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“Whisper of the Heart:” Wonder, Love, and Growing Up

Thanks to Trevor for introducing me to the film.

I’ve been thinking a lot about someone recently. Thinking if she likes me in any way, what’s feasible, if I’m just delusional. A lot in my head revolves around whether or not I want to be loved in order to compensate for other shortcomings and failures.

Enter Whisper of the Heart. Miyazaki has been very vocal that society feeds girls cheap romance and doesn’t adequately treat their deeper desires. In Spirited Away, questions of home and family weigh on the young protagonist’s mind. Whisper features a girl in junior high who needs to test into a good high school. Instead, she’s into fairytales. Not too far into the movie, she realizes she’s into boys.

The pressure on her is intense. This is a modern, commercial, industrialized world. Her family is cramped into a small space and makes the most of it. They want her studying. Her peers want gossip and relentlessly structure everything around that. Her friend and her don’t just want cute boys, but far more. Wouldn’t it be nice if guys had ambition and abilities well above school? What if you had ambitions and abilities, too – wouldn’t you need such ambitions to be equal?

I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. The world the movie portrays is that of the protagonist’s sister. Work part time jobs until one has saved enough, then strike out independently. The safe, conventional approach gets you success. For some strange reason, it doesn’t appeal to adolescents whose sexuality is awakening. Success isn’t the same thing as ambition. It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to love.

Our protagonist’s fairytale starts a weird way. Someone has been checking out all the library books she’s been reading. Her desire to find out the mystery of why every library book she borrows has been taken out already by another leads her to a “stupid jerk” boy and his grandfather’s shop, albeit with the aid of a mystical cat. The grandfather invites her to explore yet another fairytale world, one in which lovers meet for a moment before one disappears. When the “stupid jerk” boy and the protagonist fall in love, it isn’t hard to note that he’s partly fallen in love with her because of her story (followed a cat to the shop on a whim, hoping for a fairytale ending. Found the stupid jerk boy again). She falls for him because of his story and the story he wants to have. He would rather be crafting violins in Italy than go to high school. Given that he’s worked as an apprentice to a degree, this is not unreasonable.

She’s in love and wants to match him, to be his equal so she can be loved. She sets out and writes a novel. At about 14 years of age, both fail in their efforts. Only: the film doesn’t let you call the growth, the effort, the literal labor of love a failure. Society can call it that. She failed tests and wrote a bad novel, he didn’t cut it as an apprentice when offered an opportunity in Italy. The film is pretty explicit in the development of this theme. Her wonder at fairytales and his wonder about a world of music led away from school to a purer love. Yeah, there’s silly adolescent drama. Yeah, there’s going to be more silly adolescent drama. But they’ve gotten to the concept of ambition and dreams and even the value of education an entirely different route than the one we preach.

I just think about the priority of wonder with my situation. A friend told me that if I like this woman, she’s got to be special. I’ve got to believe that and be a lot less anxious and preoccupied. How can I trust my desires? Am I hoping for a fairytale ending? Probably not. I believe in someone, and believe in time, mutual effort, communication. It’s a far cry from expecting results right away, or even betterment. It’s simply “let’s have our story, if you will.”

4 Comments

  1. This story has inspired me greatly. i remember myself having a life like suzuku did wanting to write books on the things i dreamt about in my emaginative world. but i just never got round to it seems i always thought id never get noticed for my talents. but ill never give up hope if anything ill carry on writting and hope that when my little girl is alittle older she may read them and enjoy them and hope it may bring her emagination alive. please tell me if there will be a wisper of the heart number 2.

  2. There isn’t an OFFICIAL sequel to Whisper of the Heart, but there is a spin-off with the Baron and Muta called “The Cat Returns”

  3. Did you watch the subbed or dubbed version? The latter does something really wierd to the ending, which is maybe where you got your idea that “he didn’t cut it as an apprentice when offered an opportunity in Italy” (this doesn’t gel with my memory of the film at all). I like the way you use this film to think about present day romance in the context of music and narrative, though I think your reading could be supplemented by some comment on the leitmotif song “Country Roads” and the protagonist’s work translating it.

  4. > Did you watch the subbed or dubbed version? The latter does something really wierd to the ending, which is maybe where you got your idea that “he didn’t cut it as an apprentice when offered an opportunity in Italy” (this doesn’t gel with my memory of the film at all).

    I’ve watched the subbed version several times, and I don’t remember anything about him ‘failing’ either (or her novel being bad – it looks a bit like _The Cat Returns_ which is an ejoyable bit of fluff in its own right).

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