This open-hearted gem urges young Japanese to give voice to their feelings in order to avoid social isolation. A film to lift the spirts and empty the tear ducts.
The Anthem of the Heart (2015)
Directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai
Screenplay by Mari Okada, based on original story by CHO HEIWA BUSTERS
Voiced by Inori Minase, Koki Uchiyama, Sora Amamiya and Yoshimasa Hosoya
Opening theme sung by Nogizaka 46
When a young girl’s unguarded words inadvertently tear her family apart, her ability to speak is magically taken from her. Her friends and a high school musical help her reclaim her voice.
“Huge, swooning emotion expressed in word, song and rich animation.”
The golden age of the Hollywood musical was born in the 1930s. It was a different and more emotionally repressed age—a time of greater social homogeneity, when people put a good face on their problems and kept feelings hidden. In musicals, song would act as a vehicle for emotional self-expression and feelings were set free in some of the most memorable and beautiful music of the last century. Times have changed but those emotionally repressed environments are far from extinct—the Japanese high school with its uniforms, homogeneity and conformist pressures being a sterling example.
This is the leaping-off point of director Tatsuyuki Nagai’s The Anthem of the Heart, a heartbreakingly lovely anime which was nominated for last year’s Japanese Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Earning ¥1.2 billion at the box office, the film obviously resonated with Japanese audiences.
Jun is a precocious young oshaberi (chatterbox) living in Chichibu City, but in her fevered imagination she inhabits a romantic fantasy world of princes and princesses with an elaborate white castle standing on the hill above the town. One day she is surprised to see her father leaving the castle with a beautiful princess she has never seen before. She excitedly tells her mother, who immediately falls silent. The castle is not a magical place; it is a “love hotel” and Jun’s words have just inadvertently destroyed a marriage and her family. “This is entirely your fault, Jun,” her father tells her as the moving truck takes him out of her life forever. Shortly after, a “fairy egg” visits the weeping girl and seals her ability to speak. The traumatized young Jun can never hurt people with her words again.
The story then skips forward to the silent and introverted Jun in high school. Her teacher appoints her to the Exchange Committee with classmates Takumi, Daiki and Natsuki, all of whom have their own problems, burying feelings under feigned indifference or the macho swagger of the sports hero.
They are tasked with creating a school performance. When Jun overhears Takumi distractedly singing a song about an egg in the empty music room she feels he is speaking directly to her heart. She opens up to Takumi—through texts on her cellphone—and the two decide to collaborate on a musical. Jun realizes that the egg’s curse does not extend to singing and throws herself into writing her own story. Her friends align to help.
What follows is a film of huge, swooning adolescent emotion—set to the music of classic musicals—which will speak to both young audiences and their parents. The animation is simple, bright and crisp and the screenplay invests enough time into its characters that we are happy to make a similar investment. Nagai deftly marries elements of magic with the painful realities of teenage life and broken families. The message: while hurtful words may never be taken back, we can only truly connect to others if we use our voices to sincerely express what is in our hearts. An open-hearted gem of a film guaranteed to lift the spirits and exercise the tear ducts.
The Anthem of the Heart is scheduled to screen as part of the JCCC’s monthly film program on Sunday, January 29, at 1 pm. For more info, visit jccc.on.ca.