Whisper of the Heart (If You Listen Closely)

This is one of Miyazaki's finest works. He wrote the script, but the director is Yoshifumi Kondō – a rising star at Studio Ghibli who tragically died before he could make more films. It's a mostly realistic story about a bright high school girl who has to navigate a love triangle, the pressures of studying and her own budding abilities as a creative writer. The love triangle is almost a Shakespearian comedy, with lots of characters liking the wrong person or not realising who they really like. It culminates in a powerful scene in which Shizuku rejects a suitor, after which this plot strand is largely abandoned. Instead the film turns to explore the tension between artistic ambition and the daily demands of life, school and work.

Shizuku's relationship with her mysterious classmate (who hangs out with his antiquarian grandfather and wants to learn how to make violins in Italy) turns into an intellectual partnership as much as it is a young romance. Exposure to this new household filled with intriguing objects and where people have the opportunity to develop their creative talents is a spur for Shizuku to finish writing her own first story, to the point where she has to abandon studying for her exams. The effort is not cost-free – Shizuku's family become concerned about her behaviour and her grades. But in a heartwarming scene Shizuku's father intervenes on her behalf, giving her the support she needs to complete her personal project.

The film is conscious of the class dimensions to all this. Shizuku lives in a cramped apartment where she has to share a room with her older sister. Her lovesick best friend lives in a mansion by comparison, and her paramour Seiji also commutes from a fancier neighbourhood. Shizuku's mother is studying for an MA and her sister is saving money so she can move into her own apartment – both are focused on getting on in the world and find Shizuku's diversions from her schoolwork baffling. Her father is a librarian, and content with his job and position in life, which allows him to be more supportive of his daughter's artistic development. But it's clear that Shizuku doesn't have some of the advantages of her school friends, which stack the odds against her succeeding as a writer.

While the film is a melodrama, it's refreshingly grounded about these obstacles and burdens. The romance between Shizuku and Seiji is founded on an acknowledgement of their particular creative interests, and the understanding that they are to be nurtured despite the anguish of separation that might involve. It is a partnership in which each supports the other to fulfill themselves. The film's final scene, in which Shizuku and Seiji race up a hill to catch the sunrise, becomes a metaphor for their relationship, with Shizuku getting off Seiji's bike to push together towards their shared goal.


Ferris Bueller's Day Off

If you are lucky enough not to have to play by the rules, why should you? This film is a diatribe against the politics of envy – if you feel resentment at other people’s good fortune then the problem is your own. Those that become obsessed by it (like the hapless Ed Rooney) end up ruined, whereas Bueller’s sister manages to let go, and bag herself a smooch with Charlie Sheen in the process.

Bueller is wired for success despite his slacker attitude. Preternaturally self-confident, a wizard with technology, and from a comfortably middle-class background, he’ll no doubt end up making and losing millions in the 90s dot com bubble. The film notes the inadequacies of high school education (a mixture of dull rote-learning and horrific army-style exercise) and suggests that the ingenuity and creativity inherent in spinning your way through a day off is a better use of your time. Bueller’s father works in advertising and it looks like Bueller’s talent for bullshitting is inherited. A large detached house in the suburbs and a brood of incorrigible kids beckons.

Matthew Broderick does his best to make this shyster as lovable as possible. Perhaps having some experience of that European socialism Bueller dismisses so breezily I am somewhat immune to his charms, and find the film’s celebration of individualistic free-riding a bit distasteful. Part of the fantasy of this film is that its YOLO attitude never has negative consequences, when in fact civilisation is built on the ability to adhere to rules even if they don’t benefit you and to sacrifice today’s pleasures for future rewards. Bueller’s day off is a holiday from the world. It’s a break to enjoy the sights before the speed of life takes over again.

It’s telling that Hughes’s attempts to imbue the character with some sort of fellow-feeling ring false. Bueller volunteering to take the rap for his friend trashing his father’s car is supposed to be a heartfelt moment, but could just as well be a double bluff playing on Cameron’s emotional instability. You can’t escape the suspicion that everyone is a mark to him.

Hughes touches on some quite dark themes of depression and suicide with Cameron’s character, but you never get the sense that Bueller actually cares about him. His diagnosis that Cameron just needs more sexual experience in order to be able to assert himself is both sexist and wide off the mark. There's also a deeply weird moment where Cameron leering at Bueller’s girlfriend is framed as some sort of moment of personal growth. Cameron feels like a character from another film – someone with demons to exorcise who unfortunately has only Bueller and Hughes to help him.

It's a self-indulgent film, with expensive helicopter shots, an arty montage sequence in a gallery, and an over-the-top parade scene that feels like the film has momentarily turned into a musical. Although it is still a collection of parts, the focus on a single character who directly lectures his audience makes for a less disjointed film than something like The Breakfast Club. Ed Rooney is a cartoon villain, and his attempts to catch Bueller prefigures Hughes's script for Home Alone. The fact that such childishness sits alongside scenes in which Cameron and Sloane walk around Chicago admitting their existential terror at the prospect of the future makes this a weird hybrid – both a kids comedy and a teen drama. Much like Bueller's outrageous schemes, it just about manages to hang together.