Dreams are easy things to keep; having the gall to actually reach for them is the hard part. There has never been a film about reaching for dreams quite like Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart. Written by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondō, who was primed to be Miyazaki’s virtual heir before his sudden death in 1998, Whisper of the Heart follows junior high student Shizuku, a bookworm with secret ambitions of becoming a writer. When Shizuku meets and falls for Seiji, a boy with the mission of traveling to Italy to becoming a world class violin maker, it sends her into a tailspin of an identity crisis. After all, what use is a directionless girl to a boy who already has a beautiful dream he’s willing to sacrifice for? This sets Shizuku on the path toward her own goals: she throws her entire being into writing a novel based on the Baron, an ornate cat statue with his own tragic past. But will the young girl’s story be any good?
Unlike many of Studio Ghibli’s efforts, like the fantastical Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, Whisper of the Heart is a film grounded in the very real, albeit beautifully realized streets suburban Tokyo… but that’s not to say that it’s lacking in any magic. Whisper of the Heart is a textured and spirited coming-of-age story filled with feelings that should resonate with nearly everyone. Every vibration of Shizuku’s story can be felt by any person who sees him or herself as an artist. There are tough lessons rumbling deep under the surface of the film, and the two young dreamers are quick to realize that failure is a real possibility. Sadly, actual success may be a grasp to far, but their dreams are still worth striving for.
Whisper of the Heart is not a film simply about dreams or passions. It’s deeper than that. At its sweet, nurturing soul, it’s a film about effort. Not simply giving your aspirations lip service, but working doggedly towards reaching them, and knowing the road paved towards anything worth having is never an easy journey, but one that’s sincerely worth taking. It all starts with a single step.