Tatsuyuki Nagai commands an expert understanding. His ability to convey youthful emotions and the adolescent experience reveals itself in Toradora and the AnoHana movie/series. The Anthem of the Heart borrows from his directing experience, culminating in a masterful story about childhood trauma and the paths we take to heal.
Throughout The Anthem of the Heart, there’s this problem of social anxiety. The main character, Jun Naruse, is unable to break away from a self-imposed curse. Speaking the truth does only harm. Opening up is too painful. Her family broke apart, after all, when she revealed her father’s affair.
She escapes into a fairy tale, one where her childhood wish of finding a prince manifests into the very thing that traps her: the eggshell prince, the personification of her curse. To move on, she must confront reality, but she can’t. It’s too painful to even put into words.
With a broken family and spirit, Jun is trapped in her shell until the day her class is given a task. Her class must stage a musical. It’s from this point forward that both Jun and the movie emerge from its shell.
To guide the movie to its conclusion, Tatsuyuki focuses on several themes and techniques. In particular, the pronounced narration is amazingly executed. Similar to common fairy tales, having a narrator pronounce events--the “once upon a time...” of events, so to speak--ties into Jun’s perspective. Jun copes with her past by making it into a fairy tale. Thus, utilizing narration helps viewers understand her mindset.
When directors use narration, they have to be careful not to use it too much. Overusing narration as an expository technique can defeat the purpose of a visual medium, the guiding principle being: show don’t tell. However, the narration is more than just exposition in The Anthem of the Heart. Not only does it highlight her fairytale escapism, but it creates a juxtaposition between past and present. Reality and present. Fairy tales and past. Which one will she choose?
Jun’s social anxiety (her trauma) is tied to her past and her unwillingness to confront it. Closing herself up in a shell, she cannot open up and face reality. The problem now is how to make a character with no voice “speak.” The director does this in several ways, but the main way is by “translating” it--making a character’s thoughts heard through a different medium.
Speaking is only one way of expression. Having no voice isn’t the same as having no expression. Body language, in particular, is abundant in this movie. It’s also a common way directors can show a character’s thoughts. When a character hesitates to speak, their body can say something. The nervousness of the hands, the expression or lack of expression on their faces, the slumped shoulders of someone’s back as they are isolated, so many things can speak in place of words.
Arts can also be a means of self-expression, and it’s evident that the movie uses both writing and music as Jun’s therapy. The theme of “translating,” especially, comes out with the music. Music in this movie is an integral part of its plot--the characters have to stage a musical. However, it is also used to explain its themes.
Singing, somehow, is the key to her voice--she can communicate with it despite how she’s cursed. Her thoughts can come out through a different medium, unimpeded by her trauma. The characters borrow from a history of famous songs and through them, the music allows them to move past their obstacles--their own individual “curses.” As they sing in their musicals, they are “translating” the song. They are putting words to music that never had lyrics. For Jun, who had lost her voice, the act of transcribing these songs with words parallels her own journey: the journey to make sense of her own emotions and finally say them.
It’s easy to see this movie’s appeal. The obstacles these fictional characters overcome parallels real-world struggles. Social anxiety and acceptance, coping with the past and present, and trauma and healing will be the focus of the listed movies. Film techniques and structure such as a focus on body language, creative uses of narration, and montages (music and “translation”) were also considered for the listed movies.
If you enjoyed this film, I hope you watch one of the recommendations. Hopefully one will speak to you as The Anthem of the Heart did.
Similar Anime Movies to Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda
1. Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (Wolf Children)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Jul. 21, 2012
Hana is a 19-year old college student whose chance encounter starts the film. Ookami is a mysterious man who is unaccustomed to the city. Through his meeting with Hana, they grow closer til one night, he reveals his secret. He is the last of his kind, the final descendant of werewolves in Japan. Instead of frightening Hana, this revelation makes her empathize and fall in love with him.
Hana gives birth to two children: Ame and Yuki. On the outside, they seem like normal children, but they’ve inherited the ability to transform into wolves. Still learning the ropes, Hana struggles to be a single mother and when an unfortunate accident befalls Ookami, Hana is now left with two children.
The juxtaposition between past and present in this movie is similar to The Anthem of the Heart. College, the city, social isolation, and motherhood get compared to elementary/middle school, the village, social acceptance, and childhood. The narration is also used similarly, its perspective also starting off like a fairytale--a chance meeting of two lovers.
If you are interested in the relationship between music and visuals, this film peppers its content with montages. In Wolf Children (and many of these films), montages are used to invoke viewer interpretation. Montages, or the crafting of separate scenes to form a cohesive whole, for these films, typically have a dominating song and few words.
This lack of dialogue invokes interpretation. The music ties together the scenes and creates a scene much like an “interpretive dance.” Just as how body language is used to convey subtext (the unsaid), this movie and the others on this list do so with montages.
Wolf Children Trailer
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Aug. 21, 2010
Colorful begins against its namesake. In the dark tunnel of the afterlife has our protagonist, a soul that has sinned, wandering cluelessly. By random selection, the soul wins a lottery and is placed into a program to redeem itself. Guided by an angelic figure, the soul has reincarnated as Makoto Kobayashi, a high schooler who has committed suicide.
