During summer vacation, lazy bookworm Tsukishima Shizuku observes an cat riding on the train. Intrigued, she decides to follow him. The chase leads her to Amasawa Seiji, a boy who dreams of becoming a violin maker, and The Baron, a cat figurine who, along with Seiji, inspires her to explore her own creative pursuit: a fantasy novel. Shizuku and Seiji fall for one another just as he’s headed off to Italy for two months, and Shizuku contends with the loneliness by burying herself in her novel, affecting her marks and leading to a family meeting. When her trials are over and she delivers the draft of her novel to Seiji’s grandpa, The Baron’s owner, it evokes in him memories of his own lost love. Seiji returns, and he and an elated Shizuki take his bike to the highest point in town to watch the sunrise together.
We’ve wanted to review this film for a while now. Directed by the late Kondou Yoshifumi (who died before his time) with storyboards by Miyazaki, It’s a classic and perhaps our favorite Ghibli film (our top 3 tend to fluctuate), one that focuses on the real-life struggles of young people and limits the fantasy elements to their imaginations. We take an instant liking to Shizuku, remembering the endless possibilities of summer often boiling down to goofing off (or in her case, reading books indoors) until it’s suddenly gone. It’s full of brilliant moments like the transition from the dark clouds encroaching on a summer afternoon to the first day of school when it’s pouring, enhanced by Nomi Yuuji’s stirring, soaring orchestral score (gives us goosebumps every time). Meeting Seiji requires some degree of coincidence – call it fate – but their budding romance is straightforward and expertly handled. There are times, perhaps, when a kiss is called for, but the lack of overt gestures of affection doesn’t detract from the romance here. It’s understated, mature, and feels very real.
The film takes place in beautifully-rendered, intricately-detailed, sprawling West Tokyo in 1994, which is a character in and of itself. The hum and pulse of the city, with its engines and horns and sirens, people weaving around trains and bikes and cars, it’s all so vital and alive. Shizuku’s various moods as she walks and runs through the twisting streets are all perfectly accompanied by Nomi’s score, and there’s great contrast between Shizuku’s crowded, cave-like apartment (God, we love that apartment) and the gorgeous vistas of the dramatically-perched antique store (the vistas from the deck are superb!). We also enjoyed the side characters, from the very cat-like cat Moon to Shizuku’s pushy big sister and progressive parents, who let her do what she wants as long as she takes responsibility if she fails in her creative pursuit.
We could frankly muse about how much ass this film kicks all day. It transports us back to nineties West Tokyo and drops us right in the middle of the life of a girl tentatively striking out on her own road and, while on it, meets someone she can share the journey with. Whenever we watch it, it always lifts our spirits. It even inspired us to write our own novel, while being mindful not to expect instant perfection, but starting with roughly-hewed ore from which gems can be polished through hard work and patience.
Car Cameos: In a word, tons. There are cars, trucks, buses, and bikes zooming every which way, and Shizuku has some close calls while crossing the street or walking alongside it with Seiji. Recognizable models we spotted include a BMW 5-Series (E34); Honda Legend; Hino S’elega bus; an old Mitsubishi Delica; an original Mini Cooper; a Mitsubishi Fuso Canter truck; a Toyota Corolla (E80) multiple Toyota Comfort and Nissan Cedric Y31 taxis; a civilian Toyota Crown (S130); and a Volkswagen Golf III. We’re not sure what kind of kei van Seiji’s gramps putters around in…or the makes/models of the myriad motorbikes buzzing around.