Whisper of the Heart Blu-ray Review

Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart is a beautiful film yet the experience felt like spending two hours flipping through books for teenage girls in the Young Adult section of a bookstore. Not that there’s anything wrong with a grown man reading Nancy Drew, I just couldn’t stop reminding myself of those thoughts as I watched this film. I’m the last person to categorize films for men, women, or children since I love all kinds of films. I rarely use the term “chick flick”, I sometimes watched female-geared cartoons such as Jem and She-Ra when I was a kid, and my favorite animated film of all-time is another G-rated Ghibli film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, which may seem like a movie that was created for 4-year old girls, but Whisper of the Heart still feels geared to teenage girls. The film is still really good and the animation is extraordinary, but this is one Ghibli film that did not totally amaze me or my 6-year old son who kept on asking me when the magic was going to happen.

Based on a very popular Japanese manga comic book by Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper of the Heart was directed by Yoshifumi Kondou, an animation supervisor on Hayao Miyazaki’s previous films, but unfortunately died some years after the film’s release. This sweet coming-of-age story focuses on 13-year old Shizuku (voiced by Brittany Snow) who spends her summer vacation reading, writing, translating foreign pop music into Japanese, stressing over high school entrance exams, following a wandering cat, and being infatuated with a boy. Mysteriously, Shizuku notices on the checkout cards on every book she borrows from the library were also taken out by the same person – Seiji Amasawa. As she speculates who is this Seiji, she ends up coincidentally meeting him anyway after following a wandering cat around town and into a charming antique store. Ambitious and creative just like Shizuku, Seiji is a 13-year old who wants to become a famous violin maker in Italy. As the two kids hang out and share their dreams with each other, they begin to fall in love.

While Whisper of the Heart is a touching drama about young love and the relentless drive of innocent teenagers who really want to do something important with their lives, I missed the fantastical elements which are prevalent in the majority of Ghibli films. Even as most Ghibli films have the recurring pattern of powerful storylines (usually about man versus nature) and charismatic female protagonists, the fantasy elements are part of what gives Ghibli animated films a huge edge over other animated ones. Without fantasy, Whisper of the Heart turns out to be a very cute coming-of-age film with extraordinary animation (just like the two other serious, reality-based, teenage-issue Ghibli films – Ocean Waves and Only Yesterday). The only fantastical elements in Whisper of the Heart involve two cats. One is The Baron who is the main character depicted in short fantasy scenes from Shizuku’s novel-in-progress. The other one is Muta, the wandering cat that Shizuku follows all around town. The most exciting scenes in Whisper of the Heart are whenever these two cats pop up, which aren’t that often. Don’t be surprised if the storyline isn’t so mesmerizing for young children or for adults when most of the film focuses on teen issues. Even though there is nothing wrong with the “G” rating, Whisper of the Heart feels more like a PG-rated movie because young children (or adults) may get bored when there aren’t any cats or fantasy scenes popping up on screen. Ironically, The Baron from Whisper of the Heart was so popular in Japan that an indirect spinoff, The Cat Returns, was created seven years later by Studio Ghibli. For anyone that craves a more fantastical version of Whisper of the Heart with comedy, adventure, and talking cats, The Cat Returns is your movie!

Disney’s 1080p 1.85:1 video quality is really gorgeous. This movie has so much more life on Blu-ray and is a huge upgrade compared to the respectable DVD version. Colors are amazingly rich and deep, saturated without bleeding. Shots of sunsets and cityscapes come alive. All Ghibli films need to be transferred to Blu-ray because they are complete works of art and even the backgrounds aren’t just typical animation – everything in the background has as much importance as characteristics in the foreground. The animation has such fine detail, you will want to jump into this animated world. When I watch a Disney movie, I love the animation but I don’t really have the urge to be in that world. When I watch a Ghibli film, I literally want to jump into that world.

I’m not a fan of dubbed live-action movies, but I sure love dubs for animated films. The Ghibli films released on Blu-ray or DVD in the USA have all received excellent English dubs, so I prefer to watch them with English audio, especially since the visuals are so breathtaking. The English DTS-HD 5.1 sounded very natural and clear, while effects displayed good reproduction without being gimmicky. The balance between dialogue, music and effects is perfect. Since this movie isn’t an action film, the elements never pushed the mix, but they seemed accurate and clean. During Tokyo street scenes and the few fantasy scenes with The Baron, the sound effects were a bit more enveloping. For a front-speaker heavy film, the audio sounded perfectly fine. There were no technical issues with audio quality whatsoever. I also tested out the Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio with a bunch of scenes and this track seems to be as equally as impressive as the English one. As is quite common with Japanese animated films on video, the English subtitles with the Japanese audio are different from the spoken English translation with the English audio.

English, English SDH, and French subtitles are also included.

The extras offered on this Blu-ray are pretty generic. The one interesting extra is “4 masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue” which shows a progression of artwork created by Japanese fantasy artist Naohisa Inoue who created some backgrounds for Whisper of the Heart. Beautiful artwork but you can watch this feature with your finger on the fast-forward button.

– Original Japanese Storyboards (1:50:50)
– Behind the Microphone (7:59)
– Background Artwork from “The Baron’s Story” (4:46)
– 4 Masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue (34:43)
– Trailers & TV Spots (10:45)

I worship animator Hayao Miyazaki and his Ghibli films. After watching Spirited Away in the theaters in 2001, I have been actively importing Ghibli Blu-rays/DVDs that either take forever to get released in American theaters and on video, or don’t get released here at all. I have now caught up and have seen the majority of these masterpieces. Even my least favorite Ghibli films, including Whisper of the Heart, are still pretty impressive and much better than your average animated film from anywhere else.

Animated dramas marketed to teens are quite rare. The typical animated film marketed to a 13-year old has hyperactive characters slinging one-liners and insults back and forth with each other. As we are flooded with these kinds of children’s movies, Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart is a special one – a mature film for kids with a decent attention span.

Disney has given us a Blu-ray with remarkable video and audio quality. For fans of Studio Ghibli, this Blu-ray is such a treat. My son and I did not love Whisper of the Heart but maybe someday my toddler daughter will have a stronger connection to it. I will certainly want to revisit this animated film in the future, so I highly recommend adding this Blu-ray to your collection as long as you keep in mind that Whisper of the Heart is more of a reality-based, teen drama and not a typical Miyazaki fantasy film.