What is a fairytale? in Whisper of the Heart (1995)

(Spoilers ahead)

In the middle of a work-centric household is Shizuku Tsukishima, the kid who knows nothing outside the beautifully woven fairytale that she absolutely loves reading. It is her goal to read twenty books before she begins school. However, reading does not excite her as it once did. She is a girl who is looking for adventure in the midst of normalcy, so much that she talks to a cat on the metro and follows him around instead of finishing her assigned task of delivering her dad’s lunch. Shizuku is a character who is constantly looking out for escapism from her monotonous life, and she is bound to find it. However, what she finds as adventure and purpose, seems to be all that it is: escapism.

Shizuku Tsukishima is the perfect embodiment of the middle class thought infused in a confused purposeless teenager’s mind, through which the movie not only preaches bourgeois ideology subtly, as an aspirational standard but also presents it like the illusion that it is, through the association of the same with overtones of a fairytale. Through Shizuku, the audience sees the anxiety of having a goal in life to aspire towards, the excitement for it, and even the masochistic lifestyle that comes along with the aspirations of bourgeois culture that is passed off as hard work in the film. Shizuku is seen forgetting to eat her lunch, having a madman’s work ethic, even somewhat like a workaholic so much that in the end she passes out of exhaustion, but only when she finishes her task. This eerily represents the reality of most of the working class that exists. Through Shizuku’s mother’s character, the audience sees the same behavioral patterns, the haste as she rushes to finish her Master’s and the constant urgency with regard to work that is mimicked later in Shizuku.

The fairytale-like elements, such as the awe inciting views and mysterious aura’s around things, as well as people surfaces strongly first when Shizuku follows the cat Moon into a neighborhood that is clearly quite elite in terms of visual representation. The houses are huge and sophisticated and Shizuku is disillusioned as she enters the neighbourhood because she has not only never been here before, but also because it is something beyond her imagination. She is made to walk into an antique store, another medium through which the fairytale-like elements are cemented. She is in awe about the things in the antique store and is taken aback by the statue of the Baron and the way his eyes glisten. This incident, where Shizuku wanders into this neighborhood gives her a sense of adventure, as compared to her monotonous life. The sense of adventure and fulfillment is associated with the elite neighborhood and the antique shop, just like the monotony and exhaustion of the crowded work-centric home where Shizuku lives, in stark contrast against the former. Like the neighbourhood, there is a mystery around Seiji Amamsawa who also becomes the representation of the bourgeois class, something Shizuku aspires towards, something she constantly thinks she is not worthy of.

The purpose of the fairytale-like elements in association with the bourgeois lifestyle is subtle, yet prominent in the way the bildungsroman like narrative unfolds. Shizuku is supposed to aspire towards a purpose, a purpose that makes her worthy of Seiji, someone who also has to aspire towards his dream, but the anxiety of this aspiration is heavily placed only on Shizuku, the representation of the middle class. The purpose of creating bourgeois lifestyle that is ridden with the sense of fulfillment of dreams, in association with the elements of mystery and magic might perhaps be the very thing that highlights the reality of this lifestyle: the fact that it is, much like a fairytale, unreal. Perhaps the creative intent is much different, one cannot pinpoint this factor definitely. However, the inevitability of the narrative that builds up through the conscious characteristics of the characters, the setting, the lifestyles each of the characters share, must be countered.

There is a discourse in everything and ideology in everyone, and one has to look deeper in order to understand that both are present in popular culture. Whisper of the Heart becomes a movie that is not simply about folklore, dreams, and love. It is about the politics of the setting in which the dreams are explored, the politics of the character's socio-economic positions, the psyche of the characters, and the dynamics of the discourse around these factors.


“Taste is an ideological discourse” says John Storey and this is an attempt at delineating the two.

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Marlyn Pereira

“Taste is an ideological discourse” says John Storey and this is an attempt at delineating the two.