Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Whisper of the Heart (2023) Live-Action

They are making lame live-action remakes of beloved Disney animated films, so why shouldn’t Ghibli classics get the same treatment? In this case, they go back to the original source manga for an ostensive sequel that is about as faithful as the acclaimed 1995 film written by the great Hayao Miyazaki. In this case, the new film might even be sweeter and more sentimental than the Ghibli animation. However, young love still never runs smooth in screenwriter-director Yuiichiro Hirakawa’s Whisper of the Heart, which is now playing in New York.

Supposedly set ten years after the events of the Ghibli film, Hirakawa once again separates Shizuku Tsukishima and Seiji Amasawa, but this time it is for ten long years. Amasawa is perfecting his musical chops in Italy, while Tsukishima works as a junior editor, while collecting rejection slips for her own writing. From her perspective, Amasawa is living his dream, but she hardly knows, since she has not seen him in ten years and they rarely talk. Nevertheless, he still considers her his girlfriend—even though she does not know that for certain.

As the two young lovers struggle with their relationship and their own day-to-day frustrations, Hirakawa flashes back to the events from high school that fans will know. The Baron, the cat statuette in the curio shop owned by Amasawa’s grandfather, definitely gets his screentime, but he never walks around talking, like he does in Ghibli’s meta-sequel,
The Cat Returns.

Whisper of the Heart is lovely to look at and sweet as Shoo-fly pie. It is also overly melodramatic and inescapably inconsequential. Yet, perhaps most importantly, it never disrespects the spirit of the original film, so fans who want to revisit the two lead characters in a different context can do so without fear their childhood memories will be violated.

As a bonus of sorts, the two sets of leads (playing Tsukishima and Amasawa in 1988 and 1998) are all endearingly earnest and winningly charismatic. As a result, it is pleasant to spend time with them and viewers really will pull for the couple to work things out. Nana Seino (Tsukishima 1998) and Runa Yasuhara (Tsukishima 1988) are each standouts, but Tori Matsuzaka (Amasawa 1998) and Tsubasa Nakagawa (Amasawa 1988) have a shy, reserved charm that is probably like dopamine for fans of Shojo manga and anime.

There are some nice cello arrangements and the backdrops (both in Japan and Italy) are lushly scenic. Keeping the 1988 and 1998 settings was quite shrewd, because it explains how the two lovers could remain so largely out of touch. It is basically cute fluff. Recommended for fans who love the heck out of the Ghibli film,
Whisper of the Heart is currently playing in New York at the AMC Empire.