Starring (voices): Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Harold Gould, Jean Smart, James Sikking, Courtney Thorne-Smith
Now that I think about it, I'm wondering why animation is only used to tell fantasy stories (or in rare cases, science fiction). It's not that it can't work with a "normal" story. After all, that's what comics are. But even with story that doesn't include magical creatures and places or song-and-dance numbers, animation gives it a certain life and energy that filming with cameras and actors could not give it. It would have been entirely possible (and much easier) to film this story using conventional means. But it would not have the same effect.
Shizuku Tsukishima (Snow) is a normal 8th-grader. She's starting to notice boys like Sugimura (Martin Spanjers), although neither she nor her friend Yuko (Ashley Tisdale) have a clue what to do about it, and is preparing to take her high school entrance exams (think SATs/ACTs). Shizuku is a bookworm and reads just about everything she can get her hands on. One day, she realizes that the person who checked out all the books before her is the same person. Refusing to believe that this is a coincidence, she sets out to find him.
At its heart, the film is a coming of age story. Growing up is never easy because adolescence brings many pressures. Some are put on us while others we put on ourselves. Although Hayao Miyazaki did not direct this film, he wrote the screenplay (based on the comic by Aoi Hiiragi), which accounts for much of the emotional honesty that is to be found here. It's not as strong as Miyazaki's works, but, in its own way, it's very effective.
The voice acting is solid but not standout. Brittany Snow is good as a girl who simply doesn't know what she wants from life. Asking that question would render many adults unable to answer, so imagine how hard it is for a preteen girl. Shizuku is becoming aware of her own individuality, but without a sense of direction the urge to rebel is tempting. In this way, I was reminded of the movie "An Education," which is about a girl in a similar position. However, that's where the similarities end. David Gallagher, who will forever be known as Simon Camden from "7th Heaven," is very good as Seiji, Shizuku's love interest. He has the courage to go after his dreams, something that she does not. It's a small difference, but it's enough that it might destroy her. Harold Gould steals his scenes as Seiji's kindly grandfather Shiro (Gould), who doles out some wisdom.
This was the first, and thus far only, film by Yoshifumi Kondo. The pacing is a little sluggish here and there and the film is a little too subtle to be very affecting on an emotional level, but all in all it works. The screenplay could have used another rewrite or two, but even as is, it's worth viewing.
Especially if you're a tween girl.