Posted March 06 2006 - 08:36 AM
*** Note: I received *three* GHIBLI films on Friday to be reviewed for Tuesday: Whisper of the Heart, My Neighbor Totoro, and the masterpiece Howl’s Moving Castle. I’m trying to get them all reviewed ASAP so please be forgiving…it’s been a full weekend! ***
Whisper of the Heart
2-disc R1 Edition
|Studio:||STUDIO GHIBLI (released through Disney) |
|RunTime:||111 minutes |
|Aspect Ratio:||16x9 encoded 1.85:1 |
|Audio:||5.1 DD Original Japanese, 5.1 DD English |
|SpecialFeatures:||Behind the microphone feature, Trailers and TV spots, Full-length Storyboard |
|ReleaseDate:||March 7, 2006 |
Whisper of the heart doesn’t fit the storyline of the typical Studio GHIBLI film. Having just written that, I’m amused that my mind would come up with the phrase "typical Studio GHIBLI film" which seems somewhat paradoxical. By “typical” I mean the very atypical
way in which (most) GHIBLI films depart from reality, and integrate strange other-worldly, pseudo-spiritual surrealism dissolving human characters into mystical storylines. If that’s what you’ve come to expect from GHIBLI films, lay your expectations aside for this charming addition to your Japanimation collection.
Whisper of the Heart keeps firmly rooted in “the real world”. While that's in no way a criticism of the film, not knowing this ahead of time might lessen your enjoyment if you watch the entire movie “waiting” for the film to suddenly take a turn through a fantasy porthole just around the next corner. The closest that the film comes is a brief dream-sequence that looks unmistakably GHIBLI. However, it’s precisely this real-world twist of Whisper that makes it so compelling. I found myself engrossed in the story, emotionally invested in the convincing relationships of friendship and family among the characters. Whisper is a drama...the story surrounding the coming-of-age of a young teen Japanese girl, and while the film may be entertaining to middle-aged children by virtue of “being a cartoon”, the story, message, and striking visuals speak to me as a film predestined for a more adult audience to enjoy.
Steve Y from HTF writes:
| I saw Whisper of the Heart for the first time about three years ago and was blown away. It helped that I had no idea where the story was going to go next. Like Howl's Moving Castle, it works best when you try to disengage any preconceived notions about what certain stories are "supposed" to do... it's a very naturalistic tale which moves in odd, unexpected directions, much like "real life". |
The emotional success of Whisper of the Heart is in large-part due to the outstanding voice-actors which I was privileged to enjoy while listening to the English audio soundtrack of this marvelous film. Does that bother you? I’m sure that purists experience of bit of stomach curdling at the sound of a statement like that. But leaving my flame-suit courageously aside, allow me to share an alternate point of view. One that isn’t heretical, but is actually grounded in a principle of serving the artistic integrity of the film…
While one language may legitimately constitute the “original” spoken language of the first-release region for a particular film, there are some differences between animated and live-action films that make the strict adherence to listening to only the “original” language track a bit of a red-herring with animated features. How can I say that? Well…for a few real reasons:
[*]Most animated films are actually crafted with multiple language options in mind, and when this is the case it’s not accurate to describe the alternate language options as an afterthought or even as an artistic compromise. Quite often great care is taken to select voice-actors for each language option that appropriately represent the intentions of the director to their respective region audiences.
[*]Animation has visuals that can be more easily married to multiple spoken dialogue options than live-action. Let’s all be honest and say that the typical Japanimation style of lip-movement makes this dialogue shuffle all the more easy.
[*]A subtitle-option for non-native speakers necessitates its own set of compromises (that usually get ignored), one of which is that in order to follow the film’s story the viewer is forced to focus on the subtitle text which keeps him or her from looking at the animated visuals which the artist intended to have your focus. In a very real sense, watching the movie without having to spend 50% of your time reading text is consistent with the director’s intentions.
[*]A large part of the emotion of an animated film (like any film) is communicated through the voice acting. And while this would seem to support an argument for listening to the original language track, this overlooks the disparity of cultural expression between the original dialogue and the viewer’s native tongue. It can be argued that English voice-acting is better able to communicate the intended emotional impact to English-speaking viewers than a Japanese language track, which for all its originality, communicates its emotional meaning through a context unknown to the English-speaking listener.
