Film Review: Whisper of the Heart

Now that the school year is starting, I thought this would be the best time to write about a movie that relates to many students, specifically high schoolers such as myself. As a sophomore, I’m already beginning to think about what universities I should attend, what career I should have for the rest of my life, and how I’m able to achieve any of these goals in the first place. The main character in the film, Whisper of the Heart, faces many of these “coming-of-age” challenges as well. In another masterpiece created by the Studio Ghibli franchise, viewers are taken on a journey that—quite frankly—they never thought they needed.

The movie introduces the main character, Shizuku Tsukishima, who has a passion for stories and writing. After discovering that her library books have all been previously checked out by one person, she meets Seiji Amasawa, a boy whom she finds annoying but is also the mystery student from the library. As they grow closer, Seiji explains to Shizuku his dream in becoming a professional violin maker in Italy. This makes Shizuku question her future path in life—or lack thereof. By using her love for writing, she creates a novel about a cat named Baron, inspired by a cat statue owned by Seiji’s grandfather. Seiji and Shizuku fall in love, but Seiji is given the opportunity to pursue his dream and has to leave Shizuku. However, Seiji surprises Shizuku early the next morning and takes her to see the sunrise. The boy promises to wait for her and reunite once they both achieve their dreams.

I’ll always applaud Studio Ghibli for being able to create such breathtaking imagery, albeit there’s a message far beyond the surface of this film that requires deeper analysis and understanding. The director of this movie, Yoshifumi Kondō, creates a balance between dreams and reality. Seiji’s dream forces Shizuku to realize that he’s moving forward with his life, whereas Shizuku is receding into her childhood self. Throughout the film, Shizuku constantly prioritizes her novels first because they help her escape the burdens of our world, but this proves consequential when she begins to fall behind on classes and relationships. While the director reminds us that making sacrifices is a part of growing older, he also shows how important it is to create our own path in life. As a result, Shizuku is able to intertwine her childhood into her future path by becoming a writer, regardless of how difficult it may be.

Typically, I’m not the type of person who enjoys romance or dramas, especially movies as cliché as this one. On the other hand, this movie is possibly one of the greatest romance movies I’ve ever seen because it genuinely relates to me from a high schooler’s perspective. The end of Whisper of the Heart is open-ended, leaving many viewers wondering if the two protagonists ever achieve their dreams. We can only assume, but our assumptions will determine our sense of the world.

– Natisha P.

Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle is a Studio Ghibli classic, one based of a book of the same name. The gorgeous animations, lovable characters, and peaceful vibe of the movie make it one of my favorites. Howl’s Moving Castle follows a young woman, Sophie, who works as a hat-maker, content with a boring life. One day, a witch comes into her shop and curses her to look like an old lady. Sophie decides to seek out the feared witch Howl and his moving home, and gets caught up helping him resist fighting in the war sweeping the nation.

The movie’s director, Hayao Miyazaki, was influenced by his anger about the United State’s invasion of Iraq, and included many anti-war themes in the film. I also enjoyed the fact that the movie depicted old age in a positive light. Being seen as an old woman helped Sophie be stronger and bolder in standing up for herself. In many ways, Howl’s Moving Castle has many deeper meanings.

From the luscious green hills to the dark war scenes, Howl’s Moving Castle is truly a gorgeous animation. The characters are all very interesting as well, with Calcifer, the sarcastic fire demon, to Markl, the young apprentice with much to learn, and of course, Howl, who is much more than just a vain wizard.

-Kelsie W.

Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies

Studio Ghibli is a film franchise globally known for its popular movies, such as Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro. Compared to other animation studios like Disney or Pixar, Studio Ghibli creates memorable movies with plots that surpass the typical hero’s journey or romance trope. With a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, Grave of the Fireflies isn’t an average film. It leaves viewers with a long-lasting emotional experience; one cannot even fathom its beauty, especially since its drawn entirely by hand. The movie is terribly sad and ends with a bittersweet ending, albeit its simple story moves viewers to tears and reveals nothing but the tragic, cruel truth of war.

Made in 1988 by film director Isao Takahata, the movie depicts a story of two Japanese siblings, Setsuko (age 4) and Seita (age 14), living in the midst of World War II. After surviving a U.S. bombing in Kobe, Japan, and becoming orphans, they move into their aunt’s house. With a staggering family relationship, the siblings decide to leave the house and find their own place. Unfortunately, living progressively becomes more difficult; as food grows scarce and less people are willing to help them, the struggle for survival grows stronger and their will to live diminishes. The movie is based on the novel titled Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka, conveying a recollection of the author’s own experiences before, during, and after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945.

To begin with, the art style is extremely detailed; every drawing depicts something new, with different emotions drawn out from each event. Viewers are able to understand the characters’ thoughts and feelings simply through facial features. Each background drawn has clear details that bring life and realism. The plot and method of storytelling is well-thought out, intertwining artistic and literary beauty. To elaborate more would spoil some of the movie, but the plot often shifts between its beginning and conclusion, reaching a midpoint at the movie’s end. Even though the characters don’t explain much and the plot can seem drawn out at times, every small event builds up to one meaningful, heart-throbbing ending.

What I most enjoy about this movie is its message; the perspective of watching two children suffering is difficult enough to bear, but it teaches the audience about war’s negative impacts, of how many innocent lives are harmed by another group’s disagreements. In reality, the movie was not made to entertain–it was made to inform, to warn others about the consequences of violence. As a result, there’s no honor or glory; those who truly suffer are the ones who were never part of the conflict.

The personal impact of this story is often too difficult to put into words. In a mix of both horrid and beautiful scenes, each holding its own meaningful touch to the story, Grave of the Fireflies is a movie that’s been underrated and forgotten for years. And yet, once you watch it, even if it’s just once, it’s difficult to forget.

– Natisha P.

Grave of the Fireflies is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.