Thoughts On: Whisper Of The Heart - The Emergence Of Personage

24/11/2017

Whisper Of The Heart - The Emergence Of Personage

Thoughts On: Whisper Of The Heart (耳をすませば, 1995)


A book worm with her head in the clouds nears the end of junior high school.


Whisper Of The Heart is a touching romantic drama and the first feature-length Ghibli film not directed by Takahata or Miyazaki. Whilst this was the first and last film that Yoshifumi Kondō would direct for Ghilbli he had already worked on Kiki's Delivery Service and Only Yesterday and was seen to be a rising talent in the company. Unfortunately, this only emphasised the tragedy of his death (that would heavily impact the entire studio) four years after this film's release.

Watching Whisper Of The Heart it is very evident that Kondō had worked on Only Yesterday as these films seem to be in direct conversation with one another; one explores memories of childhood awakenings whilst the other explores a journey through childhood awakenings. However, with the young teen romance being quite a common story told in Japanese anime, Whisper Of The Heart starts out on grounds that have been covered many times before. Nonetheless, slowly pushing through familiar tropes and cliches, Whisper Of The Heart emerges as more than nostalgia-provoking goop. The strongest element of this narrative is its telling of a story of learning how to tell stories. In such, Shizuku struggling with a romantic awakening whilst confronting a shrouded and ambiguous future is a narrative device in communication with the book she comes to write. What she learns from her encounters and adventures are then reflected by not only the content of her story, but also the struggle and process of writing it. With clear subtext, Whisper Of The Heart is thus a film about fear and doubt as creative forces that make a person out of a child.

One of the most touching products of this subtext is seeing Shizuku operate in her different relationships. With her father, mother, sister, friends, acquaintances and romantic interests, she is a different person. Seeing her exist in these various social contexts builds a true picture of her character, and so seeing each individual relationship - sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically - morph, gives insight into an incredibly natural and genuine arc of character. Thus, the contrite and trope-ridden teen romance is subverted by a focus on genuine moments, not empty gestural moments that merely imply emotions.

With its rounded character and genuine story, Whisper Of The Heart holds a strong lesson in storytelling: It is one thing construct a romance that affects and it is another to construct real characters and put them on a journey. If we then compare Whisper Of The Heart to a film such as 5 Centimetres per Second, an episodic teen romance anime, we can see the archetypal shell of a teen romance to be constructed by both narratives, but filled only by Whisper Of The Heart. In such, 5 Centimetres per Second wants us to step into its narrative and use its story as a mechanism of catharsis. Such is a common paradigm present in many forms of storytelling, especially melodrama. However, there is a cheapness to the melodrama and a film such as 5 Centimetres per Second. They have us step into a realm of emotion and imagination, but that is it. Once guiding us into this place, Whispers Of The Heart does not just feed us what we want (which is catharsis). Instead, we are made to follow a character as more than an archetype. Thus, an individual, somewhat unique, story is created.

Following this line of thought, we can come to see that archetypes, motifs, themes or various other structures of narrative storytelling that impressionistically coax us into a cinematic space are sources of "attraction". Attraction, a little like spectacle, is the side of movies that make them so watchable and addictive. Too much attraction and spectacle, however, leaves movies looking like T.V: narrative storytelling - a kind embedded into a system that is all about more, not a cohesive whole - constructed to waste time away. When a story takes the reigns once it manifests a level of attraction or spectacle and begins asking us to keep up and go where it wants to go, it starts to become "art" (speaking beyond strict definition and merely in abstract, colloquial thought). This is the difference between 5 Centimetres per Second and Whisper Of The Heart. Both are beautifully animated and bear touching romantic dramas, however, one takes a step beyond this and provides more than archetypes and attraction; the heart, personality and charter of storytellers comes through the impressionistic haze.

And, uncoincidentally, this is what Whisper Of The Heart is about. It is about finding what makes you worth listening to and refining that. We - all humans - are the same to some degree; if we weren't we couldn't consume one another's stories (voices of personage), recognise archetypal structures, understand and be affected by them. However, whilst this constructs the possibility for communication, what comes through and sticks is the parts of ourselves that are more than ordinary and are consciously carved and nourished. It is the polishing of our personal 'gems', as this narrative implies, that brings people closer than they'd expect and makes a social nothing into something and someone's personal everything.


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