drama, Italy, Japan, Kei Tanaka, Masaomi Kondo, movies, Nana Seino, reviews, Rio Uchida, Runa Yasuhara, Sara Sumitomo, Takuma Otoo, Tori Matsuzaka, Towa Araki, Tsubasa Nakagawa, Whisper of the Heart, Yuichiro Hirakawa, Yuki Yamada
February 8, 2023
Directed by Yūichirō Hirakawa
Japanese with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan and in Italy, the dramatic film “Whisper of the Heart” features a predominantly Japanese cast of characters (with some white people and a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: When they are 14 years old, Japanese students Shizuku Tsukishima (who dreams of becoming a writer) and Seiji Amasawa (who dreams of becoming a professional cellist) meet and fall in love, but their romance is tested over a 10-year period, during which he moves to Italy and starts a new life as a successful cellist in a neo-classical musical group.
Culture Audience: “Whisper of the Heart” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the manga series and the 1995 animated movie and on which is movie remake is based, will appeal to viewers who don’t mind watching romantic dramas that sometimes get sappy about long-distance love affairs.
“Whisper of the Heart” is a sometimes whimsical, sometimes sentimental drama about the longtime, bittersweet romance between the two main characters. The movie sometimes gets repetitive and tedious, but the overall story is told in an appealing way. “Whisper of the Heart” explores some aspects of the story’s long-distance romance with great emotional tenderness, while other aspects seem very rushed or vague in the movie.
Written and directed by Yūichirō Hirakawa, “Whisper of the Heart” is both a remake and a sequel for the 1995 animated film of the same name. Both movies are based on the 1989 manga series “Whisper of the Heart.” It’s not necessary to read the manga or see the 1995 animated film before seeing the live-action film, but it helps to have this background information if viewers want a point of comparison to see how all three formats tell the story of the main characters.
The animated film “Whisper of the Heart” focuses on the two main characters when they were 14 years old. In the live-action “Whisper of the Heart,” the story goes back and forth between showing the Japanese main characters when they were 14 and when they are 24. The adult version of these characters have the storyline that is much more dramatic but also more frustrating because there was potential for the story to be better developed.
The couple at the center of the story are Shizuku Tsukishima and Seiji Amasawa, who are both artistic in different ways. Shizuku (who is quiet and bashful) wants to be a novelist. Seiji (who is outspoken and confident) wants to be a cellist. (In the animated film, wants to be a violin maker.) In the live-action “Whisper of the Heart,” Nana Seino has the role of 24-year-old Shizuku, and Runa Yasuhara has the role of 14-year-old Shizuku. Tôri Matsuzaka has the role of 24-year-old Seiji, and Tsubasa Nakagawa has the role of 14-year-old Seiji.
At 14 years old, Shizuku and Seiji, who attend the same school in Tokyo, met by chance because she found out that he checked out the same books at a local library. At first, Shizuku had a bad impression of Seiji because he would tease her at school over petty things. Shizuku is a shy student who loves books, and she’s hurt by this type of negative attention by Seiji.
One day, Shizuku sees an orange and white cat on the street and follows it into a trinket shop called Earth Store. Inside the shop, Shizuku is immediately drawn to a cat figurine doll that shows the cat standing up like a human and dressed in a tuxedo. The figure is about 10 to 12 inches tall. The shop owner is a friendly elderly man named Shirō Nishi (played by Masaomi Kondô) introduces himself to Shizuku and tells her that the cat’s name is Baron.
Later (this is not spoiler information), Shizuku finds out that Shirō is Seiji’s grandfather. By chance, Shizuku and Seiji happen to be in the shop on the same day. They start talking and eventually come to like each other when they find out that they have a lot of the same interests. Their friendship gradually turns into love, and they promise to be loyal to each other.
Shirō eventually tells Shizuku the story of Baron and how this cat figurine is a symbol of love that Shirō found and lost during World War II. The orange and white cat that lives in the shop is named Moon. These two cats inspire Shizuku to write her first story, with encouragement from Seiji, who wants to be the first person to read the story, which is called “Baron’s Tale.” Likewise, Seiji has written a song called “Wings to Fly” that he eventually shares with Shizuku.
