Film: Whisper of the Heart (1995)

aka: 耳をすませば (Mimi wo sumaseba)
language: Japanese
director: Yoshifumi Kondo
length: 106 minutes
watched on: 21/1

film still
Another aberrant attempt by myself to learn Japanese via the medium of film, which I’ve pretty much accepted is not just going to happen like that, although I’m managing to pick up the not-particularly-subtle differences between polite and normal speech.

As with my watchings of Kurosawa’s films, this is another attempt to fill up my knowledge of the Studio Ghibli canon – although unfortunately Hayao Miyazaki only produced this one or something – so that I can blab at the interviewers if (well, “when”, I should hope, but one doesn’t wish to presume…) I get this interview for JET next month.

And this film is pretty much classic Ghibli. Unlike the films that Miyazaki directed himself, our main character – a girl, as with like every other Ghibli film – doesn’t exactly travel into fantastic lands. She has a brief imaginary foray into this world in her own story, so it’s fantastical in its own way, but the main story is a slightly more grounded high school fable.

There are some beautiful moments in the film. The old man’s big grandfather clock springs to mind, and the film’s theme song – based on the famous song that goes “Country Road….” and has something about West Virginia, but sung in Japanese – is given a brilliant rendition when the Love Interest gets out his violin (he even makes violins… talk about niche interest! It’s fun to see things like that that have never really been done before), as in the picture above, and his grandfather comes downstairs with a folk band in tow. Yeah…

There’s also the cat, who’s quite funny. She meets him on a train and he seems to go (commute, even) between houses and get fat off different families. His story’s not really told, he’s just the kickstart to the rest of the film’s events. I wanted more of him.

The romance, however, is just so sickly sweet and fairy-tale-ish (although the use of that term is another issue) that there just came a point where it was unbelievable to me. Yes, I know it’s meant to be escapism, but I get enough of that anyway. Come on, Ghibli, subvert our expectations!

I just can’t help but feel this one could have been better. There’s an ongoing theme of polishing an emerald and retrieving it out of a piece of ore, which was a metaphor for the boy’s first violin, or the girl’s first story, being a bit crap but having potential. And it’s a really obvious metaphor for Yoshifumi Kondo’s first film as director: it needs polishing. Sadly, we’ll never know what potential he could have made, because he died soon after the film was released. But I think there’s a reason Miyazaki tends to keep more to strictly fantastical domains, or a romanticised Italy as in Porco Rosso. Cause or effect I don’t know, but having this film in a Japanese high school setting feels a bit pedestrian; it feels done, while the rest of Ghibli feels fresh and exciting.

That said, I still gotta see Grave of the Fireflies. I’m not sure how excited about that I am… it’s meant to be ridiculously sad. So it might be a long time before I get around to it…

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One Response to Film: Whisper of the Heart (1995)

  1. kelemta says:

    I haven’t yet watched this movie yet, because the only time I put it on to play was at a party so I coulnd’t make out any of what was going on. After a long time wanting to see Grave of the Fireflies though, I did buy it and watch it… some very sweet and moving scenes but definitely ridiculously sad. It looks very dated now but I would recommend it.

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