At my age I sometimes feel like that old me who’d swoon over love stories set to make teenagers fall in love. One of my favourites is a Japanese movie made by Studio Ghibli, Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo Sumaseba). Curiously the only film to be not directed by either Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata; the film was by the late Yoshifumi Kondo.
The film is loosely based on the manga of the same name written by Aoi Hiiragi. It tells the story of a 14-year-old Tsukushima Shizuku who loves to read and who has a penchant for writing her own song lyrics.
In the beginning of the story, Shizuku got curious about a certain Seiji Amasawa whose name she found on the library cards in the books she borrowed. She finds it amazing that he has read all those other books before her. She would be in quest to find who that Seiji is.
She met an annoying boy – he picked up a book she left accidentally. The boy would tease her about her song-writing – he said that she should stop it and then he would sing to her the lyrics she wrote. Later, he would tease how big of an eater she is – when she was actually tasked to bring the lunchbox to his dad who works at the library.
In the course of the story she followed a fat cat that led her up a hill to an antique shop which seems magical. There she saw a cat figurine with glimmering eyes. The old artisan named Nishi, who would eventually become her friend, says that the cat is called Baron von Gikinggen. There was also a grandfather’s clock at the shop which old Nishi showed Shizuku. She was so charmed by the displays at the shop that she almost forgot about her errand. When the clock stroke 12, she ran in a hurry and it was then that she left the lunchbox. The annoying boy then followed her on his bike and took the packed lunch to her just as she was getting into the library, teasing her.
Shizuku would often visit the shop but finds it closed. Following a not-so-fond day –confronted by a friend who likes her but is in turn liked by her bestfriend Yoko – she went up the store again to find the fat cat there. She sat and was petting the cat when the annoying boy came. It turns out that the owner of the shop, Nishi, is his grandfather. He also explained that the cat is a homeless and that he calls him Moon for being fat. Shizuku asks about old Nishi, wondering if he is ok. The boy says he is ok but the shop had been mostly closed lately. Shizuku asked if the cat figurine has been sold as she hasn’t been seeing it every time she peeps through the window. The boy said that the cat is special to his grandfather and it won’t be sold.
He invited Shizuku in and she was amazed at the view from the entrance door to the balcony as the house and shop were built by the hill, elevated, thus giving a lovely view of the city.
Upon entry one would see a workshop of different instruments. The two went up the stairs and the boy told Shizuku that the grandfather’s clock was only there for repairs when she seemed to be looking for it. It was picked up the day she left his father’s lunch revealing that the boy knew it wasn’t hers and was only teasing her. He then took out the Baron. He asked Shizuku rather impolitely to come over for her to see its eyes reflected by the sunset. She was in awe of the display of colors coming off from the figurine’s eyes. The boy left her there and went down the workshop. Some more minutes passed by and when Shizuku seemed to be awakened from being dazed she went down to find the boy crafting a violin.
She approached him eagerly asking questions. She learned that he has been learning how to make violins and that he knew how to play. Shizuku requested for him to play. At first he was adamant not to but gave in later on upon the condition that she will sing along. Shizuku, embarrassed, then retracted her request but the boy began playing a song she knew well, Country Roads. As Shizuku sings, old Nishi and two of his friends came and played along with their respective instruments. Everyone had fun and clapped after the performance.
(I had to change this video as the older one has been blocked by youtube)
Shizuku introduced herself to the older bunch and they congratulated her for being there the day the grandfather’s clock was repaired after 3 long years. One of old Nishi’s friend suddenly remarked “you have a fine friend there, Seiji.” Upon hearing the name, Shizuku was shocked as she never thought the annoying boy would be the same guy who has read a lot of books before her. They argued at this moment curiously watched by the adults. This is one part of the movie I like best.
Later, Seiji walked Shizuku home and they talked about his dream of becoming a luthier/violin maker in Italy. Shizuku remarks that it is amazing he already knows what he wants – making herself realize that she doesn’t. They said goodbye to each other but before leaving, Seiji complimented her that she has a way with lyrics. Shizuku frowned and said he was the one who told her she should stop but he seems to have forgotten about it.
