment (as if they were recorded in a vacuum).
Four Masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue (34:45) Four slideshow presentations of the how the artwork was created that forms the background and texture behind Shizuku’s story/dream-sequences. These are incredible and getting to see the images come together is really interesting, but the feature is paced just a bit slow and long for a movie with the niche appeal of WHISPER OF THE HEART.
Original Japanese Storyboards (01:50:50) A must view for any aspiring animators or filmmakers – this is the entire film WHISPER OF THE HEART storyboarded and presented with the final soundtrack. Very interesting.
Behind the Microphone (07:59) Interviews with cast and crew about working on the film and the difficulties of voice work. Interesting but nothing here that you haven’t seen in more complete form on other animated films. A standard feature that should have been, and is, included on WHISPER OF THE HEART.
The WHISPER OF THE HEART Blu-ray also features the original Theatrical Trailers and TV-Spots for the film (10:45).