(Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda)
Director – Tatsuyuki Nagai, Screenplay – Mari Okada, Music – Mito & Masaru Yokoyama, Animation Director – Naohiro Osugi, Art Direction – Takashi Nakamura. Production Company – A-1 Pictures.
Young Jun Naruse is accused by everybody of being a constant chatterbox. When Jun sees her father coming out of a hotel with another woman, she goes home and tells her mother, not realising of the meaning of what she saw and causes the split-up of her parents. Her father angrily says it is all Jun’s fault. Upset, Jun encounters a talking egg, which places a curse on her that causes her to lose her voice. Several years later, Jun is in her teens and in high school. She is one of four pupils volunteered onto the Community Outreach Committee by their teacher. There she is befriended by Takumi Sakagawi and explains to him about the curse that leaves her unable to talk without becoming sick in the stomach. The group make a decision to create a musical. Takumi suggests that this may offer a way around the curse and Jun silences her doubters by suddenly singing in class. She then gives Takumi an allegorical story she has written about her silence and he puts it to music for the production, intending for her to play the lead. She develops an attraction to Takumi and through their struggles to put on the musical, her silence has a way of affecting those around her and showing them how to give voice to the things they hold inside.
Anthem of the Heart was the second film from Tatsuyuki Nagai. Nagai is not quite a well-known name in anime yet but has been a prolific director in animated episodic television and of limited series since the early 2000s. Nagai’s previous feature film was Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (2013), the film spinoff of an earlier limited series he had made, and subsequent to this he made Her Blue Sky (2019).
Anthem of the Heart is a beautifully made film. Tatsuyuki Nagai opts for a traditional form of animation – the ligne claire style favoured by Hayao Miyazaki and of characters with big round eyes. The joy of the film becomes evident from the opening scenes, which are drawn with a marvellous simplicity – Jun going up to the hotel on the hill, which she imagines as a castle; seeing her father emerge and immediately interpreting it as a fantasy of a prince riding out of the castle with his princess, even though we can see the harsher reality; her immediately running to tell her mother who places some of the food she is preparing into Jun’s mouth, telling her to stop talking; and the cut to her father moving out, which he angrily blames on Jun talking too much. The economy in showing a marriage break-up in a mere handful of scenes is superbly skilful.
Thereafter, we jump to Jun in her teens as she becomes part of the Community Outreach Committee and their struggle/joys to put on the musical and especially how the group’s various romantic longings and their mutual fears/hang-ups come to the fore. Tatsuyuki Nagai is wonderfully sensitive to the emotions and the film soars whenever he touches on these. The story of the film is about how Jun’s silence in fact ends up affecting everyone around her and this becomes a wider metaphor for the film, which is all about how characters don’t speak to each other. The emotions engendered are sweet and tender.
From this, I was fully prepared to give Anthem of the Heart three-and-a-half, possibly four, stars. Unfortunately, when it comes to wrapping up the film, the strength of everything else falters. [PLOT SPOILERS]. The biggest weakness is that the emotional thrust of the film builds up through the friendship and attraction between Jun and Takumi and we expect this to blossom into romance – only it doesn’t. Instead, the story goes sideways and Takumi realises his attraction to the secondary character of Natsuki, leaving Jun hanging. At the end, the intolerant jock Daiki, who had earlier voiced his opposition to Jun’s inclusion, comes and admits feelings for her and the two walk off together.
[MORE PLOT SPOILERS]. It leaves you with an uneasy feeling of true love thwarted and Jun having to settle for second place in an attraction that had not been given sufficient emotional groundwork to feel satisfying. The other letdown was the revelation that there was no egg and no curse, that the entire idea of Jun’s silence was in her head all along, which makes the case for Anthem of the Heart‘s inclusion here as fantastic material a borderline one at best.