Whisper of the Heart arrives on UK Blu-ray via StudioCanal with a 1080p resolution, encoded with the
AVCcodec and framed within a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to Region B.
As with previous Ghibli Blu-rays from Optimum/StudioCanal, there has been a move to apply DNR and thereby reduce grain. Without getting into the hot water of an animation restoration debate that would descend into a cel vs frame viewpoint of what it should look like, the effects will be a glass half empty or full depending on how you viewed the earlier Japanese release. To some the Japanese Ghibli releases from Disney have been a victory for grain to be maintained, others would point to the uneven structure in places and the noise that can creep into the darker frames. StudioCanal have taken away the heavy grain but not scrubbed the image of all life, and the background art shows little if any noticeable loss of high frequency detail. All the pits in the roads, cracks in the walls and discolouration on the surfaces of the urban environment are there.
The major difference shows itself on the moving objects within the frame, which have become far more pronounced. On the one hand they blend less seamlessly (the train in the opening sequence now jars a bit to my eyes). This goes hand-in-hand with the lightening of the frame, which doesn’t necessarily bring with it a profound contrast boost. The beneficiaries of this lighter tone are the whites, pages are now a cooler bluey grey rather than the more sepia hue of the Japanese Blu-ray. Reds though are a bit less punchy, with them straying towards pastel shades than maroon. In the daylight everything is more bright, the bloom on the street and rays shining down pierce clouded obstructions rather than falling muddily.
In colour and grain it’s very much a matter of taste, but what’s less ambiguous is the handling of linework and general clarity. Apart from a couple of slightly less than stellar shots this is a work of great clarity, sharp and tight. Aliasing doesn’t spoil the show and though one shot hints at banding, it’s eminently missable. It’s a clean (purists may say too much so) image, clear and sharp and beautiful in motion.
Two tracks to choose from, both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 – English or Japanese.
I don’t mind dubs, there are even a few dubtitles I don’t mind, but when a story is so intrinsically tied to social attitudes and a narrative that is Japanese there really is no excuse not to at least attempt the original language option.
Both tracks are pretty wide and well balanced. If anything the English centre channel seems a touch more even which is usually not the case. The added vocals on a dub tend become quite pronounced, but though this is sometimes the case with Whisper of the Heart, the Japanese dialogue has a tendency to get overtaken by other channels and effects. It still seems more layered, though in part this is down to the acting, but it also has a few rough edges.
The Japanese track is generally a touch quieter, with some discreet noises being almost missable. If your volume is turned down low, when a dog barks, you’ll probably hear all the yaps fade in the English version but perhaps miss the final whisper-like one in the distance on the Japanese option.
Things can be a bit flat and seem front heavy, partly due to the nature of certain segments of the film, but the score is a delight, popping around all speakers and the electro-pop beats hit the high frequencies well, beaming out in a positively playful manner. The low frequencies, such as the stringed instruments, also get room to breath, humming into the room with an almost tangible quality.
Both good tracks, with a few caveats stamped next to each, but offering fine audio whichever is chosen.
Using the picture-in-picture button you can toggle these on or off at any time and they run for the duration of the whole film.
Background Artwork from “The Baron’s Story” – 4:46
Some of surrealist artist Naohisa Inoue’s background imagery utilised for the fantasy sequence involving The Baron. It plays out to music and in a 4:3 frame, but is still pretty stunning.
4 Masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue: From Start to Finish – 1080p – 34:43
A series of paintings, depicted in their various stages of completion until the final picture is finished. It may sound dull, but the works themselves are captivating and the process, particularly the early use of vivid colours in seemingly random patterns then built upon, is pretty fascinating to watch unfold.
Behind the Microphone – 7:59
How the English voice cast, including Brittany Snow, Ashley Tisdale and Cary Elwes, got on recording.
TV Spots – 1080p – 7:18
A series of Japanese television ads for the film’s release.
Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers – 1080p – 2:53
Studio Ghibli Collection Trailers – 1080p – 9:42
Trailers for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, Tales from Earthsea, Laputa and Spirited Away.
For fobbing off to someone without a Blu-ray player.
Whisper of the Heart is a great example of how to make the ordinary entrancing. Without resorting to large scale fantasy sequences it is a Ghibli film that places the emphasis on human emotions tethered in the here-and-now, resulting in a story of adolescent self-realisation that pushes past the boundaries of a children’s film.
The Region B locked disc will cause some debate, with its grain reduction and lightened frame, but it’s very much a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and I’d wager we could still see this looking better, somewhere between this and the Japanese Disney release in terms of grain structure/
DNRand colour. The audio performs well, with a few differences noted between the tracks, both being very capable, particularly when it comes to recreating the excellent score. The extras are pretty fan-oriented with little in the way of passing interest material, but that’s nit picking.
Whisper of the Heart is a real “what if” regarding Kondo, but as a film set apart from the narrative of the director’s life, it can sit alongside the best the studio has to offer.
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