The next day, it was raining and Shizuku was running late for school. Upon arrival, Yoko asked her if she is dating someone as somebody told her that she was seen last night walking with someone. Shizuku was surprised about it.
During break time, Seiji came to her class, asked a few boys by the door for her and when one answered she is indeed there, he came forward and asked her if she has a few minutes to spare. This sent her jumpy. Shizuku’s classmates were all cheering for her, teasing her about a boyfriend. This scene always makes me smile as I remember my high school classmates on those moments too. Shizuku requested Seiji to come up the rooftop, a characteristic feature in Japanese schools. It was raining so they just stood by the door. There, Seiji told Shizuku that he would be leaving for Italy and would stay there for 2 months. Shizuku was a bit saddened…A little bit later, the rain stopped – they went to the rails to see if a rainbow might appear. This scene is the most romantic despite the two only talking.
Seiji admitted that he noticed Shizuku from the library and how she would always be lost in a book. He even sat right beside her once to which she doesn’t remember. He also confessed borrowing all the other books that Shizuku hasn’t borrowed yet so that she would notice and it worked for him really well.
Seiji also stated “when I go to Italy, I will sing your song…” sweet!
This is what I like about this film – the subtle hints of affection between the characters that wouldn’t appear too aggressive to the younger viewers.
At this moment I was expecting something more romantic but the door opened suddenly because Shizuku’s classmates were trying to sneak and eavesdrop on what the two were talking about. It was another laughable moment reminding me of my own classmates.
I normally don’t write a movie plot as detailed as this but I like this story a lot…sorry about the spoilers.
Other subtle moments that I like would be when Seiji came to the library and sat across Shizuku without her noticing immediately. She was so engrossed with her research. Upon realizing that Seiji was there, she looked up and he said he would wait. He came over hearing from his grandfather that she would try to write a story of her own while Seiji is in Italy.
Later in the evening, Seiji walked Shizuku again but not as near as their house like before. As they part, Seiji extended his hand to which Shizuku put hers. This scene was full of promise.
In the next months, Shizuku will have to deal with being separated from Seiji while trying her best to finish her story and dealing with her parents and sister who noticed her lack of enthusiasm with her studies.
When she finally finished her story she went to see old Nishi whom she promised would be the first to read it. She was hesitant but requested for him to finish it soon. The story was coincidentally like the real-life story of old Nishi and her girlfriend Louise whom he never saw again after the war and of the cat figurines. Shizuku unknowingly wrote their love story. The scenes in the story were later on adapted to a new Ghibli film, The Cat Returns.
After a few talks and a bowl of Ramen, old Nishi drove Shizuku home. It was late already but she apologized to her mom and said that she would be a regular student once again after realizing that one needs to study more in order to write a better story. She fell fast asleep that night.
Early in the morning, Shizuku woke up fresh from a long sleep. She looked out the window to see that it was still a bit dark…looking below, she saw a boy on a bike and thought it was a dream to see Seiji there waving to her. She immediately run down to meet him forgetting her jacket. Seiji was ecstatic to see her and told her to hop on the bike as he wants to show her something special. He wrapped his own jacket around Shizuku when she attempted to get hers. During the ride, Shizuku would lean her forehead towards Seiji’s back – showing how she deeply missed him.
They went up a hill but it wasn’t easy although Seiji said he had planned on going up that hill with Shizuku too! Shizuku was not one to be a burden so she helped him push up until they reach the top. They continue to what Seiji calls his favourite place and from there they watched the sun rise, filling the city with golden rays.
At the end of the story, both decided they’d finish highschool before following their dreams, then Seiji asked Shizuku a little awkwardly for marriage to which she answered yes. This shows the difference of Japanese culture when it comes to relationships/commitment,well, to what I was used to, perhaps. Though it’s truly sweet and innocent.
(A fan art depicting the scene where Seiji sat beside Shizuku without her noticing him as she’s deeply lost in her book.)