One of the most important scenes from any show or movie, a scene that defined my childhood and instilled within me a vast array of emotions and ideals, is the now famous “whistle scene” from the original Digimon Adventure film, directed by Mamoru Hosoda. To adults who did not grow up in this generation, it can be hard to see why this scene, and the Digimon franchise as a whole, is so meaningful to me and the thousands of children who also witnessed this incredible work of animation.
In order to fully understand the impact that this scene has had on me and so many other kids, you need some context. Digimon was released in an era where the mass consumption of cartoons and products related to those cartoons was just beginning to come into prominence. The Pokemon TV show was essentially just a commercial for the Pokemon video game series, and the Yu-Gi-Oh TV show for the Yu-Gi-Oh card game. Disney was going through was it now commonly referred to as the “Disney Renaissance”, where they were releasing musical after musical, all with similar themes and characters, and all with the intention of selling princess dolls to little girls. On the other end of the spectrum, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network were filled to the brim with mindless, gross out humor and comedy that only young boys could possibly find endearing. There are of course a few exceptions to all of this (Samurai Jack being the most notable example), but for me, Digimon was the one show that really stood out from the rest.
The reason that Digimon is so successful is because Hosoda understood that children are intelligent human beings that deserve intelligent, emotional, and expressive entertainment just like everyone else. Kids do not have to be talked down to. They can handle emotion and drama. They can follow complicated stories and complex characterization. It was this respect for children that allowed Hosoda to create something so powerful and meaningful, that even to this day, I and many other children, now full-grown adults, are still affected by it.
I think it is safe to say that this “whistle scene” is one of the most important and influential pieces of animated cinema ever created, especially in the decade from 1990 to 2000. The children who grew up with this scene grew up with a work of animation that respected them, inspired them, and filled them with glee.
As someone with many younger siblings, it pains me to see the lack of respect and dignity of modern animation, in the United States specifically. My younger brothers and sisters will not have a show to watch that truly captivates them and respects them. Instead, they will have to settle for disrespectful, unintelligent, impersonalized, ADHD drivel engineered by marketing teams and animated by underpaid workers oversees. I feel very fortunate, and somewhat guilty, that I had the honor to grow up watching a show made by man that respected me so much, even as a little boy. He respected children enough to make something great for kids everywhere, all around the world.
In a way, I grew up with Digimon. Or maybe you could say that Digimon grew up with me. By the time I reached middle school, the second season of Digimon was coming out. This was a time when technology was starting to become more common. Computers running Windows 2000 and early Nokia cell phones with black and white displays were being used more often than before. As a kid, I was always enamored with these pieces of technology. They could do all of these wonderfully weird things, and I had no idea how any of it worked or how it could possibly be useful for any purpose other than playing Flash games.
I was getting older and was starting to think about myself and my place in the world a little bit, even if some of it was subconsciously. I remember in the second season of Digimon, seeing the characters go into a virtual world in a network of computer systems. I remember witnessing the return of the old cast of characters from the first season, now a little older themselves, coming back to take care of the new kids and help save the day. First Tai was just a kid like me, taking care of his little sister in the best way that he possibly could. Now he was a young man, and was doing all these things that were far beyond me at the time. I related to him and the rest of the old cast. We shared a sense of nostalgia, and we were all in the same boat. We were all in the process of growing up. I looked up to Tai. He was a hero to me. Not like Superman or The Hulk. He was just some guy that worked hard, cared about others, and made a difference in the world. I did not realize it back in middle school, but he left a lasting impression on me.
I will never forget how awesome the second part of the Digimon movie was when I first watched it. I remember Tai teaming up with Izzy, the computer genius, to save the world from a virus threat. I remember the personality of the characters; Tai’s crush on Sora, Sora crush on Tai, and his little sister annoying him. It was just so relatable and memorable somehow.
The third part of the Digimon movie was especially interesting. It was dark, and surreal. There were undertones of loss, of melancholy, and a longing to go back to how things were before we lost our innocence. This was deep stuff for a kid to be watching. The final battle was borderline disturbing in its portrayal, and yet somehow beautiful, as if the characters in the show were maturing and getting closer to adulthood. The animation of part two was stunning in its own right, but I think that the animation in this part was particularly ambitious. It opened my eyes to the expressiveness of this medium, and it was probably the first time I had seen something so surrealist and dreamlike. It was enchanting.
Although all the seasons of Digimon mean a lot to me, looking back, it was really the first part of the film that had the most impact. I want to go into a little bit more detail as to why this film is so incredible.
Digimon Adventure Movie Analysis
Skip to 16:40 if you just want to watch the whistle scene, although I highly recommend watching the complete film. It is only twenty minutes, and I assure you, it is worth your time. Click the “CC” button in the bottom right for subtitles.
After a brief intro sequence showing the events to come, the film opens by establishing the setting: An urban area of Japan with apartment complexes and convenient stores. A few brief instances of digital data appear in the sky, signifying the events to come. Maurice Ravel’s 1928 piece “Bolero” serves to set the emotional tone of the film, and it is the film’s only piece of music. Soon we cut to a shot of Hikari, Taichi’s younger sister, staring mesmerized at a computer screen. The whistle falls from her mouth, as she stands there dazed.
As Taichi walks through the kitchen on his way to the bathroom, we get a shot of the digital display on the rice maker going crazy, as well as get introduced to the family cat, which is lying down on a chair by the table. All of this is in one shot.
Before entering the bathroom door, Taichi notices something is up in the office and walks in to check it out, thinking it is his father. This is actually more relevant than it at first seems, as Taichi’s father plays an important role later on. He finds his sister Hikari staring at the computer screen. Subsequently, a digitized image of an egg appears on the screen, and then it materializes in the real world.
