Seasonal Cinema, Summer: Whisper of the Heart
I’ve been gone too long, readers. If you’ve read my blog at all in the last six months you’ll understand why. But I can’t let grief derail me. Not from movies, which have been so important to me for so long. My mom would want me to keep watching, keep writing, keep doing what I love. So I’m trying out a new feature to get the writing juices flowing again.
I’ve always felt a strong connection between certain movies and the seasons. I’ll step outside on a warm summer day and it will feel exactly how it feels when I watch Stand by Me or Floating Weeds. Winter can summon the warm nostalgia of Little Women or the ice-encased paranoia of The Thing. Certain movies encapsulate the seasons for me. As the seasons progress, I’m going to write reviews of movies that feel, well, how it feels at that moment.
It’s all in the opening. Whisper of the Heart kicks off with one of the warmest, and gentlest of opening sequences. A shot of the Tokyo skyline at night. A chorus of children singing John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads. A slow pan into one neighborhood, zeroing in on the film’s protagonist, 14-year old Shizuku, as she exits a store. Finally, following her home. It’s one of my favorite openings to any movie. I’ve talked before about the brilliance of this sequence. (As I said, I write about it a lot) This time, I just want to bask in its coziness.
It’s not just a cozy opening; it’s a welcoming, gentle, perfect one. We feel like we’re home within minutes. Whatever happens next in the film, we’re home.
Whisper of the Heart eschews most of the tropes of the “that one summer” genre that we expect. There’s romance, yes, but it’s not the center of the film’s plot. The center of the plot, really, is how Shizuku realizes how quickly time moves when you get older. The movie’s sense of time closing, especially toward the end of summer vacation, is one of its canniest insights. Shizuku perpetually has something pressing on her mind, whether it’s cramming for exams, figuring out her blossoming romance with Seiji (the boy who shares her exact taste in books), or simply finding the time to enjoy the sunshine. As summer draws to a close, you always feel like you’ve been wasting it.
Yes, Whisper of the Heart transitions out of summer and into the school year, but this is always a summer movie for me. It’s gentle, always warm, almost always true. Every time I watch it, I am transported. Not because its events resemble much of anything in my life. But because that chill that runs down my spine is a time machine to how the end of summer felt when I was 14. It’s about warm sunbeams that feel like heaven and scorching hot days that feel like forever. It’s about a particular feeling that no other movie has captured: how summer really winds down for a teenager who is looking warily at the future for the first time. In reality, there is almost never That One Summer, the one with all the answers, adventures, and “coming of age”. There is, however, the anxiety of coming days that will come whether you’re ready or not. And there are warm nights that wrap you up and comfort you like a blanket, and views of the city that make you forget everything for a moment, and books that are the only thing that seem to freeze the inexorable march of time.