I wasn’t sure what to expect from Whisper of the Heart. It’s a Studio Ghibli film, which is obviously a big plus. On the other hand, it’s not by Miyazaki or Takahata, and it somehow sort of shares a character or two with The Cat Returns, which isn’t the biggest recommendation. All in all, I didn’t have high hopes.

And for the first twenty or thirty minutes, the low hopes seemed on track. Middle school girls confused about boys and life; whee. It could be worse – they were treated humanely enough – but it could be a lot better, too. But then it started pushing my buttons; I’ve always been a big bildungsroman fan, and I like kids who start figuring out what they want to do and pursue that instead of more conventional paths. (Somewhat ironic, given that I’m thirty-five years old and don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I suppose that’s a topic for another blog post.) And I rather choked up during the chamber music scene.

So a quite pleasant movie, when all is said and done. And with it, I’ve seen all the Studio Ghibli movies except for Only Yesterday (which Disney apparently has no plans to release, grr) and Tales from Earthsea (which only just came out in Japan; actually, apparently it’s not coming out until a week from now). Amazing studio, that, and I don’t think it’s just my pro-animation and pro-Japanese bias showing. (Let’s test the latter – would I like, say, animated movies about self-directed girls as much if Disney made them? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it, given the almost complete lack of such movies! But Beauty and the Beast is fantastic.)

While Miyazaki gets more press in this country, I’m not at all sure that I don’t like Takahata’s movies just as much. Don’t get me wrong, Miyazaki’s movies are wonderful. But the visionary intensity of his environmentalist movies can be a bit much for me, Porco Rosso is decent but not great, I don’t like Totoro as much as some (sorry, Jim), and Howl didn’t do a lot for me. They are all rather better than your average fare, and I really like Kiki and think I probably really like Spirited Away (I haven’t seen it enough), but I like Pom Poko a good deal more than most of Miyazaki’s movies (and in particular I prefer its less mystical treatment of environmentalist themes). I’ve only seen Grave of the Fireflies once, maybe three years ago; I should really watch it again, if I think I’m up for it, but my recollection is that it was quite good. And I’ve also only seen My Neighbors the Yamadas once, but it was rather charming. Hard to say; I guess the next thing to do is to track down a Japanese copy of Only Yesterday (the Japanese DVD apparently does come with English subtitles).

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