Listen Carefully, Watch Closely – Whisper of the Heart (2022) live action review

Ghibi movies will always have a special place in my heart. My very first one was Kiki’s Delivery Service. The one that has stuck with me all these years later that I watched once I was in the know of Ghibi was Whisper of the Heart. There’s something so universally romantic about how the story unfolds, and how it wraps up that still makes my heart pitter-patter when I think about it.

I honestly thought that this live action sequel, despite the name, wouldn’t actually make it off the ground. It had been announced all the way back in early 2020, and it’s filming was delayed for a long-ass time due to lockdown in Italy. Being genuinely honest, I was waiting for the film to be scrapped due to that, but it did resume filming at some point and now we are here.

Whisper of the Heart (2022) is the sequel of the 1995 animated classic. Tsukishima Shizuku (Yasuhara Runa) and Amasawa Seiji (Nakagawa Tsubasa) were junior high school students when they met and fell for one another. At that time they vowed that they surely make their dreams come true, even if it takes ten years or more. Well, that time has passed; Shizuku (Seino Nana) is now an editor for children’s novels at a small publishing company in Japan. Seiji (Matsuzuka Tori) is an accomplished cellist in Italy, about to release his first professional album. The distance between the two is physical and emotional as the two young adults struggle with what it means to pursue their dreams – and if those dreams still include one another.

I’m not gonna lie – this was a sequel that I was very on the fence about conceptually. I mean, Ghibi movies work due to how they’re written and animated: I wasn’t sure if a live action would cut it. By the end of the movie I was sniffling in my seat, rubbing my eyes trying not to cry because I didn’t want the other attendees to judge me. I needed this movie on a very deep emotional level that had never occurred me in the slightest.

The thing about Ghibi movies, especially about Whisper of the Heart (1995) is it isn’t just a romance story for relationships. It’s a romance about the beautiful ideal of living one’s life in pursuit of your dream. About romanticizing your daily life even if the world is terrible and cruel, you still have your dreams. I still remember the scenes where Seiji goes off to Italy for a month to pursue violin in the original. Then when Shizuku tells her mother that she wants just one month off of school to write her novel, and her mother lets her. You can bet I begged my mom to let me do the same and was swiftly turned down on that proposal. Fiction has this stunning way of convincing you, even if just for the duration of the film that something like that is possible.

Whisper of the Heart (2022) is the still semi-romanticized but utterly more realistic version of what it actually means to pursue a dream. For Shizuku it’s not quite soul crushing, but it’s rough. She’s been writing for ten years now and has yet to publish even a competition piece. Granted, she’s gotten a degree and works in the industry she needs to be in to do so but it’s not nearly as fun as her junior high self imagined it was. Even Seiji whose accomplished his dream and recognized in his field, the way he dreamed of it being and the reality of it are two different things.

I’ve found myself in a very similar situation. I won’t go in depth, but the main conflict of this film and my own personal struggles are one in the same conceptually. Is it better to struggle after the original dream forever, or to allow the possibility of the shape of said dream to change?

I won’t spoil you with what Shizuku and Seiji chose. I really think it’s a worthwhile successor to the original despite some changes – I’ll talk talk about that in a minute. As for me, only time will tell. Maybe one day I’ll do a tell all on this very blog.

Regardless, Whisper of the Heart (2022) did an immaculate job story telling-wise. I was incredibly impressed by how throughly it dissected it’s source material and plucked the most meaningful parts of it to be re-incorporated as flashbacks. There is in fact a young Shizuku and young Seiji on top of their now adult versions who are the focus of the story. The series of flashbacks are just as much as flashbacks as they are homages to the original.

They manage somehow, to get the cast to embody those original feelings that I thought could only be captured in animation. It’s incredibly impressive. Yasuhara Runa and Nakagawa Tsubasa were incredible as the young Shizuku and Seiji respectively. You can tell that Tsubasa and Matsuzaka Tori spent a fair amount of time working on mannerisms since they were so alike at times. I was completely blown away by Yasuhara Runa. She captured the mannerisms of animated Shizuku and repurposed them into live action form, but in a way where Seino Nana could work off her as the adult version. That’s a lot of layers to a performance for a 15 year old actress! I sincerely hope Runa is offered more roles like this in the future, because she has a ton of promise. There was not a single performance I can nit-pick since everyone did so well across the board.

There’s so many other positives about this film I could honestly write forever. In fact I’m already above my usual word count a bit. But the color pallet of this film, between the Japanese and Italian locations was brilliant. The attention to having a unified look that stretched not only between locations, time of day and season, but also between past and present can’t be overlooked. It looked so natural, without any weird overly filtered or adjusted sequences.

The attention to detail regarding the Baron. They obviously made a real-ass Baron for the cast to interact with and I appreciate it. He looked divine, with the details in his expression, posture, fur and everything there like I would have hoped for. He also seemed to have some real weight to him too. Of course, those emerald eyes probably aren’t actual emeralds (budget and all that) but they picked up the light of the sun, and the whisper of the hearts just like I imagined so many years ago. I’d kill to get a replica. Maybe the new Ghibi park will have one for sale…

Additionally, I loved how they represented the whisper of Shizuku’s heart. I don’t remember if they had an interpretation in the original film – but I liked how it was done here. It really helped visualize the concept of such a thing, as well as naturally break up the film and give it structure.

Before I forget, yes the live action changed some things. Seiji in the original anime is a violinist now cellist in the live action. I tried to dig up why they changed this aspect especially since it’s so well known, and came up empty handed. Personally, I respect those who might have take issue with this, but also think this alteration is perfectly fine. The story still flows and the live performances still capture the original feelings as well as the new ones, very well in my humble opinion.

Secondly, “Country Roads” the Olivia Newton-John and Youko Honna versions are not reprised in the live action. Instead they are changed with “Give Me Wings” (翼をください) by Anne. Before you arm yourself with pitchforks – “Give Me Wings” was originally released back in 1971, which is in the same generation of song writing as “Country Roads”. The Japanese is at the bottom of the video description linked above, and the English can be found here. Again, I respect those who are upset about the change, but this change worked in favor for the film. This is not a live action adaptation of Whisper of the Heart (1995) – it’s a live action sequel and it’s essential to change elements to suit the continuation of story here and “Give Me Wings” lyrically serves that purpose really well.

I think I’ve covered just about everything of interest regarding this sequel. I get that some purists will not give this film a chance, and honestly – their loss. I’ll admit I’m incredibly biased, as a fan of the original and someone not bitter to live actions, but seriously give Whisper of the Heart (2022) a watch if and when you can. I think it’ll resonate with audiences more then most would care to admit.



  1. This sounds awesome! I loved the original Whispers of the Heart, and I would love to see a sequel. Thank you for this post, I didn’t even know a movie like this was in the works. I’m totally going to hunt this film down!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re most welcome! It might be awhile for this movie to pop up; it only just released in Japan so it’s usually 6 months later that it’ll show up somewhere. ^^; But I hope when it shows up and you get a chance to watch it, you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

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