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  • Movie review: WHISPER OF THE HEART (1995)

    July 2015, marked the 20th anniversary of this film. Hayao Miyazaki has been an icon in the animated film industry for years. That is probably one reason why Disney bought the rights to his films. This film can be found on DVD with Japanese and English audio tracks.

    A story should have three elements setting, tension and resolution. The film begins with scenes giving the viewer the setting or background of the story. Shizuku is a middle school student; her older sister a university student, her mother a graduate student and her father an employee at the library.

    The film is a well-crafted film with various “threads” tying the story together. One of the thread s is the opening theme song “Country roads” sung by Olivia Newton-John, which was originally popularized by John Denver. The song does not simply show up and vanish. The song is an integral part of the story. Shizuku, a middle school student, is given the task of writing a Japanese version of the song. She shares her version with the song with her friend Yuko, who thinks the song is good. Shizuku is not satisfied, saying her version of the song is “trite.” Then she share her parody of the song “concrete roads” which mentions trees begin cut down, valleys being filled and her hometown being full of concrete roads. This writer wonders if the parody makes an allusion to another John Denver song “Rocky Mountain High” which made reference to tearing up the land. Shizuku and her friend laugh about the parody.

    Another thread which ties the story together is the old fashioned library check out card. At the time of this story, the library is moving from a paper check out card system to the electronic bar code system. Shizuku, an avid reader, notices the name of Amakawa, Seiji on the library card when she checks out books. She wonders who he is and what he is like. It turns out later in the film that Seiji purposely checked out those books to get noticed by Shizuku. Had the technology been bar code, Seiji would have probably found it difficult, if not impossible to put himself on Shizuku’s radar. The two characters have a conversation when Shizuku goes back to retrieve the library book, she left on the bench. In the book was also her song “concrete roads.” She finds Seiji looking at the book he hands her the book and addresses her by name. She asks him how he knows her name. He smirks and says guess. Then he adds the advice to forget about “concrete roads.” Shizuku realizes he read her song and is upset. Seiji definitely made an impression on her, but not exactly favorable.

    A third thread which connects the story is a fat cat. On the train Shizuku encounters a fat cat. She is entranced by the cat and follows the cat to a shop. There she meets an old man who is in the process of repairing a clock. She also notices a cat doll dressed up as a European aristocrat. Shizuku is fascinated by the sights of the shop. Then she remembers she has to deliver lunch (bento) to her father, in the library. The old man points the way. As she is running she hears someone calling her name. It is Seiji. He is on a bicycle and holding the lunch that Shizuku was supposed to deliver to her father. The reason Seiji was able to help was the lunch was left at the old man’s shop and the old man happened to be Seiji’s grandfather.

    In addition to these threads, the film explores the relationship between the various characters. The initially cool relationship between Shizuku and Seiji begins to warm up. Shizuku learns that Seiji wants to become a violin maker. To do so he wants to travel to Cremona, Italy to apprentice in the art of violin making. She is encouraged by Seiji’s example and decides to try her hand at writing. The cat doll, called “the baron” in the old man’s shop provides the inspiration for Shizuku’s novel. She starts doing research for her story. Her father in the library notices that his daughter starts reading non-fiction books instead of the usual fiction books. He is surprised by the change. Due to the large amount of time spent on the novel, Shizuku’s grades suffer. Her parents want her to focus on school. She begs for a little more time. In an act of faith the father lets her proceed with her plan. Both Shizuku and Seiji have conflicts with their parents about their career goals. Both Shizuku and Seiji’s parents are set on the standard “go to school” and get a job while Shizuku and Seiji want to follow their own path. This tension is resolved when the Shizuku’s parents allow her the few weeks of letting her pursue her path, while Seiji’s father says to give it a two month trial in Cremona. This was probably the most reasonable solution. The parents did not totally give in to their children’s wishes. Instead they in effect said give it a try and if it does not work out go back to the standard path.

    While this film was not meant to be a vocational guidance movie, it did raise some legitimate questions about what path one should take in choosing a vocation. The “magic” formula of getting a degree and fitting into any job does not work. In this movie Seiji and Shizuku went with their strengths and passion. The movie evokes in me real life examples. I know of someone with an engineering degree who decided to pursue a doctorate in music. I also know of another engineer who decided to pursue a path as a patent lawyer. In other words it is better to be a good musician or good lawyer than an unenthusiastic, mediocre engineer.

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