I support Disney’s decision to provide both optional English and the original Japanese language presentation with Whisper of the Heart for Region 1 audiences. I personally prefer to watch this DVD listening to the English language as I find it gives me a better opportunity to drink in the animated visuals and experience a more emotional connection with the story than I would wrestling with subtitles that distract me from the hand-drawn imagery that the director wanted me to see. I respect any film purist’s (or Japanese speaking viewer’s) preference to watch the film with its original Japanese audio presentation. Feel free to discuss, just be respectful to all sides.
Subtitle Update (March 21):
There are actually THREE English-subtitle options for Whisper(and the other 2 GHIBLI films released along with it:
[*]English Closed Captioning...which includes sound-effects and is more-or-less a translation of the Enlgish audio soundtrack (ie, a word-for-word translation of the the English soundtrack option, not the original Japanese).
[*]True English Subtitles. This is more literally a translation of the Japanese language and in many cases differs more noticably from the "English Audio" soundtrack option. Fans and purists should use this option when listening to the original Japanese language to get the most authentic experience.
[*]English captions for written signage. This is an unusual option...subtitles only appear sporatically when something in the scene with Japanese wording might have been readable to Japanese audiences (like signs or letters)...and is translated with English subtitles. They only appear a handful of times. Curiously, these subtitles default to "on" and you'll have to cycle through the subtitle menu to shut them off if they become annoying.
It’s just gorgeous. I’ve yet to drop Howl’s Moving Castle in the DVD drawer, but so far Whisper is the best looking GHIBLI-film on DVD to-date. It’s detailed, clear, devoid of any digital artifacts like some of the “shimmer” I saw on Nausica (which I presume was DNR) and produces an utterly film-like presentation on my 106” diagonal screen. I found myself captivated by the image…seduced in that “ahhh” way that well filmed/projected animation can do. I kept shaking my head amazed that I was watching a projected DVD. It really looked, and more importantly felt
Backgrounds are so detailed and naturally painted on the screen that (like with Bambi) you can just stare into the scenery and never get bored. Whisper is a film that cries out to be projected on a wide-angle system. So many scenes take real advantage of the “scale” of a wide-angle viewing set-up. In addition to just loading each scene with a wealth of visual information that really “shines” on a big screen, many scenes depend on subtle movements and perspective changes in the scenery to communicate their presence, and these attributes are lost when viewed greater than 2 screen-widths away: The graceful movement of clouds against the sky, the impact of city-scape vistas, the movement of power lines outside the train-car window. Visually, Whisper is all about detail, scenery, and scale. Do this film justice and see it big.
Colors are distinctively warm in the GHIBLI sort of way…with flesh-tones tending to red though not “defectively” so. Contrast and black level are perfect. And unlike most other GHIBLI DVDs in my collection, the image is breathtakingly clean and bears no digital signature of any kind…at least nothing that intruded to distract me at my 1.6 screen-width viewing distance. Edge enhancement is not obvious (unlike My Neighbor Totoro). This may sound extreme, but several times while watching I found myself thinking “wow…that picture reminds me of a Lowry-restored title like Cinderella or Lady and the Tramp”. That’s how clean and clear the image comes across.
Any room for improvement?
And I might have seen the slightest bit of EE in a few scenes if I looked hard, but it never intruded and the image still maintained a natural film-like “grace” on the big-screen without any harsh electronic signature.
p.s. the image is appropriately letterboxed inside the 16x9 frame to preserve the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Many viewers may not see the (small) letterboxing bars due to overscan in their system. Thankfully, the image utilizes the full 720 horizontal width of R1 DVD (some previous DVDs like Spirited Away wasted resolution by windowboxing the image on all four sides).
Picture Quality: 4.75 / 5
|SCORE ||Description |
|1-2 ||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch even on a 32” 4x3 480I TV. Think Outland or Jean De Flourette (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl, PAL-NTSC conversion artifacts etc.)-- truly horrid. |
|2-3 ||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Kill Bill Vol 1. |
|3-4 ||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos. |
|4-5 ||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements limited only by DVD’s 720 x 480 resolution. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW" and ask you if they are watching HD. Think The Empire Strikes Back, the Fifth Element Superbit or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition. |
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.
Please see my comments in the “feature” section regarding thoughts about subtitles versus translated Japanimation if you skipped the movie-review.
Both the original Japanese and newer English 5.1 mix are included here. To the best of my ability they both sound like 5.1 mixes with very active front L/C/R channels with virtually silent L/R rear channels. For all intents and purposes this is a “3.0 DD” mix we’re talking about. However, even with the lack of surround the audio sounds fantastic. The Japanese mix sounds a bit “thin” and a tad bright but the (newer) English mix sounds simply beautiful…and appears to make use of the same original session recordings for Music and effects with only the voices being newly dubbed. I suspect that the mixing engineers were able to preserve better fidelity when mixing/mastering the new English mix but chose to use the existing “off the shelf” Japanese mix which was an appropriate decision IMO.
The English mix sounds full-bodied and robust. Orchestral recording has a comfortable L/R spread and bass, while not room-shakingly violent, provides a solid bottom-end to the acoustic scape. And best of all, the mix makes wonderful and appropriate use of directional dialogue…one that reminds me of “the old days” of vocal mixing before all the center-happy engineers took over the home-video mixing landscape (the dialogue mix on the new Bambi sequel DVD used lots of directional dialogue as well…is this a sign of new things to come?). Refreshing. Really the only thing that the (original) mix could have done better would have been to take advantage of the rear channels. While the lack of surround wasn’t really “missed”, I think that had the original mixing engineers chosen to, it could have enhanced the audio presentation even more. HOWEVER, I should add that decision to preserve the same balance and artistic intent of the original Japanese in the new English soundtrack presentation was the right one. Clearly, the new 5.1 audio could have made a much more modern use of the rear channels since the 5.1 English mix was just recently done for this DVD. However, the decision to preserve the original 3.0 balance and merely present that same soundtrack with the best fidelity possible while only substituting English dialogue for the Japanese vocals was a good one…it upholds the integrity of the original Japanese mix while providing English-speaking audiences a option to forgo subtitles without taking additional liberties by altering the mix in any way other than the spoken dialogue.
Sound Quality: 4 / 5
B&K AVR 212 processor/receiver driving my Onix-Rocket Loudspeaker system.
The special features on these three new GHIBLI DVDs are very similar, and in each case the 2nd disc is utilized to present the entire film in raw storyboard form (with the feature-production soundtrack and subtitle options). While not as loaded as the typical stops-pulled-out-2-disc-plantinum releases, the bonus material is more than I would have hoped for and I think most fans will be content.
[*][b]Behind the MicrophoneEach new GHIBLI DVD has this, and here we visit the actors responsible for the English-voice acting. This is really a nice feature, especially given that this “voice acting” is such a strong component of what makes these new R1 DVDs so worth-while. The ability for these actors to convey emotion and pull the viewer into the experience is key to enjoying the film for anyone who chooses to view with the accompanying English soundtrack.
[*][b]Trailers and suchYou get a nice handful of original Japanese trailers for the film as well as TV promotional spots etc. All are subtitled with defeatable English subtitles and the trailers play-through one after the other in one continuous stream. You can skip back and forth from trailer to trailer using your chapter-next/back remote buttons. All are 4x3 encoded and just reek of crappy NTSC analog video artifacts. What did you expect?
[*][b]Feature-length StoryboardOn disc two you can view the entire movie in concept-storyboard form. The image is slightly windowboxed on all four sides and you have optional English subtitles and a choice between the same English or Japanese audio options available to you on the feature-presentation on Disc 1. Fans may enjoy though for me personally this is overkill, but I’m not going to compain!
Whisper of the Heart really surprised me. I didn’t know what to expect, but I devoted 111 minutes of my afternoon and was well rewarded. It departs from the usual “fantasy” GHIBLI style and instead offers you a real-world-based story about a teenage girl and her sense of self discovery in and among her family, friendship, and romantic relationship journeys. Young children might start to squirm since there is no cute animal side-kick to keep them amused, but any adolescent, teen, or adult viewer will find plenty here to make their viewing a pleasure. I highly recommend this touching and beautifully animated story to any animation or GHIBLI-film enthusiast. The DVD presentation is first-rate, with an outstanding video presentation that will satisfy projection and other wide-angle viewers, and faithfully preserved Japanese audio mix and a newly recorded English mix that honors the balance and recording style of the Japanese original. Bonus features are light, but interesting, and even *without* a single bonus item this disc would easily earn my high recommendation.