Whisper of the Heart (1995)

We jumped a little outside our son’s comfort zone for tonight’s trip to the theater. Those great people at Fathom Events added 1995’s Whisper of the Heart to this year’s lineup of films from Studio Ghibli. It’s the only film that was directed by Yoshifumi Kondō, who died senselessly young after a very busy career as an animator and designer, and it lacks even a single explosion. The kid’s been all about car crashes and mortars and giant monsters lately, and then we made him sit still for 111 minutes about schoolkid crushes, first love, teen angst, demanding to follow your dreams when you’re all of 14 years old, and over there on the fringes where grownups stop noticing it, magic.

And indeed he did sit still, for the most part. Most of Whisper of the Heart is a pleasant and honest little coming-of-age romance, but there’s a little bit of comedy here and there, and when it’s our young heroine Shizuku’s turn to suffer the embarrassment gauntlet of everybody in her class freaking out because a BOY from ANOTHER CLASS has come to their classroom’s door, he was roaring with the rest of the audience. I say it’s her turn because the whole movie is a brilliantly-realized depiction of how fourteen year-olds act, and you know perfectly well that exactly the same thing happens in this schoolroom twice a week at least.

Speaking of schoolrooms, this class has just been told that a complex math formula is going to be on tomorrow’s test. That melodramatic fellow standing up in the back was me at age 14.

I like how this film emphasizes taking a break from madness and chaos and demands to just slow down, enjoy a beautiful sunset, catch how the light reflects off a statue’s crystal eyes, or take a few weeks and write a book. The film is set during that period where Japanese junior high students undertake what I’ve read is an incredibly stressful series of tests that determine their career track, which comes right as teenage hormones start making kids deeply stupid.

There’s a wonderful scene where Shizuku’s father tells her that it’s okay to take some time to focus on personal goals instead of studying for her next killer exam. I love that decision, because everyone, even crazy teenage girls, needs to take a break from stress and just breathe, no matter what demands life is making of you. That’s good advice from a lovely film that you all should see.

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