Rejoice as more Studio Ghibli goodies hit blu-ray…
One of the principal joys of the work of Studio Ghibli is the constant theme of empowerment that runs through their films. Mainly female lead characters become, develop and pursue dreams of happiness and fulfilment in a surprisingly adult and complex way that melts the hearts of cynics like myself.Given the number of attempts to hand on the torch of Ghibli from the great Miyazaki and Takahata, it’s easy to forget that their first anointed successor was Yoshifumi Kondo, the director of Whisper of the Heart. Sadly, Kondo died only a couple of years after the release of the film and the promise his debut showed was not to be built upon.
Whisper of the Heart concerns Shizuko, a bookish girl preparing for school exams and making her first proper steps into adulthood. As school friends reveal crushes, she is more interested in an enigmatic cat she meets on a train whom she follows to an intriguing shop and the awkward, occasionally rude young man who works there. Romantic coincidences, dreams of the future and a test of young love follows.A very comfortable fit into Ghibli’s canon, Whisper of the Heart delivers a pleasingly grown up tale of adolescence involving precocious talents engaging with their futures and their hearts. It sits as a breezier companion to the earlier Only Yesterday, reflecting on the same approach to life choices as that work did but here from the vantage point of a teenager.
There are a number of truly revelatory sequences and some very affecting scenes within this assured first film. The impromptu jam session in the shop’s basement is one of the sweetest moments in any Ghibli film, the sultry cat that baits suburban dogs leaves me laughing every time and, of course, the Naohisa Inoue inspired tale of the Baron is so intriguing that it required another film, The Cat Returns, to flesh it out further. The ending though, seems rather too neat and forces the viewer to embrace romantic optimism after a little too much emotional realism to ground it believably. Perhaps less severe viewers may not agree, and I would affirm that this doesn’t ruin a marvellous modern fable.
Judged alongside other potential successors at Ghibli, like Goro Miyasaki and, most recently, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Kondo’s film displayed the same talent as Ghibli’s founders possessed to move, challenge and uplift the viewer. Who knows how much more the director could have added to the studio’s legacy, but Whisper of the Heart rubs shoulders with the great works of Ghibli and that in itself is some recommendation.
Released as a dual format edition, only the blu-ray was made available for our review. The BD is “B” region locked and a 70% filled BD50 disc where the transfer accounts for 25.9GB of the capacity. The feature is presented at 1.85:1 in a AVC/MPEG-4 1080P encode with a frame rate of 23.98 per second and looks natural and film like, rather than filtered and over sharpened. Colours remain faithful to the pastels of the original film, and detail in and out of light seem very acceptable to my eye. All in all, this is a very good sympathetic treatment in keeping with recent Ghibli BD transfers.Two lossless 5.1 tracks are offered as audio options, with the choice of the original Japanese soundtrack with optional English subtitles seeming far more preferable to me than the English dub. Outside of the dialogue these two tracks are substantially the same in terms of quality of reproduction, placement of effects and use of music. In both mixes, voices are available across all of the channels as the action requires and the audio offered is as three dimensional as you could hope. The English subtitles are clear and intended to follow the Japanese track as they differ substantially to the English dialogue.
Plenty of special features are offered here, although I think that hides the lack of anything particularly substantial or memorable. The more interesting features are examples of artwork or the picture in picture storyboard comparison which accompanies the main film. There is a 35 minute feature on artist Naohisa Inoue’s art which shows several of his works as they are built up into the kinds of images which inspired the Baron sequence in the main film.
There are many trailers, mostly in HD, TV spots are also offered, but my advice is that you skip over the “Behind the microphone” piece where the US voice cast opine on their art.
Whisper of the Heart is a lesser know Ghibli film that has got a fine transfer here, you should seek it out if you like grown up animation about growing up.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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