The wildly imagined worlds of the Studio Ghibli universe have long been an escape for many, who lose themselves in the fantastic visuals and stories they provide. But they don't just offer escapism through their fancifulness. By celebrating the everyday-ness of life they are also exceptionally relatable and almost always have a message that makes you think. Whisper of the Heart is one such underrated masterpiece by Studio Ghibli. Taking a departure from the quintessential Ghibli movies that typically have elements of magic and mysticism, it stays grounded and tells a very human story about finding one's passion and following it despite the fear of failure, thus becoming all the more relatable than any other film by Studio Ghibli. The film follows a teenage girl named Shizuku. A middle school student living in Tokyo, she is a bookworm, imaginative, a bit absentminded and fears she doesn't have a creative bone. Spending most of her time studying for exams like her classmates, she loves reading fantasy novels and makes it a point to regularly visit the library and check out new books.
On a mission to read 20 books during her vacation, she blissfully spends her time nestled among them in the public library where her father works. She finds her curiosity prompted on finding the same name Seiji Amasawa in the check-out card of most of the books she's read. As if the books were recommending this person to her. One day, trying to scram from the monotony of routine, she follows a stray cat uphill, to an antique shop where she meets a mysterious cat statue, a grandfatherly man, and the book guy, Seiji. She is drawn to both the boy and the statue and embarks on the life changing journey to find and claim her dreams.
The main point of contention in the story arrives when Seiji confides in her his desire to be a master violin maker and to train for it in Italy. While she has no knowledge on the subject, she understands the passion and drive Seiji has towards it. The guy is her literature soulmate, as well read, knowledgeable and perfectionistic as her, and he might be gone for a decade to realise his dreams while she has no idea what she wants from life. Shizuku realizes that she has no plans for her future. Dazzled by everyday life, she's lived her life one-day-at-a-time with no bigger purpose or challenge. She recognises her own insecurities in the face of Seiji's accomplishment. While revolving around adolescent characters and exploring issues they face (first love and awkward crushes), the film provides a very mature viewpoint towards finding your potential and self-worth.
The best thing about the movie for me was how it handled the process of creativity and the turmoil a creator goes through. The film stays grounded throughout, giving a very realistic approach to creativity and how it is honed. Now I am not an artist, but I do enjoy writing and look for ways to put across my thoughts creatively, so I found her journey exceptionally relatable. We witness Shizuku's drive, her passion, her hard work, making her creative process very palpable. The story brilliantly puts across the point that skill in a craft requires continuous effort. After two months of arduously working on her magnum opus novel, she cries saying "I just couldn't get the words out of my head." and anyone who has ever worked at writing knows exactly what she means. The ending doesn't give us Shizuku, the genius writer unparalleled in her talent, rather an aspiring writer who knows what she likes and how much hard work she would need to put in to polish herself up.
The movie subtly and skilfully discusses elements of self-doubt and fear of failure. As her self-set deadline approaches, Shizuku doubts herself, worrying both her story and she would turn out as failures. "What if I looked inside myself and I don't find any gems?" haunts her. She knows she isn't good enough (yet), that there are many writers out there more talented and refined than her. And that can be a truly daunting feeling. But instead of giving into the fear, she perseveres to give it her all to create something new. With some shots mirroring the Lo-fi girl, the epitome of concentration and dedication, Shizuku goes all-in for her book, giving it her best. Even Seiji whose determination inspired Shizuku to find her way had self-doubt too. "There are tons of people who are just as good as me." he says on many occasions, but he fights this fear too, stating, "I can't tell if I have talent or not until I try."
The story also brilliantly captures the importance of guidance and support for a creator. With Seiji's grandfather saying encouraging words like "You're wonderful. There's no need to rush. Please take your time to polish your talent." and "Don't expect perfection at first." to Shizuku or her parents, understanding her drive and assuring her that "Not everyone has to follow the same path." Shizuku gets great advice from adults around her that helps her see clearly through her confusion and reach for the talent. As a young person making sense of the world, this guidance helps her derive her agency to create. For Seiji, who knew what he wanted in life, an unsupportive father created different problems for him, making him think of ways to convince him.
The story of Shizuku and Seiji is a refreshing one too. They complement each other really well, always encouraging and motivating the other. Through Seiji's determination we witness Shizuku feeling empowered too. Shizuku's love for reading inspires Seiji to delve into different genres of books. In a scene where Seiji laboriously tries to cycle on an uphill road with Shizuku on the back, she quickly gets down, saying "I am no man's burden! I want to be helpful." pushing it along, ensuring they both enjoy the moment equally.
Set entirely in Tokyo, the movie humanises its concrete jungle showing its softer elements through various shots. While the movie takes its time getting to its point, once it does, it remains etched in your mind. A delight of a movie, this heart-warming, coming-of-age anime, is an absolute hidden gem that speaks to a variety of age groups, motivating them along the way to find their talent and continue creating. Its hopefulness and honesty remind you to not lose sight as inspiration and beauty can be found in anything, making you come back to the movie, time and again.