After writing about Ghibli Fest, I was reminded of the genius of Hayao Miyazaki's movies and the influence they have had on my life, specifically how one movie has shaped me. Whisper of the Heart is my all–time favorite movie. As I have grown up, it has been a constant source of inspiration and support–so much so that twenty three years after its initial release, during my first semester at Penn, I find myself watching it once more in search of a warm sense of home.
Its protagonist is cheerful girl in junior high school, Shizuku Tsukishima, who spends her summer freely, reading novels, translating songs, and wondering about the mysterious boy who seems to be checking out all the books in the library before she does. She’s free and happy. That is, until she meets the mysterious boy of the library cards, Seiji Amasawa, and is awed by his passion for crafting violins. After a brief friendship and confession of mutual love with Seiji, Seiji departs for Italy in the pursuit of turning his passion into a lifelong career. Fueled by inspiration and a fear of falling behind Seiji, Shizuku embarks on her own journey in the form of writing a novel. Shizuku faces self–doubt and slipping grades as she writes, but eventually produces a full–length piece of work that is, although unpolished, a heartfelt product of her adolescent growth.
I first watched Whisper of the Heart in middle school, a period of mass confusion and low self–confidence. My problems at the time revolved around reducing the redness of the stretch marks on my thighs and impressing my non–Chinese peers with how well I could blend in with them, compounded in eighth grade with the looming stress of testing into the prestigious local magnet high school. I watched Whisper of the Heart in the midst of all of this, while skipping lunches and trying not to fall asleep at late–night cram school. I watched Shizuku, a bright, young girl, laugh with her friends and push herself through a self–imposed test of talent to emerge physically no different, but emotionally confident and sure of her decision to go to high school. Even though I had been discouraged, at the completion of Whisper of the Heart, I developed a yearning for the unique education promised to me if I were to go to this revered high school and defined “acceptance” own my own terms, as my own test of growth.
I rewatched Whisper of the Heart during the college application process. This time, I noticed a scene in the movie I had forgotten about. When Shizuku visits an antique shop she finds early on in the movie for the second time, it is closed. Shizuku then sits outside of the shop with a cat and says, “Why do we change, I wonder? Like me... Even though I was always such a meek, gentle girl. Reading books, too... I don't get excited like I used to. Right away, you know, something inside says, 'It's not likely things would work out this well. Not very sweet.'” My high school years were the most formative years of my life up to that point. I became more outgoing in my new circle of friends yet more reserved around strangers. I learned how to drive and dented the front bumper of my parents’ car. And I took up a two–year creative writing course and put down personal memories and emotions I had never expressed before onto Google Docs. All the while, I worked my hardest to maintain straight A’s, sacrificing my sleep, my time with family and friends, and my health. For a long time, my daily routine started at 7 a.m., getting ready for school, and ended at 2 or 3 a.m., studying for a test. By the time my schoolwork began letting up in my last year of high school and I had free time once again to do anything I liked, I didn’t know what I liked anymore. Watching Shizuku's monologue to the cat was like watching an animated expression of the confusion and change I was muddled in. Seeing Shizuku struggle with inner change herself made her facing her own trials relatable and inspiring; despite having grown so apart from who I was four years prior, I still found a piece of who I was and what I wanted within Shizuku.
I watched Whisper of the Heart one more time during my first few nights of NSO. My high of being in a new state, in a new school, and in a new environment away from my family and everything I had ever known was wearing off, and I felt very alone. I was tired of introducing myself to different faces and using Google Maps to get around, and all I wanted was the comfort of a conversation with my best friend and the familiar feeling of driving down the North Jersey highways. This time, rather than seeing Shizuku flounder through her adolescent development, I saw her relish in new experiences. My favorite scene in the movie is when Shizuku watches Seiji work at his workbench in the basement of the antique shop. After some banter, Seiji begins playing the violin and urges Shizuku to sing along to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”; in the middle of the song, Seiji’s grandfather and grandfather’s friends join in. Although Shizuku is unconfident in her voice, unfamiliar with the shop, and doesn’t yet know Seiji’s name, she sings and claps along with the music, ending the song with a fit of laughter. I find comfort in Whisper of the Heart. When I put it on, I was looking for a bit of familiarity in my overwhelming surroundings. I got that familiarity, but I also unexpectedly got a push from Shizuku to keep finding joy in the new. Whisper of the Heart has been integral to my childhood, and I know I will continue to find new value in it with every additional viewing.