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DVD ReviewWhisper of the Heart (Mimi wo Sumaseba) slots neatly into the Studio Ghibli catalog of winsome teen heroines. Written and storyboarded by the now legendary Hayao Miyazaki, it was directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, who sadly died of an aneurism before he could make another film. Fondly regarded by many anime fans, Whisper is a sweet, leisurely tale about a girl trying to figure out who she is and what she's capable of.
Shizuku (Yoko Honna) is a junior high student preparing for her high school entrance exams. A voracious reader, she notices that the books she's been checking out from the library all have the same name on the check-out cards: Seiji Amasawa. Curious as to who this mysterious guy is, she goes about her daily activities, which include translating the John Denver song "Country Road" for her classmates and counselling her best friend Yuko on her love life. Into the mix comes Seiji (Kazuo Takahashi), who turns out to be nothing like the guy she imagined. They strike up a friendship, but Shizuku feels herself a failure next to the ambitious Seiji, who wants to study violin making in Italy. Next to that, Shizuku feels like she's done nothing.
So, Shizuku decides to put herself to the test, in part to prove herself worthy of Seiji. She puts her schoolwork to the side in order to write a story inspired by an antique owned by Seiji's grandfather (Keiju Kobayashi), an antiques dealer. It's here that I found the film to go slightly off the smooth path it had been traveling; Shizuku's story just came off to me as really cheesy and, well, juvenile. The message at the film's heart however, is one worth learning; namely, that talent needs to be subjected to hard work, brushing aside the worthless bits to uncover that which will endure. The film spends most of its second half on Shizuku's struggle to live up to her imagined standards, and I felt like this went on a little long.
The love story between Shizuku and Seiji is nice, though some may have problems with the finale, something added to the original manga story by Miyazaki, who wanted a definitive ending, though how anyone could call it such is a bit beyond me. The film has any number of lovely small moments amidst the larger plot, like Shizuku's argument with a classmate in love with her, something she had never realized, and the impromptu performance of "Country Road" by Seiji, Shizuku, and Seiji's grandfather and his friends. I've never been a fan of the song, but it's a warm scene. In fact, that's how I'd categorize most of the film. There's nothing cynical about Whisper of the Heart; it's an idealized world of sorts, but there's nothing wrong with that. Studio Ghibli's general eye for detail strongly adds to the film, making this world palpably real, from Shizuku's family's apartment, filled to bursting with books and clutter, to the antiques in the grandfather's shop. It's a film to admire simply for its design if nothing else.
There are two language tracks to choose from, the original Japanese track and a new English track. I tend to be a purist about these things, so I watched the film in its original Japanese, and the peformances are uniformly fine. The English dub is perfectly OK as well, though some of the original flavor is lost. For the subtitle-hating crowd, it's nice to have the option. The main name in the dub is Cary Elwes, who plays the Baron in Shizuku's story (and appears in the pseudo-sequel, The Cat Returns).
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Whisper is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it looks fine: colorful, clean; I find nothing to complain about.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The English and Japanese tracks are in Dolby 5.1, and they're both solid. The movie is fairly low-key in terms of sound, but the surrounds are put to subtle use in presenting ambient noise.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Extras Review: None of Studio Ghibli's Region 1 DVDs have been especially mind-blowing in terms of extras, and Whisper of the Heart is no different. It includes the usual Behind the Microphone (08m:00s) featurette; I have seen several of these now, and they become less and less interesting each time out. The main voice actresses discuss their characters, and the producer and dub director gladhand the work as well. It's fluff, and not worth viewing if you've watched one of these before. A trailer collection (10m:45s) collects six trailers for the film, strung together into one chapter on the disc. They are letterboxed in a 4:3 window. On the second disc is the other main feature of the Ghibli DVDs, which is the film with storyboards instead of the finished visuals, synced to the soundtrack. If you're an animation student, I can see this being of interest; it simply does nothing for me. I applaud the effort though.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsA warm, gentle tale, Whisper of the Heart stands as another excellent Studio Ghibli anime. The presentation leaves little to complain about, and series regulars will be familiar with the extras.
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