From The Forum With No Name:
Something I posted at the Nausicaa Mailing List six years ago (has it been that long?!):
Saw Whispers of the Heart (Please note: plot discussed in close detail). The difficulty here is this is the first I've ever seen of the genre of realistic Japanese high school romance-type anime. I'm not a big fan of young love on film--high school, grade school, nursery, or delivery room--in the first place; hard to put a film into context when you don't really know the context (or have previously held said context in utter contempt) (Note: I've seen a few since then, and this film holds up as one of the best in the genre, I'd say).
That said, the film has enormous charm, is a quiet story of a painful first romance.
The first ninety or so minutes, as Shizuku and Seiji fall in love, are a flawless romantic comedy--wonderfully understated, enchantingly told. I like the device of the library books--as if Seiji where stealthily and obsessively laying his presence all around Shizuku without her noticing it until the right time. I like the cat, fat and self-satisfied--I defy any real cat to come up with as insouciant a performance. I like the precisely executed slapstick bits, the perfectly timed embarrassing revelations, the momentum building up to that delightful moment on the rooftop, where everyone is listening in to the two of them talking.
The last twenty or so minutes are necessary, I guess, to lift this beyond being a mere (if perfect) romance, to explore the consequences of these two particular people falling in love. I can't really object to this part--at this point, the film pretty much could do what it wanted with me--and at least it kept true to its characters, bringing a rather ordinary (if nonetheless true) message home without the thud of obviousness or heavy moralizing.
You can say the marriage proposal at the end is a happy ending--but people declaring undying love at that age have a special pathos, in that they don't really know what the rest of their life will bring to them, or to their relationship. I think the credit sequence--the people walking across the bridge, with only that wonderful cat as recurring character--implies this life-goes-on warning.
I did think that though the fantasy sequence features a lot of flying and floating objects, it didn't have that special spark of a flying sequence actually directed by Miyazaki. (Not true; turns out it WAS directed by Miyazaki; I guess I just wasn't impressed with this particular sequence of his).
The film's special strength is in the Impressionist light that filters through trees (this was Yoshifumi Kondo's first and last directing effort--he died in 1998--and he seems to be a master of leaves and sunlight). One scene--where Shizuku and a boy hold hands--is especially memorable for the beauty of the image (again, with leaf-filtered sunlight), and the emotional charge of the moment.
Sweet and slight (in this case, slight being a high compliment); the best thing I can say for it is that it stays honest to its admittedly sentimental title: it does whisper something to your heart.
And a sequel--
I couldn't help but think of the Scott Spencer novel Endless Love (I can sense the raised eyebrows--but the novel is really much better than that hilarious Brooke Shields travesty).
The lovers there are roughly the same age (though far more, shall we say, physically precocious), and they do make some kind of commitment, though not of marriage. The boy tries to stick to this commitment, and is committed to a mental asylum (this is how we view commitment nowadays?). In the end, they separate, but the boy insists that, outside of time (and in a beautifully written final passage), his feelings for the girl remain the same.
It's not that they love each other less, or that they were incapable of deep or real love; it's just that things change, sometimes beyond one's reach or comprehension.
The two lovers in Whispers have the courage to make such a commitment--though I doubt if they knew what they were really up against. I don't find their gesture implausible, and I definitely appreciate the spirit behind it, but it's a brave thing to do in an essentially impermanent world. I think they know themselves enough and they know how they feel; I just don't think they know enough about the world at large just yet...which is why I find it so tragic and hopeful at the same time.