Life Goes On: Post-War Japan and “Whisper of the Heart” (SPOILERS)

Note: This post deals with controversial subjects. It is not my intent to offend or upset anyone. If you are offended or upset by anything I say, let me know and we can talk about it. Thank you.

“I stood in the darkness and listened in amazement to the warbling of some thrushes nearby. I had not heard such sounds for so long, and it seemed incredible that they could have survived the final battle. It was spring, and the thrushes would be preparing to raise a new generation of themselves. Could there possibly be rebirth after such total destruction? In my present state of mind, I could not believe it. In any case, my world had ended.” (p. 58.)

These words are from a German soldier’s memoir.*

I imagine, upon learning that Japan had surrendered, many people had similar thoughts.

How can life go on after everything that has happened?

Life did go on.

For me, a film is one piece of evidence of this. I’ll explain:

There’s an anime film I watched recently: Whisper of the Heart.

The film is about a middle school girl in early 90s Tokyo who, inspired by a boy she meets, sets off to find what she’s passionate about — what drives her.

Whisper of the Heart7

There are a number of reasons I like the film. (If you want, click Here to read more of my thoughts on it.) But one of the reasons, that became apparent upon multiple viewings, is because I, personally, see Whisper of the Heart not only as the story of a girl’s journey to find her passion in life, but the story of post-war Japan. Here’s why:

  1. The film is set in Tokyo in 1994 — almost 50 years after World War II. So the film will be portraying life in post-war Japan.
  2. American brands, such as Coca-Cola, are visible throughout the film. (A hill is shown strewn with litter — one piece of litter being a Coke can.) Coca-Cola is a popular brand, known all over the world — a result of international trade: trade between the U.S. and Japan having resumed after World War II was over.
  3. The John Denver song “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Though I don’t know how popular the song was in Japan in the early 90s, the song does play a role in the film: Shizuku, the protagonist, puts her own spin on it. The popularity of foreign music, like the popularity of brands like Coca-Cola, being another result of international trade.
  4. One of the characters, an old man, tells Shizuku of his time as a student studying abroad in Germany. He had a lady friend in Germany, whom he hoped to see when he returned. But then the war happened. When he was finally able to return, there was no sign of her.
  5. It is a story Shizuku writes, called “Whisper of the Heart”, that makes the old man think back to his time in Germany.

Whisper of the Heart10

In conclusion:

After Japan surrendered, and the cleanup began — as soldiers came home, rubble was cleared away in places devastated by bombs, and the effects of the atomic bombs’ radiation were understood — I imagine that people thought: How can life go on after everything that has happened?

“Could there possibly be rebirth after such total destruction?” Films like Whisper of the Heart teach that, yes, there can be.

Whisper of the Heart6

Whisper of the Heart illustrates the fact that though there is horror in life, there is beauty, too:

Whisper of the Heart5

For further reading: My favorite review of the film

Also: The trailer:

*Knappe, Siegfried, and Ted Brusaw. Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier 1936-1949. Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1993. Print.

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