Next it cuts to the following morning and Taichi believes that it was all just a strange dream. However, Hikari is sleeping with the egg that came out of the computer. This next part is absolutely genius. The camera slowly pans to the egg that Hikari is holding while we hear the sound of a teakettle whistling in the kitchen. This is the first instance of the whistle motif running throughout the film, and it acts as foreshadowing for the whistle scene in the film’s climax. After this, it immediately cuts to Taichi frying an egg, to comical effect.
All of that in just a few seconds. Hosoda is a superb director.
As Taichi is preparing breakfast for his sister, he talks with her. She responds to him by blowing the whistle she has in her mouth. When he jokingly says that they could make a giant fried egg with the egg that came out of the computer, she whistles more harshly. Then she drops the egg and it begins to move around on its own. Hikari expresses herself and her movements while she is chasing it with slightly different variations on how she blows the whistle. It is a really beautiful method of characterization. Mind you, we are only a little over three minutes in, and most people at this point have fallen completely in love with the main characters, not to mention the egg, which is not even a real character yet.
The egg hatches, to their surprise, and a little black creature runs around the room and then hides underneath the bunk bed. Taichi hilariously throws his goggles at it, but then Hikari manages to calm it down by playing her whistle with it while it blows bubbles. This is one of my favorite scenes of the film.
The bubbles float out the nearby open window and we get a few shots of the outside areas, foreshadowing the battle that is soon going to occur out there. The phone rings, Taichi goes to answer it, and when he returns, the creature has changed into something else, this time a slightly bigger pink creature. Next we get a cute scene of the kids feeding the creature, followed by a fight between it and the family cat. As the sun sets, the creature starts to talk. It introduces itself as Koromon and formally befriends the two children. Now the action begins.
Night falls; the alarm clock and microwave start going haywire, and Hikari wakes up in the middle of the night blowing her whistle anxiously. Koromon is acting strange. Two things happen at once in the following section. Koromon changes into yet another creature, this time a large dinosaur-like creature that breaks the bunk bed. At the same time, Taichi and Hikari’s father arrives home. His wife meets him at the door, only to find that he is drunk. He calls after his kids as his wife holds him back, but Koromon, Hikari hanging onto him, breaks through the window and jumps out, crushing a car as he lands. The music cuts out as the car alarm goes off, breaking the silence of the night. He walks off into the city.
Taichi rushes after his sister as Koromon and Hikari come to some vending machines. The bright lights from the machines are a stark contrast to the surrounding darkness. There is no music, creating an ominous atmosphere. Koromon breaks the vending machine, scattering cans around everywhere. Hikari tries to pick them up almost instinctively, but she cannot hold them all at once, and so she drops them. It is somewhat cute and sad at the same time.
At this point, I should mention that both kids are in their pajamas. In particular, Hikari’s pajamas are reminiscent of “Where the Wild Things Are”. There had to have been some influence from this classic of children’s literature. It just seems like a perfect fit, too, especially with what is going on right now in the film.
After a close encounter with a passing truck, Koromon starts bellowing out fireballs. This raises the intensity level up quite a bit. Hikari tries to stop him, but to no avail. She is scared, and unaware of the fact that Koromon is actually here to protect her, as she will soon discover. As they continue to walk along, Hikari says one of my favorite lines: “Koromon…You’re not talking to me anymore?”
Now the music returns as a giant bird-like creature comes from the sky and starts wreaking havoc. Phones start going crazy and the lights in the city starting blinking frenetically. Whatever this bird thing is, it is clear that there is some relationship between it and Koromon.
Koromon changes yet again into an even bigger dinosaur and starts fighting off the bird. The fight and much of the character animation for Taichi and Hikari for the next few sections are handled primarily by Mitsuo Iso, an extremely talented animator who had previously worked on landmark films such as Only Yesterday by Isao Takahata, Ghost in the Shell by Mamoru Oshii, and The End of Evangelion with director Hideaki Anno. He is yet another talented man who is using his skills to help bring this fantastic children’s film to life.
Koromon ends up getting knocked unconscious by the bird creature, the music cuts out, and then….
The whistle scene.
I think this scene pretty much speaks for itself. It is arguably one of the most beautiful scenes ever animated, and to this day, it still gives me goose bumps. I love the expression of Hikari as she tries and fails to blow the whistle to wake Koromon up, the eerie use of silence, and finally, the penetrating whistle blown by Taichi, her older brother. One girl looking on from a window says with disbelief: “That boy…”
Koromon wakes up, the music returns, and he defeats the bird creature with a huge blast of flames and some really nice animation. The film ends on somewhat of a melancholic note, with Hikari screaming after Koromon, who has since disappeared, and Taichi thinking to himself: “It was too short of a meeting. It was a monster we shouldn’t have met in our world. That’s why I’m here now.”
The entire Digimon Adventure Movie has a sense of depth to it. There is so much subtlety and nuance in the character movement, characterization, and cinematography that add an extra dimension to the film. Children instinctively notice this high quality of the work. They may not understand all of the technical aspects of what they are experiencing, but they intuitively understand if it is good or not.
By respecting this ability that children possess, Hosoda has truly created an adventure like no other.
I grew up with Digimon, and it grew up with me. As I got older, the cast got older, and it almost seemed as if we were experiencing the thrill of growing up together. These days, it is not often that I think of Digimon, but whenever it comes to mind, I am filled with a plethora of emotions. I feel nostalgia, inspiration, determination, and genuine happiness.
Recently, it has come to my attention that Toei Animation is making a new season of Digimon, marking the 15th anniversary of the show. Evidently, this new season includes the return of the original cast, this time in high school. Tai is officially back.
Twenty-two years old, and I am still growing up with Digimon.