I’m a big fan of Studio Ghibli, as I always try to watch their films no matter how strange and obscure as they are. This brings me to one of their lesser-known films that I’ve been meaning to catch up on for quite some time, Whisper of the Heart, where Hayao Miyazaki wrote the screenplay and Yoshifumi Kondo (who sadly passed away in 1998) directs. While its slower pace and genteel nature may not place it among the studio’s more famous efforts, Disney’s new high-definition Blu-ray transfer helps bring it home to a new audience to enjoy, as it deserves a look from fans of the famous anime studio, as well as those who appreciate a good slice-of-life drama that’s beautifully drawn and animated.
The film follows the bookworm-ish Shizuku (Youko Honna / Brittany Snow) that is studying hard to prepare for her high school entrance exams. As she goes to check out some books from the library, she discovers that a talented violinist named Seiji (Kazuo Takahashi / David Gallagher) has taken the books she needs and sets out to learn more about who he is. They get to know each other, and agree that a higher education isn’t what they’re looking for as Shizuku wants to be a writer while Seiji want to train as a woodworker’s apprentice.
Seiji’s grandfather, Nishi (Keiju Kobayashi / Harold Gould), lets Shizuku write about his magical cat figurine named The Baron (Shigeru Tsuyuguchi / Cary Elwes) which comes alive in her dreams and goes on adventures that she writes about every time she wakes up. Of course, there’s plenty of drama to be had as trials and tribulations arise for the two of them as Shizuku works on her story while Seiji trains far away under a woodworking master to fulfill his dream to become an apprentice.
Despite its slower pace, I enjoyed how Whisper of the Heart played out as I watched. I especially liked how both the main and supporting characters really came together as a family, and who could possibly resist a cat figurine that comes alive and has magical adventures? And while I prefer watching anime with the original Japanese language track, the English dub turned out to be pretty fitting for the characters as well.
As with the other Ghibli films, Disney has done a wonderful job bringing this one to Blu-ray, as the picture and sound really come through. Things look even more beautiful thanks to high-definition, as the animation, vivid colors and detail look extraordinarily better than its 1996 DVD release (how far we’ve come). The DTS-HD 5.1 audio for both English and Japanese audio tracks are spot-on as well, as every piece of dialogue along with the score from Yuji Nomi can be heard perfectly.
The extra features are scant, but still worth watching. There’s an option to watch the entire film in storyboard form for those who wish to do so. “Behind the Microphone” goes behind the scenes with the English dub stars and features interviews with Brittany Snow, Ashley Tisdale, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Jean Smart, Harold Gould, David Gallagher, and Cary Elwes. While these are great, it would’ve been nice if some interviews with some of the Japanese cast and crew were included as well.
“Four Masterpieces” is an artistic treat that runs for a little over thirty minutes and features a beautiful montage of four watercolor paintings by Naohisa Inoue using time lapse photography to show how each piece came about. The four paintings displayed are “A Resort Hut,” “Snow Purified Hills,” “Snow Purified Night,” and “Four Seasons on the Hill”, all which include wonderful sound effects and music as they come alive on screen. Rounding out the extras are some Japanese TV spots and trailers for the film.
While some many not appreciate its slower pace, I found Whisper of the Heart to be a nice slice-of-life drama with just a touch of the famous Studio Ghibli fantasy magic. Disney’s new high-definition Blu-ray transfer is worlds better than the previous 2006 DVD release, as both the picture quality and sound design have been upgraded substantially and have never looked better. There’s plenty of English-language features to watch after the credits roll, although it would have been great to see a few more Japanese-centered ones (though the beautiful works by Naoshia Inoue make up some). Those who enjoy a good drama and amazing animation are sure to enjoy this lesser-known classic, which definitely deserves a spot in your Blu-ray collection alongside other Studio Ghibli releases.
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Walt Disney Video