Whisper of the Heart

Starring (voice): Youko Honna, Kazuo Takahashi and Takashi Tachibana
Optimum Asia
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: U
Available 10 April 2006

Teenage bookworm Shizuku plans to read away the summer vacation. But when she finds that the same mystery borrower has got to every book before her, she meets Seiji, a trainee violin-maker who challenges her to stop reading and start writing...

Originally released in Japan in 1995 as Mimi wo sumaseba (literally translated as 'If You Listen Closely'), Disney have not only given us a new English dub, they've even seen fit to give us a new title for their latest release from the Studio Ghibli stable.

Whisper Of The Heart is an unusually quiet and reflective Ghibli film, with very few of the fantastical elements you would normally associate with the studio. There are a couple of breathtaking 'dream sequences' which do help the film flicker into life albeit very briefly, but on the whole this is very much a down-to-earth story, as we follow the passage of young student Shizuku, through her ambitions and feelings as she re-evaluates her life and her future.

Yawn. It doesn't sound very gripping so far, does it? To be honest, Whisper Of The Heart is indeed a pretty slow-moving and uneventful affair, and seems to promise much more than it delivers. There are some intriguing elements at the beginning of the film which seem to be setting up a cracking tale - who is the mysterious student who always seems to hire Shizuku's books from the library before she does? What secrets lie waiting in Mr Nishi's Antiques Shop? And what is the significance of the train-hopping cat who seems to be guiding Shizuku to her destiny?

Sadly, the answers are disappointing and almost irrelevant, as they get in the way of what is essentially a school love story with a bit of soul-searching and angst thrown in along the way. It's a simple and occasionally charming story, but it doesn't really seem to add up to very much as a whole. The sparkling highlights are the mesmerising and quite beautiful 'dream sequences' but they're over too quickly and you end up wishing the film had gone a little further down this road.

Instead, Whisper Of The Heart hints at something wondrous and fantastical, but repeatedly brings us back down to earth with a bit of a whimper.

Fans of these Studio Ghibli releases will be more than familiar with the minimal special features on the disc - choice of languages, the original trailer, alternative angle storyboards etc. It's actually quite telling though that one of the highlights of the disc is a showcase for other Studio Ghibli films, just about all of which seem to be much more preferable and magical viewing than this one.

Danny Salter

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