terça-feira, 15 de julho de 2014

Whisper of the Heart - 20th Anniversary


Today is a very special day for me. Today is the day a certain film is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The name of this film is Whisper of the Heart, or Mimi o sumaseba, for those who like to call it by the original name in Japanese.

A Studio Ghibli production directed by the late Yoshifumi Kondō, with Hayao Miyazaki on the screenplay, the animation takes us to the life of Shizuku, a 14 year old girl that lives her day-to-day without worrying about anything. She likes to read a lot of books, to write poetry and to translate songs in foreign languages. Her life changes when she meets Amasawa Seiji, a boy that has a dream of becoming a violin luthier and is already training to do so. By meeting him, she starts to think about things concerning her future that never got through her head and then her life starts to take a different direction. I should say that it isn’t only her life that changes, but also the one of those who watch this piece with their hearts open.

At first sight, the movie may seem like a simple romance, but in fact it is about the search for inspiration and creativity, about the yearnings of a girl in expressing her feelings and her art by the means of writing and how the process to do this is long and exhausting. Then let me express about this film which I feel extreme affection and admiration in one of the most personal articles I have ever written.


(This article was published July 15th 2015, not 2014, as it's stated above.)

ART


The animation is set in a real life location called Tama New Town, Japan. The landscapes are drawn in such a perfectionist manner with a magnificent harmony between lines, shapes and colors that our eyes start to get watery. That’s how beautiful it is. There are certain parts that the drawing of the scenery is so gorgeous and similar to real life that you have to pause the movie and ask yourself how someone can draw something as wonderful and enthralling as that. The meticulous color distribution also has an extremely important role on the film’s visual, since they shape the atmosphere of several situations and make you feel comfortable. I may not understand a lot about painting, but I can recognize a wonderfully done work of art.

Yes, my friends, this is a drawing. No, it isn’t a real life photo.

The director, Yoshifumi Kondō, that unfortunately left us a lot earlier than he should, is a master of character design. The gestures, expressions and how the characters act in any situation are represented in such a masterful way that only Studio Ghibli can do, especially with Kondō on the helm. The director is behind the key animation for several of the studio’s work from the period '88 – '97 and always makes his characters as expressive as possible, without using the cliché anime devices like actions disproportional to the human body.

Besides, Kondō also has a unique approach in the world of animation where he shows the daily life to those who have the pleasure to be amazed by one of his works. He has a book called Futo furiekaeru to, literally “When I turn around”, which is composed of illustrations that shows what someone loses the opportunity to see when they turn around. In this beautiful work you’ll see children looking at their reflex on the water, a woman picking flowers, a mother helping her son to build a snowman, a casual conversation on a cold day, amongst other things in daily life. These “things” that seems to be trivial are also shown in this movie, 'cause they’re elements of the day-to-day that we don’t care about most of the times, but that can make us realize certain aspects of our life that go unnoticed.

Imagine if that cat that you saw and ignored on the street could take you to a marvelous find if you had tried to follow it?

Still following this genial line of thought that makes Kondō and his production completely singular, the film tries to show moments of our daily life that had a certain impact on us, but that we didn’t really notice when we lived them. A walk to school in a rainy day, the love declaration from a friend, the talk with your parents about your performance in school, the night conversation with a friend… These are the things that, when we lived them, would stay with us for some moments and then be forgotten on behalf of something else that would occupy our turbulent young mind. We just start to realize how these things were really important to ourselves with the reality shock this animation gives us.

I think we all got through some moments when we needed to stay alone and reflect on how our life was going. We still do. When you wander around without anywhere to go, get aboard a train, look at the scenery, stay still on a random place…just to have a time alone with yourself. Those “live reflecting pauses” are extremely faithfully represented in Whisper of the Heart. The way she looks at the landscape feels like we were there where she was, mesmerizing the view. These scenes aren’t rushed so that the character has her time to think. Shizuku isn’t just a film character – she’s a people like everyone else and we’re watching her life. Moments of reflection like these are crucial to the development of her thoughts.


The landscapes from the fantasy sequences, product of Shizuku’s wonderful mind, are inspired by the fantastic works of the Japanese painter Naohisa Inoue, where magic transcends the screen and delights us with idyllic sceneries, flowing with colors and full of brilliance. For those interested in his work, there’s an OVA called Iblard Jikan, composed entirely by his fantasy pieces and can be watched by clicking on the name. I can guarantee that you’re going to relax, feel at ease and be enthralled.

A landscape only possible by Shizuku’s brilliant imagination.

MUSIC


In a movie where a violin maker is portrayed, it’s obvious the music won’t be treated just as a simple soundtrack, as a mere accompaniment to the image we’re watching. No. The compositions here are like they’ve came straight from Shizuku’s mind, fitting perfectly with her feelings into every situation of her life. By listening to these songs that represent her state of happiness or determination in my daily life, the same feelings she felt start to dominate and inspire me. I’m not ashamed to say I weeped a lot while I listened any of these wonderful compositions while I was on the train, 'cause they have this power of touching you deep in your heart.

