2015 is the 30th anniversary of the founding of Studio Ghibli and, according to Hayao Miyazaki, it may also be one of its final years as a studio. Because this is one of my favorite films studios and Miyazaki is one of my favorite artists, who’s made some of my favorite films, I’ve decided to go through the history of Studio Ghibli one film at a time.
If you’re looking for the discussions of the previous weeks:
- Laputa: Castle in the Sky
- Grave of the Fireflies
- My Neighbor Totoro
- Kiki’s Delivery Service
- Only Yesterday
- Porco Rosso
- Pom Poko
This does, however, mean I won’t be discussing Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which was made before the founding of the studio.
I’ll also only be discussing the Japanese audio version of the films, though that doesn’t mean the dubs are bad or not worth seeing. They’re just slightly different. I’ll also be discussing these with the assumption that they’ve been seen by you. So, yes, spoilers are below.
Yoshifumi Kondō only directed one film before he died. His Death caused Miyazaki to retire in 1998. We know, of course, that the retirement didn’t last, but it’s a significant moment in Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki. It was reported that Kondō essentially worked himself to Death, and it’s clear that Miyazaki slowed down, directing only four films in the fifteen following years of his career, whereas he directed six in the previous thirteen years.
Whisper of the Heart is the only film Kondō directed, though he helped animate and was the animation director for several of the previous Ghibli films. This is also the first Studio Ghibli film not directed by Takahata or Miyazaki. It would be seven more years till another director not named Miyazaki or Takahata would direct a feature film.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the Ghibli films that aren’t helmed by Miyazaki or Takahata. I think there’s a noticeable difference in quality, but Whisper of the Heart is a pretty solid first film. I think that’s something that should be considered even when I disparage these other Ghibli films in this way. These are first films being released. So while they’re not really great or on the level of Takahata or Miyazaki during this period, they’re not bad films. Many of them, like Whisper of the Heart, show great promise.
Unfortunately, we’ll never see what Kondō could have or would have done next.
Whisper of the Heart is a pretty light film. It’s not going to change your life or anything like that, and I don’t think it’s trying to. It’s just a solid animated film about first loves and growing up.
I really like this film, despite it not being on the level of most Studio Ghibli films. I find it pleasant and I like watching it. I don’t generally like films or even stories like this. Coming of age. They don’t do a lot for me, but I like this one. There’s just something about it that I find kind of comforting.
Maybe it’s because it reminds me of who I was when I was that age. Falling in love, hiding inside myself, reading all the time, not caring about school or consequences. The film is pretty childish, but it captures those feelings very well. Shizuku is a fun protagonist, in her own way. She’s selfish, self-confident, determined, but also kind of on the edge of ecstasy and despair. Maybe that’s a strange way to describe a character, but it’s how I’ve felt for much of my life.
The desire to create, to be larger than oneself, to be more than who we are, but having no idea how to get there. Feeling the swirling swell of inspiration, the maelstrom like power of creation, and then the crashing cacophony of inadequacy. I mean, that’s life, yeah? That’s what it feels like to be an artist, to put yourself into your creations and watch them flounder, always worse than that perfection imagined in your head.
Kondō captures all of this very well, but there’s also something unpolished about the whole film. Like moments that drag on too long for no real reason. There’s one such moment that sticks out to me because of how superfluous it is. Shizuku is going to sleep but first she needs to turn off the light. She reaches but can’t get it. She shifts over and still can’t reach it. She sits up slightly and turns it off.
Why take three seconds to do this? It doesn’t tell us anything about Shizuku or the story or even the room itself. It serves no purpose, but it’s there for a weird amount of time.
I mean, three seconds isn’t much time, and it may not even take that long, but it’s just empty screentime, really. That’s what I mean by feeling unpolished.
Everything’s animated well and it actually has some glorious visuals [like every sequence that takes place within her novel], but it has this kind of empty clutter too.
Kondō’s also not as great at examining humans. We get some of the odd quiet moments of how people behave, like when Shizuku is struggling with her novel or the way her father does every single thing, but then there are a lot of actions that feel more mechanical. Shizuku’s sister, for example, is kind of flat. We never really know or understand Shio, which is fine. We don’t need to, but she’s never really given humanity. She’s kind of like a devoted robot.
But the film does a lot of things well. Every moment with Seiji and Shizuku is pretty great. I like their story and interactions. I care about both of them, and they grow well together. I see myself very clearly in both of them.
I lived as Seiji, trying to impress a girl or be noticed by her in any way possible. But I also wasn’t afraid to go my own direction. That’s why I went to Ireland, to South Korea. Those were years away from the ones I loved and the women I wanted to love me. They were things I absolutely needed to do. Not for anyone else, but for me.
I needed to go off across the world. Not to find myself, but to challenge myself. Not to understand myself, but to see more of the world.
I still have that desire deep in me. There’s so much of the world I want to see. So much I want to see. So much I’ll never be able to see.
But, when I can, I make it a priority.
This is an adolescent love. In that way, it’s all quite silly and transient, but it’s insanely important to the people involved at that moment in their lives.
That’s why we’re not surprised when Seiji proposes or when Shizuku accepts.
That’s what preteens in love do, yeah?
Grand pronouncements and actions.
It’s not even about whether it will last or if the future will line up with their desires or if this even means anything at all.
It’s about that moment at that age.
When you’re young and bold enough to believe in anything that strongly.
When love can shape and change your life.
When it has to.
When it’s all that matters or will ever matter, regardless of time and distance.
So while I’ve never felt emotionally connected to this film in a strong way, like I do with My Neighbor Totoro, for example. I do connect with it in a different way. Maybe nostalgic? It’s like looking into a mirror that stretches ten or fifteen years back into the past and shows me who and what and why I was.
I don’t have much more to say about this. It’s a cute and fun and very pleasant film. Probably the best time to see this is at the age Shizuku and Seiji are.
I connect strongly with them, but I think the character that holds my heart strongest is Seiji’s grandfather, and maybe the Baron.
Unfortunately, we get more of the Baron in a film that I consider to be quite weak, but we’ll talk about that in a few months.
For now, enjoy this film.
Next week we’re diving straight into my head and heart with Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki.