It's now three days after the last paragraph, and I now have found and printed out a Studio Ghibli list -- it seems that I still have to track down and see
- My Neighbor Totoro (which I own on VHS)
- Howl's Moving Castle (which I own on DVD)
- Grave of the Fireflies (which I might save for last)
- Only Yesterday (which doesn't seem to have been released in the US, ever)
- My Neighbors the Yamadas (which looks like one of those "for the huge audience who already knows and loves it" movies)
- Ocean Waves (A TV movie that also doesn't seem to have had a US release)
- The Cat Returns (probably next)
- and Tales from Earthsea (assuming it gets a US release)
Anyway, the Wife and I watched Whisper of the Heart on Monday night. It's a quiet, low-key movie about characters (which I generally like), and is essentially a very chaste junior-high-school meet-cute-and-fall-in-love story. The animation is lovely, and really has a sense of place; it's set in parts of Tokyo (I don't know which parts, as I don't think they're ever specified), and they feel very real. I do wonder if the whole area is that hilly-slash-mountainous; the movie doesn't make a big deal about it (it's just part of the world), but there's an awful lot of stairs and walking up inclines and just looking out over beautiful vistas.
It's a nice family story, though it gets a bit potted in the last third. (Our heroine, Shizuku, wants to be a writer, so we get some mildly precious stuff about creativity -- it's not bad, or really intrusive, but it shows that the Artistic Creators Are Wonderful And Special meme has touched every corner of the world.) The relationships in Shizuku's family are very believable, and the interactions among the students at school are also very well done (with only a couple of moments of broad slapstick; this is generally a realistic movie).
I'm not quite sure how to put this, but Whisper of the Heart is now bouncing off Gregory's Girl (a movie with a broadly similar premise, though Gregory doesn't swing for the fences the way Whisper does, and Gregory also has much better dialogue) in my head. Coming-of-age stories all have some family similarities, of course, but these two movies interestingly counterpoint each other.
One last thought: Whisper of the Heart is the only animated film I can think of without any fantastic content. (Except maybe The Triplets of Belleville, which has some oddities but very little that could be called fantasy.) There is some pseudo-fantasy in a dream sequence, and more in the story that Shizuku writes, but that's not fantasy on the level of the movie itself. So this is a good argument in favor of animation being able to tackle any kind of story; this could easily have been a live-action movie, but it works very well as animation.