DVD Review: Whisper of the Heart
Country: Japan (USA Release)
Release Date: March 7, 2006
Distributor: Buena Vista
· Yoshifumi Kondo
· Brittany Snow/Youko Honna: Shizuku
· David Gallagher/Kazuo Takahashi: Seiji
· Jean Smart/Shigeru Muroi: Asako
· Courtney Thorne-Smith/Yorie Yamashita: Shiho
· Harold Gould/Keiju Kobayashi: Nishi
· Cary Elwes/Shigeru Tsuyuguchi: The Baron
· IMDb: Whisper of the Heart
by R.J. Carter
Published: March 21, 2006
"Whisper of the Heart" is new territory for me. I've seen Japanese animation before, of course. I practically grew up on Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets (and I even know it's actually Mach Go-Go-Go and Gotchaman!) I've even read my fair share of manga shoujo titles, like Vampire Princess Miyu. But if you asked me today about Japanese animation, I'd probably respond like many people with titles like Pokemon or Cardcaptors -- jumpy, flashy, hyper-toons.
But I've also heard there's more. I tried Princess Mononoke a few years back, having heard that Neil Gaiman was adapting the screenplay for American audiences and, while I can't recall much of it, I seem to remember rather liking it.
Right off the bat, "Whisper of the Heart" strikes me as something different from the anime I've seen before. It has a widescreen cinematic feel to it -- well, duh, it's a widescreen cinematic film. But...
There's such depth! The movements are so fluid! The lighting is incredibly done, and the backgrounds are so lush, and the perspective of the characters to their surroundings are always believably done.
Shizuku (Brittany Snow, "The Pacifier", Nip/Tuck) is a young girl who lives to read. But one thing has permeated her bookworm world -- a name keeps cropping up on the library cards of all the books she's checking out: Seiji Amasawa. Shizuku begins to develop an imaginary romance between herself and this mysterious boy who must be so very like her to like all the same books.
On her way to the library one day to study for her high school entrance exams, she comes across a fat cat riding the subway. Curious, she follows the cat to an antique shop. There, she finds a beautiful statue of a cat in formal attire and a top hat. "That's the Baron," she's told by the old proprietor, Nishi (Harold Gould, "Brother Bear", Freaky Friday). He's a kindly old man who enjoys having company but keeps odd hours. Shizuku returns later to find the store closed, and encounters the man's grandson, a boy from her school who constantly teases her, and whom she generally refers to as "stupid jerk." Imagine Shizuku's dismay when she learns that the "stupid jerk" is none other than Seiji!
Despite this, Shizuku starts to fall for Seiji (David Gallagher, 7th Heaven), and he for her. But just when their relationship looks like it might have a start, Seiji announces he's going to be skipping high school to go to Cremona to learn to make violins. Shizuku uses his example of chasing his dreams to chase her own dreams of writing. She pours all her time into writing a story about the Baron.
Seiji plays violin while Shizuku sings along to her version of
Viewers of Studio Ghibli products will recognize the Baron from the prequel story, "The Cat Returns." Here, he is a statue, coming to life (and voiced by Cary Elwes, "Comic Book Villains") only in Shizuku's story. Did Shizuku hone her craft to the point where she was able to write the story that became "The Cat Returns"? Ah, the possible story within the story... I love metafiction. (And here's another Easter egg for you to look for: the clock that Nishi is repairing is a "Porco Rosso", another Studio Ghibli film.)
"Whisper of the Heart" is a romantic tale with bits of magical realism tossed in that encourages the viewer: Do what your heart tells you -- but keep in mind that it's never easy when you do things differently from everyone else, and if you fail you've got no one to blame but yourself. Based on the manga by Aoi Hiiragi, with storyboards and screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki, the only disappointing thing about "Whisper of the Heart" is that it never got a widescreen release in theaters so that American audiences could truly appreciate the quality of the animation.
Previews include a montage of Studio Ghibli titles, "The Little Mermaid", "Cars", and "Chicken Little". The setup allows the viewer to change the audio between English or Japanese, with optional English subtitles.
Whisper of the Heart
"Behind the Microphone" (8:00)
Trailers and TV Spots (10:45)
Original Japanese Storyboards
The Special Features are spread across two discs. On the first disc, there are TV spots and trailers in the original Japanese, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette that visits the voice actors heard in the American release. The second disc, on first blush, is disappointing. The menu only has one option -- the original Japanese storyboards. Ah, but why then does it have audio options, like the movie, allowing you to turn on subtitles, and choose between English and Japanese audio? Because it's more than a simple collection of storyboards, as is common with many animation DVD releases. This is the full-blown movie, done with the storyboards instead of the animation. It's a fantastic look for animation buffs to see the pre-animation process.