Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Whisper of the Heart

Yesterday I saw an incredible anime film! Another brilliant masterpiece by Hayao Miyazaki. ^_^ I think this was my favorite Japanese film ever! Yes, even better than Ponyo, Spirited Away, and Castle in the Sky. The movie is called Whisper of the Heart. As might be apparent from this cover picture, it's about a couple young people who fall in love. But the story is a lot more involved that that. Hmm... to show you how much I loved the movie, here's as brief a summary as I can make of it:
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The girl, Shizuku, likes to read a lot, and soon she discovers by looking at the books' index cards that someone is always checking out the same books as she does. She wonders what kind of person he is, this Seiji Amasawa. Later she meets a friend to share some song lyrics she wrote for their graduation. Her friend thinks the song is good, but Shizuku doesn't believe she's any good. There's a little sub-plot where her friend has a crush on someone, but Shizuku forgets her book and when she comes back for it she sees a boy her age reading it on a bench. When he looks up, she says she forgot her book. He hands it back to her, also saying her name, which he must've read on the index card. Before leaving, he also comments that her song was corny. This puts her in a pretty funky mood, and she calls him a stupid jerk many times in quick succession to herself. ^_^

The next day, she has to take lunch to her dad at the library, and while on the train, she sees a cat traveling by itself. When it gets off at the same stop as she does, Shizuku feels compelled to follow it through a neighborhood she never knew about, all the way to a quaint antique shop. Looking inside, she sees a nice statue of a cat dressed in human clothes. The old man who works there tells her the cat-statue is called the Baron. He shows her a nice grandfather clock that tells a story too, but Shizuku finally realizes that she's been wasting too much time and dashes off to the library, which just happens to be nearby. When she gets there, she recognizes the boy who'd made fun of her song biking over to her, because she forgot the bag of lunch in the shop. Hmm, so he must've been related to the old man somehow. Before he bikes away, he says there's a lot of food in there, and does she eat like a pig? Once again, the boy leaves Shizuku in a foul mood, but she notes that the cat she'd been following was riding on the back of his bike. Mysterious...

Some other time, after a little bit of unimportant teenage drama at school, she goes back to the antique shop, but sees that it's closed. The cat is there, though, and she talks to it and pets it for a minute, until she sees the boy coming. He tells her the cat usually doesn't let people pet him, since he's a vagabond, living in a different house every day. Shizuku says she wanted to see the Baron again, but the store was closed. The boy is nice and lets her in to see it, showing her the way the statue's emerald eyes glint in the sunlight. Later she follows him down to the basement, where he's whittling a violin by hand. She greatly admires his skill, and asks him to play for her. He doesn't think he's any good, but is soon cajoled to play, on the condition, however, that Shizuku must sing along. Automatically, she says she's not a good singer, but when he starts beautifully playing the song she'd written lyrics to, she feels moved to sing.

In the middle of the song, the old man and a couple friends come into the shop and they hear the kids playing music, and for some reason they pick up their own instruments and start playing along. Shizuku and the boy are surprised, but they keep playing along until the end, where everyone chuckles at such an unlikely scene. While talking, one of the men says the boy is named Seiji, who Shizuku immediately recognizes as the name on the index cards, and for some reason she's mad at the boy again, because she never expected that Seiji was anything like him. Later she calms down enough to apologize to him while he's walking her home. Seiji in turn apologizes for calling her song corny, actually complimenting her on how good it was. He talks about his dream of going to Italy to study violin making, but his parents won't let him. Shizuku envies him for knowing what he wants to do in life.

The next day, Seiji comes to see Shizuku while in school, and she's mortified when he asks her, in front of her whole class, if he could have a word with her. A rumor had already gotten around the school that she's been seen with the boy and that they were dating, so she's duly embarrassed. On the roof, Seiji tells her that his parents said he can finally go to Italy to apprentice, but he has to be away for 2 months. Shizuku is happy for him, but sad that he has to leave so soon, since she's started to actually like him. Seiji admits that he'd noticed her long ago, and that he'd taken out the same books as her so that she might notice him. By this point, a whole bunch of kids were spying on their conversation and everyone accidentally falls down. They run away before Shizuku can catch them. (How immature.)

Shizuku soon decides that she's not good enough for Seiji, and must do something to prove herself worthy of his affections while he's away. So what does she choose to do? She writes a fantastical story based on the Baron statue and his lost partner. She asks the old man permission to write about the Baron, and he says she can, on the condition that he is the first person to read her finished product. She eventually agrees and gets right to work, researching for her book and writing day and night. All this writing interferes with her normal life, and her school grades start slipping. Her family worries that she won't be able to get into a good high-school, but let her continue with her mysterious project, since it's only for a couple months.

At long last, she finishes her story, which turns out to be a good-sized novel. (Unbelievable! In just two months?! This reminded me of NaNoWriMo.) The old man reads her story, as promised, and says that it's a wonderful read and congratulates her for all her effort. Despite all her hard work though, Shizuku is positive that he's lying, believing that her writing is terrible and that she'll never be good enough for Seiji. The man reassures her that she did incredibly well for her first time, and though it was a rough work, all she had to do was polish it a little. No one is required to be good at anything when they're just starting out. All she needs is some practice.

After some reconciliation, the old man tells her the real story of the Baron statue, which I'll let you discover for yourself. That night she goes home and sets her priorities straight, deciding to go back to studying hard for high school, rewriting her story only on the side. Quite early the next morning, Shizuku wakes up and incredibly sees Seiji below her window, come home a day earlier than expected and saying she must come down to him. Rushing outside, he takes her on his bike all the way to a steep hill, which he intended to ride up with her, but she gets off the bike and helps push him up instead, not wishing to be a burden to him. When they get to the top, they see a wonderful, perfectly animated sunrise. This was my most favorite scene in the film, because of how very real it seemed! Seiji tells her the good news that he's decided to stick in high school too and pursue his violin making career after he graduates. At the very end of the movie, Seiji goes so far as to hug Shizuku and tell her that he loves her. ^__^ What a finale!
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Yes, I know that this post is full of spoilers, but the story was so wonderful that I had to share the whole thing. I loved it so much, because it seemed to parallel a lot of my own life and my own dreams, and because it's a wonderful slice of Japanese culture. What school is like, how the people interact with each other... it's just so different from American culture. Again, I loved, loved, LOVED this film, and even though I gave away the whole thing, I insist that you absolutely must see it, because it's heartwarming and fun and simply an incredible movie-experience.

I've just reserved a bunch of other Miyazaki movies from the library. Can't wait for them to come in!

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