So I’ve watched Whisper of the Heart in a Hayao Miyazaki focused film festival of sorts last Friday (along with Porco Rosso, I’ve watched all the other films they had there previously), and I was bothered by something in Whisper of the Heart, well, a couple of things.
There will be a certain amount of spoilers, be advised.
The first is that it had a “point”, a moral, a lesson it had tried to pass, when I think it’d have worked better as a “Slice of Life” story that just showcases something. Porco Rosso on the other hand was cute, but it was rambling and a bit directionless.
Whisper of the Heart follows Shizuku Tsukihima, a girl who loves reading books, at her senior year of junior high school. In a way, she lives in the world of imagination, reading books voraciously, and fantasizing about the boy whose name appears before hers in many of the books she loves.
By the by, she is a junior high school student, and while some aspects of her and her classmates seem a bit off in age, as in, some fit high schoolers better, and some actually fit elementary schoolers (and even 4th-5th graders at that), on the whole, it seemed fitting, the behaviour, which meant quite a bit. I hate it when films totally butcher how younger people behave for the sake of cliches.
Anyway, Tsukihima lives in the world of fantasies and would-bes, day-dreaming her way through life. As such, when she has some run-ins with the dreary life of preparing for the high school entry exams, before her confrontation with her parents, I thought the point of all the times she was asked for chores and she failed to meet them was not in order to have a build-up to a confrontation (that fizzled out, as a confrontation), but to showcase the lively world of imagination versus the dreary everyday life.
Anyway, there was something that really annoyed me at one of the moments of the film, and which was originally the title of this post, the “It only happens in stories!” fallacy. Not that some things don’t happen just in stories (because they do), and not discounting the fact many of us export to the real life what we learn from films. No, my point is different, and I’d use a short story to help get it across.
I sometimes dream that I am flying, and all that I need in order to fly is just “to let go”, of gravity’s hold on me, of my fear of flying, and up I go. A couple of months ago I had a dream, and I said to myself “You can only do it in dreams, but this is not a dream, so let’s see if it works,” and then it worked, and I was flying, and I was congratulating myself on how I was flying outside the dream, when before it only happened in dreams.
Likewise, Tsukihima tells herself, or someone tells her, that a certain something she wishes for, or that she desires, only happens in stories. And then it obviously happens to her, which is a problem, because this is a story, she is in a story, one that we experience. I find this a bit problematic, not just because it’s simplistic and, well, an ironic lie, of sorts.
I also find it problematic because the target audience for this film, and who often hear this from dramas and other stories (“It only happens in films”), where the actors are flesh and blood, are younger kids, or people who may be caught off-guard and who will then tell themselves this is a “truth-telling film” for knowing and saying some things only happen in films, and then it proceeds to give them a message, something that only happens in films, and then they’ll take it, or are more likely to.
The moral of the story? Work hard for what you believe in, you might not get it, but you need to find out by putting in effort if that’s what you really want (Seiji, the boy she likes), and whether you actually have a talent for it (Tsukihima herself). Of course, you might get a negative result on either, but neither of our protagonists do, at least at this time. Not to mention they’re getting engaged, or promise themselves to one another before they’re out of junior high. How romantic, how sappy, how…. storylike.
If we put aside the silly moral, and my slight beef with the above, it’s a good and enjoyable movie. Miyazaki was more in charge of the in-story sequences, and there are sequences, both in the story Tsukihima pens, and her own discovery of the rare goods shop that quite resemble Alice in Wonderland. The in-story is a bit silly, a bit empty, and not fully fleshed out, but then again, we don’t get much of it. Of course, it’s easier to come up with a dream-scape of sorts when you only need to come up with 2-3 minutes’ worth.
Score: 7.2 Kids in love, who love reading books. An enjoyable film.