Sometimes, it’s only after the fact that you realize just how close you came to dying.

After eating dinner a few nights ago, my wife was flipping through the channels on TV. “Oh, that’s right, Whisper of the Heart is on. Do you want to watch it?” she asked.

Now ordinarily a cute girl asking me if I’d like to watch anime with her gets an automatic “Why yes, I would.” But at that point there were just 20 minutes left before the end, and I said I’d rather just rent it from the video store down the street some other time, so we could watch it from the beginning.

That decision may have saved our lives.

In honor of Studio Ghibli’s newest film, The Wind Rises (due to open on July 20, check out our impressions of the movie here), a number of the famed anime studio’s works are being shown on TV this month. First up on July 5 was Whisper of the Heart, the official English title for Mimi wo Sumaseba (which, confusingly, actually means “if you listen closely”).

The film centers on junior high students Shizuku and Seiji who dream of becoming a writer and violin maker, respectively. As they follow their ambitions, a romance blossoms between the two.

Sweet story, right? Sure, for adults watching a coming-of-age tale, there’s always bound to be a bit of bittersweet nostalgia mixed in, but a little catharsis isn’t anything to get worked up over, right?

Apparently it was for some Japanese Internet commentators, who took to message boards immediately after the broadcast ended to share their despair with the world.

“Give me back my youth!” demanded one. Another, lacking such energy but no less despondent, sighed “Time has passed us by.” “My life is so boring,” was a common complaint.

So what brought on this wave of sadness? Well Whisper of the Heart’s theatrical release was in 1995. Theatergoers who at that time were about the same age as its protagonists are now entering their 30s and running up against some of the cold, dry realities of adult society. Rewatching Shizuku and Seiji find their callings and make a meaningful romantic connection, all before even starting high school, didn’t exactly make them feel great about where there are in their own lives by comparison.

While most of these negative-minded comments came from men in their early 30s, younger viewers were not completely immune to the Whisper of the Heart syndrome. “I feel like I’m wasting my youth,” worried one.

In the most extreme example, a message board thread was created with the title “Whisper of the Heart Suicide Center,” featuring ASCII art of people hanging themselves and messages such as “See ya all in the afterlife!”

Ghibli head and frequent director Hayao Miyazaki has responded to questions about changes in his filmmaking style as saying that the flights of fancy that powered his earlier hits have lost their place in the modern world. The stories the studio creates today may well reflect that harsher sensibility, but it turns out Whisper of the Heart had the power to crush souls all along.

Source: Jin
Images: Studio Ghibli