What the live-action “Whisper of the Heart” movie shows in the adult lives of Shizuku and Seiji is how they are dealing with a long-distance romance. There is a 10-year leap between the connected storylines with hardly any information on what happened in between those 10 years. All viewers know is that at 24 years old, Shizuku still lives in Tokyo, while Seiji is now a working as a professional cellist who has moved to Italy, where he has been living in Rome for at least three years. Seiji is the leader of a neo-classical music group.
Shizuku’s career plans aren’t going as smoothly. She has given up on being a novelist and has become a book editor. A conversation shown early in the movie reveals that Shizuku left a large publishing company (where her former boss wants to hire her back) and is now working at a small publishing company whose specialty is children’s books. And the job is mostly miserable for Shizuku.
For starters, she has a demanding boss (played by Takuma Otoo), who doesn’t hesitate to yell at Shizuku and belittle her, often in front of her co-workers. His biggest gripe is that Shizuku hands in manuscripts that he thinks are lackluster, but Shizuku can never seem to do anything that will please him. Meanwhile, Shizuku is also dealing with a difficult author named Mr. Sonomuro (played by Kei Tanaka), who is one of the company’s most famous writers. Mr. Sonomuro’s complaint about Shizuku is she’s not authentic enough when communicating with him and making editing suggestions.
These criticisms might be valid, but Shizuku’s boss in particular seems to take pleasure n humiliating her. Shizuku is constantly in fear that she is about to be fired, so she is nervous and on edge when she’s at her job. And this insecurity makes her even more likely to mess up and get shouted at by her boss all over again.
Shizuku’s only emotional comforts in life come from her romance with Sheiji, as well as her close friendship with her two housemates: Yūko Harada (played by Rio Uchida) and Tatsuya Sugimura (played by Yuki Yamada), who are a couple. Shizuku, Yūko and Tatsuya have known each other since they all went to the same school together as teenagers. Back then (as shown in flashbacks), there was a love triangle going on that threatened to ruin the friendship between Shizuku and Yūko, but it all got sorted out, as Shizuku and Yūko ended up with the guys they wanted. Sara Sumitomo has the role of teenage Yūko, and Towa Araki has the role of teenage Tatsuya.
But lately, Shizuku’s relationship with Seiji isn’t making her as happy as it used to make her. She wonders if this relationship will last if it keeps going the way it’s been going, which is that the relationship hasn’t progressed to a commitment, such as a co-habitation, an engagement and/or marriage. Yūko and Tatsuya listen to Shizuku lament that she’s been in the relationship with Seiji for 10 years, “and I’ve got nothing to show for it.”
Seiji seems happy in Italy, and he has told Shizuku that he doesn’t want to move back to Japan because his career (which requires a lot of traveling) is going well. Meanwhile, Shizuku wants to stay in Japan. Will this couple take things to the next level, will they continue the way they that’ve been going, or will they break up? “Whisper of the Heart” shows this dilemma in a sort of wandering way, interrupted by more flashbacks.
The cast members’ performances in the movie are good, but not spectacular. The least interesting parts of the movie have to do with Shizuku at her job. In this job setting, viewers will soon grow tired of seeing repeats of similar scenarios, where Shizuku feels underappreciated and misunderstood. She has a sympathetic male co-worker (played by Keisuke Nakata), but Shizuku looks muted and emotionally disconnected in most of these workplace scenes. And it becomes boring to watch.
The flashbacks to the teenage Shizuku and teenage Seiji are cute but just give background information and offer a frame of reference when certain locations are revisited years later. The real heart of the story has to do with the adult Shizuku and the adult Seiji. Some of it is treated like a soap opera, but the movie is also has great messages about being true to oneself and not letting self-doubt get in the way of pursuing dreams.
“Whisper of the Heart” also realistically shows how true love and trust can exist in a relationship, but the timing of the relationship and what each person wants out of the relationship have to be compatible if the relationship is going to last. It’s a hard lesson to learn for the couple at the center of “Whisper of the Heart.” Each person in the relationship has to decide individual priorities and whether or not those priorities are a good match for the desired partner.
The couple in this version of the story has the benefit of more maturity than they would have had if the story remained in the couple’s teenage years. This maturity ultimately give viewers a better idea of what will happen to Shizuku and Seiji, since they are making decisions as adults, not as teenagers who are still living with their parents. However, “Whisper of the Heart” also shows in no uncertain terms that growing up doesn’t mean growing out of the need to be loved.
Capelight Pictures released “Whisper of the Heart” in select U.S. cinemas on February 3, 2023. The movie was released in Japan on October 14, 2022.