                  


One of the main plot points in the movie is centered on a song Shizuku’s translating as a way of expressing herself. This song is called Take Me Home, Country Roads, by John Denver. Those who like country and folk music sure know this composition, especially who lives in West Virginia. The fact is that the 14-year old girl likes to express herself through music translations, adapting them according to her feelings. One of the versions she made is called “Concrete Roads”, where the natural landscapes from the original version are changed to concrete roads in the lyrics, reflecting the place she lives.


The difficulty to make music is represented in Whisper of the Heart in their two protagonists – Shizuku translates and adapts foreign language lyrics, like if she was rewriting them, and Seiji makes violins, the practice of which he notes “The quality of a violin depends on the quality of its luthier”. Doing so, the film explores a much deeper layer on the subject music making, after all it doesn’t approaches only the sound of the art, but the full process, from the making of the instruments to the performance of a song, while also showing all the difficulty that revolves this process. After all, the music is the manifestation of oneself and the production team of this movie knew that they shouldn’t only scratch the surface – they knew they had to dig deep into the roots.

The will and endeavor of a boy to fulfill his dream.

And with all that said, we’ve reached the musical apex of Whisper of the Heart. When Shizuku finds out that Seiji is a violin maker, she asks he to play the instrument. To her surprise, the boy says that he’ll play only if she sings together. And what would be the best suited song for the situation? “A song you know very well”, as he puts – Country Roads. The scene that follows is the most beautiful I have watched in my whole life in any animation or audiovisual production. With Seiji playing violin, Shizuku sings with fear and awe until her heart is taken by that magic moment in which an unequalled feeling of happiness overflows the small room where a completely spontaneous performance is happening. The natural way this happens puts any Disney’s musical act to the ground. I’ve watched this movie for the fourth time this Saturday and the feeling of overjoy and enchant this scene provides is so enormous that I found myself clinging to my pillow as I cried of happiness, with a gaping mouth that refused to close. What happens on this scene is real and unfeigned, you can FEEL that moment. I’m writing this with tears on my eyes. Thanks, Studio Ghibli, for providing such a unique experience as that.


SENTIMENTAL VALUE


Ever since I have realized who I am, I was someone pessimist. Always complaining about everything even if the situation was great. I had an ideology that if something good happened, something bad would follow. Today I can say that I’m more than glad, ‘because I have finally left that flawed thinking that made it impossible for me to enjoy several situations in my life. But what could’ve caused this change of thoughts? This movie. This beautiful animation taught me to appreciate the small things of life that are often considered trivial, and the most important of all, it has recovered my self-confidence. That lack of will due to not believing in myself simply doesn’t exists anymore, ‘cause this picture teaches that we have to show our art not just to the world, but mainly to ourselves.

Just as the protagonist Shizuku, I have started to “put myself to the test”, to test my abilities and to believe in them, something I didn’t do. I must admit that sometimes I still get reluctant about my own capacities, but then I remember that I have created a bond with the character of this movie. By looking at her, I can see myself, because her yearnings are the same as mine’s, her difficulties are the same as mine’s. Once again I say that she’s not a simple film character – she’s a real person. Her life story is portrayed with such faithfulness that I can feel what she feels. Every cry, every smile of joy, every determination moment expressed by Shizuku touches me in a way that it’s like she was a part of me. It’s with her that I get the strength to go onwards.



There’s something Seiji’s grandfather said that served as inspiration for her just as it did to me and I hope it does to everyone else that gets through the same difficulties concerning lack of self-confidence:
 Look inside this rock. It’s a beryl mineral, there’s an emerald inside.
 Emerald, the precious rock?
-  Yes. You and Seiji are like this rock. A raw, unpolished mineral. I like this kind of thing. But making violins and writing stories isn’t the same thing. You must find the jewel inside you and have time to polish it. It’s an exhausting task. Can you see the big jewel that is hidden in this rock? The truth is that once you have polished it, you won’t get nothing big. The small fragments, hidden deep inside, are even more pure. In fact, there are better crystals there, where you can’t see them.

Do as Mr. Nishi says: search for the jewel hidden deep inside you.

A dream I have the urge to fulfill in the future is to visit the setting of this movie, New Tama Town. I’m sure I would fell in tears just to think I would be following the same steps Shizuku took, looking to the sides and recognizing the places of a city I’ll be visiting for the first time.

                        

IN THE END...

If there’s an inspiration that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, it’s Whisper of the Heart. An animation that does exactly what the title says and that’s why it will always have an enormous place deep in my heart. All these words I have written still aren’t enough to express my gratitude towards this piece of art that changed the direction of my life from the darkness of insecurity to the dawn of positivity, but I couldn’t let the 20th anniversary of this masterpiece go unnoticed. If everything to me before were bad omens, now all I see in front of me are auspicious times.



I hope that the masterpiece of Yoshifumi Kondo and Studio Ghibli continues to fascinate and inspire anyone who likes to express himself through any means of art, be it through music, writing, drawing… This is a timeless work of art that will never age due to the love the production team has deposited in it and that has been absorbed by me the best way possible.


-Vinicius "vini64" Pires

Read my other articles about animation features (only in Portuguese):
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Anônimo disse...

Congratulations on your review. I agree that this is a very pretty movie; it's hard to believe this was done 20 years ago: the animation is beautiful.
I also liked the ending: not overly sweet or unrealistic but still positive.