Whisper of the Heart Blu-ray delivers stunning video and great audio in this excellent Blu-ray release
Shizuku Tsukishima, a young girl in junior high, loves to read. Yet, every time she opens a library book, it seems the same name appears on the cards: "Seiji Amasawa". As Shizuku learns who this person is, she also begins to learn about herself and her goals in lifeŚa discovery that will change her life forever.
For more about Whisper of the Heart and the Whisper of the Heart Blu-ray release, see Whisper of the Heart Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 1, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
For everything schoolgirl Shizuku Tsukishima gains in director Yoshifumi Kond˘ and writer Hayao Miyazaki's Whisper of the Heart -- a dream, the promise of true love, and the moxie to pursue both -- Studio Ghibli's ninth feature film is actually grounded in loss. Not personal loss, but societal loss. "I think it is wrong that the current education system and a society that gives so much importance to academic background kills individuality of young people," Miyazaki lamented in 1995. "Everything Japan has long been proud of has become cracked from the inside. Many have lost their confidence and come to notice that graduating from a prestigious university and working for a big company doesn't always lead to happiness in their lives as they toil for their families." Rather than combat such troubling, systemic loss through metaphor, on far-flung worlds teeming with airships, strange creatures, and environmental catastrophe, the renowned Japanese filmmaker offers something more daring and wholly unexpected: a real-world suburban Tokyo setting and an ordinary young girl coming to terms with growing up and preparing for the future.
"I just wanted to let you know I really liked your lyrics. You're a really talented writer."
Miyazaki's story couldn't be more straightforward. When Shizuku Tsukishima (Y˘ko Honna in the original film, Brittany Snow in the 2006 Disney-produced U.S. dub), a diligent junior high school student and fledgling writer, develops a crush on Seiji Amasawa (Issei Takahashi, David Gallagher), a guarded young man apprenticing as a violin maker, her heart and world are turned upside down. While their relationship gets off to a rocky start, the two soon become practically inseparable. As their friendship grows, Seiji inspires Shizuku to follow her dream of becoming a professional writer and Shizuku teaches Seiji that there's more to life than one's vocation or trade. Even when the two are separated for a time, Shizuku doubles her efforts and focuses on what she really wants out of life, even though the hours and hours she invests in her stories begin taking a serious toll on her grades. Seiji, meanwhile, having traveled to Italy to sharpen his craft, pines for Shizuku, leaving both teens with plenty of time to mull over their further education, career paths and future.
Whisper of the Heart involves more wish fulfillment than Miyazaki's loftier fantasies and sweeping adventures, favors the mundane to the fantastic, and doesn't feature a young heroine thrust into adulthood by harrowing, world-altering events. Shizuku resists the rigidity of her culture and the expectations of her family but soon has to face the reality of her situation: following a dream at any cost can be as foolish as abandoning a dream altogether. Unlike Miyazaki's typical teen protagonists, Shizuku's decisions are often impulsive to the point of being reckless; her passions are shortsighted and born from inexperience, while her parents, cool and calm in the wake of their daughter's sudden unruliness, are a source of support and encouragement, not a source of frustration or opposition. She doesn't leap into the fray and save the world from selfish, destructive adults. She doesn't pick up a sword and take control of her destiny. She struggles, fights, argues, overreaches, and ultimately has to learn that there's wisdom in balance; that achieving her dream doesn't have to come at the expense of her schooling, that writing or any practical pursuit shouldn't consume her every waking minute, that happiness is more dependent on relationships being developed than skills being honed. She has to learn to grow up, and she has to do so like any young girl in her position. Whisper of the Heart is a pure, unadulterated coming-of-age story. No gimmicks, very little embellishment, and very few flights of fancy.