Colorful is another movie that wants you to analyze change. The every day past and a spiritual present get intermixed... As the soul goes through its rehabilitation, it learns about Makoto’s former life. His lack of friends, his mother’s infidelity, and his social isolation. Colorful has similar topics to The Anthem of the Heart, making it an apt recommendation.
3. Hotarubi no Mori e
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Sep. 17, 2011
One summer day, Hotaru Takegawa wanders into the forest governed by the mountain god. Lost and frightened, she cries out for help and sees a peculiar man in a mask. His name is Gin, and he guides the young Hotaru towards safety. However, before he guides her, he cautions never to touch him, otherwise, he will disappear. Thankful for his help, Hotaru promises to visit him again next summer, and the story continues as she visits him year after year, slowly falling in love with him.
Based off a one-shot manga by Yuki Midorikawa, Hotarubi no Mori e (Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light) is a short film that has a precise and masterful use of narration. The film utilizes a continuous, present-day narration in combination with past events. This helps add variety to the cycle of Hotaru’s visits. Each visit allows for another comparison of past and present, and each visit giving us small glimpses of the love that forms in Hotaru’s heart--the one that she herself promises to keep away.
What can’t be said in the past can be said in the present. What can’t be spoken with words can be shown by body language. Without ostracizing its audience, this movie plays skillfully with distance. Distance in time, the distance between bodies, the distance between culture, brought together by love. While this film’s story isn’t that similar to The Anthem of the Heart, the skillful use of narration, how the film plays with subtext (body language/distance), and adolescent growth should be familiar.
Hotarubi no Mori e Trailer
Any Anime Like Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda?
4. Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Aug. 26, 2016
Your Name. follows the story of two high schoolers, Mitsuha Miyamizu, a young girl rooted in tradition who yearns for city life, and Taki Tachibana, a busy student juggling school and his busy job. Fate intertwines, and one day, both Mitsuha and Taki wake up with their own body swapped with each other. To discover the mystery to this strange occurrence, they work together and search for each other.
Carrying the tradition of Makoto Shinkai films, Your Name. is another beautifully animated tale about youthful love. Often, Shinkai’s films approach the subject matter of distance and how he depicts distance is unique to each film. This nuance, especially for this film, is tied to different settings, social upbringings, genders, and so on.
Similarly to The Anthem of the Heart, Your Name. has comparisons of past and present, adolescence, and depictions of social barriers. Also, if you’re interested in montages and thus how music and visuals can intermesh, Your Name., does use them. However, the heavier use of lyrics and dialogue during those scenes are more for conveying information than invoking interpretation. Despite this, Your Name. is deserving of its global acclaim. Definitely see this film, even if you’re familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s previous movies.
Your Name. Trailer
5. Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Sep. 17, 2016
A Silent Voice begins in elementary school. Shouya Ishida is a rambunctious kid who seeks a cure for boredom. When Shouko Nishimiya, a deaf student, transfers into class, he and his friends begin to bully her until one day, Shouko leaves. Singled out for the bullying, Shouya becomes isolated from his classmates henceforth.
After having grown up, Shouya understands what he did to her, and deeply regrets his past actions. Seeking to make amends, he searches out Shouko again in hopes of making up for the past.
A Silent Voice is easily the most relevant movie on the list. Naoko Yamada, known for her debut as the Director of K-On!, is the rising star of the industry. Her mastery over body language is awe-inspiring--the way she directs sign language and subtleties of expression bring a “voice” to silence. Even color symbology is used in the movie. The amount of effort it took to convey the nuances of communication made me appreciate the source material even more.
It’s easy to see the connections between this movie and The Anthem of the Heart. Social anxiety, trauma, and healing, use of body language to convey the unsaid, music that helps emotions speak, a stark contrast between past and present, this list of similarities can go on. If you loved The Anthem of the Heart and you haven’t seen this film, do yourself a favor and see it now.
A Silent Voice Trailer
6. Kotonoha no Niwa (The Garden of Words)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: May. 31, 2013
One rainy morning, Takao Akizuki, a student and aspiring shoemaker, skips class and visits a garden. There, he meets Yukari Yukino, an older lady in formal attire. This meeting sparks a routine for them. Every rainy day, they visit this garden and, just by sharing each other’s company, they are able to forget their worries.
The Garden of Words is about a chance meeting that builds into its own world. There’s a distinct segmentation in the film: adulthood/childhood, real-life/”fantasy” life, platonic/romantic, and movement/stillness. This division highlights what the garden means to each character, the place of meeting--the middle ground. These comparisons are illuminating for the movie and its relationship to The Anthem of the Heart.
If your interest in The Anthem of the Heart stemmed from its music, You Yamada does an amazing job as the Sound Director. Pay attention to how sound is used during dialogue. Words are timed to the rise and fall of the music and notes drop as if the rain is hitting the piano keys. The camera, at times, also becomes the eyes of the character. Seeing a character’s perspective allows us to focus on their thoughts, despite no words being conveyed. Garden of Words is a short film, but the skillful direction helps convey its point.
The Garden of Words Trailer
I’m glad that interest in animated movies has been gaining momentum. As these films have been gaining global recognition, the audience gets more exposure to different directors. This list is just a small insight into what these types of film have to offer. I hope that by checking out a recommendation, your fascination with anime films will grow.