That's not to say Miyazaki and Kond˘ completely sidestep the magic and whimsy Studio Ghibli is known for. Shizuku's stories mirror Miyazaki's, offering glimpses into worlds of talking cats, noble gentlemen and sinister villains, floating islands, enormous cloud towers, and dark caverns filled with mysterious glittering gems. Though short-lived, the fantasy sequences are a welcome diversion from Shizuku's insecurities and budding romance that, frankly, steal the show. Had Miyazaki spent more time exploring Shizuku's imagination, more time soaring across the skies with the Baron (the same cat who would reappear in The Cat Returns in 2002), Whisper of the Heart might have become more than one of Studio Ghibli's more obscure productions. Even so, Miyazaki's interests were in telling a simple story simply; to adapt Aoi Hiiragi's shōjo manga of the same name without belittling or overshadowing Shizuku's dealings in the real world. He understood, perhaps better than anyone, that spending too much time in Shizuku's imagination would only distract from the heart of Whisper of the Heart: a 14-year-old girl's first meaningful foray into adolescence and independence. It doesn't make for the most exciting animated movie, and it will never be a favorite among most children. But there's a sweetness -- a captivating, innate essence -- to the film that shouldn't be discounted or dismissed.
Though one of Studio Ghibli's lesser known films, Disney afforded Whisper of the Heart the same faithful treatment and high-quality remastering granted to Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky. Miyazaki has little patience for tinkering and tweaking, though, and the film hasn't undergone any drastic recoloring, scrubbing or other more invasive restorative techniques. The resulting 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer isn't as vibrant as modern animation fans may be used to, but it's no less beautiful. There's a disarming ease to its spring-afternoon palette and subdued pastel hues, and any attempt to fix what isn't broken would spoil much of what makes Whisper of the Heart such a delightful animated delicacy. Black levels are nevertheless rich and earthy, contrast is dialed in perfectly, and Shizuku's all-too-brief fantasy sequences are awash with rich colors and bold primaries. Detail is exceptional too, from the brushstrokes of the hand-painted backgrounds to the almost imperceptible fluctuations and imperfections in Ghibli's original animation cels to the clean, smooth line art of each character and animated element. Grain is present, consistent and most pleasant, and encoding anomalies -- artifacting, aliasing and the like -- are nowhere to be found. The slightest bit of banding appears on a few inconsequential occasions, but it barely registers. Ghibli's ninth film has never looked better.
The Blu-ray release of Whisper of the Heart offers two lossless audio options: a Japanese-language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix and an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dub. Both tracks deliver clear, neatly grounded dialogue, restrained but effective effects, and just enough LFE support and rear speaker activity to lend the experience a natural ease without undermining the film's original sound design. Passing cars and rustling shrubbery have the same subtle touch as the cool, Tokyo breeze. Scribbling pencils and the laughter of distant school children are natural and lifelike. Whirring bicycle wheels, sliding doors and creaking chairs are understated but convincing. Very few elements rely on directional flourishes or low-end heft, and Shizuku's dreams, fantasies and nightmares are the only scenes that really take advantage of each speaker or fill the soundfield with a sense of urgency. But don't let that set your expectations too low. Whisper of the Heart is a quiet, character-driven film with little to show in the way of grand adventure or stirring visions. Shizuku is an ordinary girl attending an ordinary school in an ordinary town and the film's seventeen-year-old sound design follows suit. It still proves itself worthy of high marks, though, and, front-heavy as it may be, wholeheartedly commits itself to Miyazaki and Kond˘'s down-to-Earth story.
Original Japanese Storyboards (HD, 111 minutes): Watch the movie as presented with its original Japanese storyboards. It isn't a full-fledged Picture-in-Picture track, nor does it make up for the lack of a production documentary, but it's a welcome addition nonetheless.
4 Masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue (HD, 35 minutes): A lengty, time-lapse montage of fantasy artist Naohisa Inoue's paintings set to music from the film. No narration or commentary; his work speaks for itself.
Behind the Microphone (SD, 8 minutes): Step into the recording booth with the American cast.
With its feet firmly planted on the ground, Whisper of the Heart isn't for every Miyazaki fan. It plays by far simpler rules, tells a far simpler story of budding dreams and young love, and offers little in the way of sweeping fantasy sequences or high adventure. Even so, Studio Ghibli's ninth film is sweet, charming and full of heart, enough to leave little doubt as to its enduring qualities and value. It doesn't hurt that Disney delivers yet again with a true-to-its-source remaster, a lovely video transfer, a proficient pair of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks, and a few worthwhile extras for good measure. Whisper of the Heart may not be Miyazaki or Ghibli's finest production, but it holds up wonderfully, even some seventeen years after Shizuku and Seiji first declared their love for each other.
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