Whisper of the Heart – A Studio Ghibli Production
Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart (1995, English dubbed- 2006) tells the story of Shizuku, a preteen girl preparing to enter High School and choose a career. Shizuku, however, is more interested in reading fantasy and fairytales than studying, which leads her to a mystery. Each book she borrows bears the same name. A boy named Seiji Amasawa, it would seem, has exactly the same taste in reading and manages to find each book before her.
Shizuku begins to fantasize that this boy will be her soulmate and embarks on a quest to find him. Aided by a fat stray cat, who leads her to a magical shop where she meets Nishi-san and encounters The Baron, a statue of a cat, with a mysterious background, Shizuki soon finds, not only the boy she seeks, but real-life fairytales and new hope for her future.
Young Love and Aspirations
As is common in Ghibli films, Whisper of the Heart tells stories within stories and finds room for inobtrusive life lessons.
Shizuku and Seiji are young, but far from care-free. Both have dreams that are not necessarily readily accepted by their parents- Shizuku, to be a writer, Seiji, a violin maker, and of course, their growing love for one another.
Noteworthy, is the romantic aspect of the film, not discounting (very) young love, but honoring it, while not allowing emotion to overwhelm the aspirations of each. The epitome of a healthy partnership is displayed when, pushing Seiji’s bicycle up a steep hill, Shizuki proclaims that they must work together, rather than burden one another.
A cute, G-rated love story, with fun fantastical interludes, Whisper of the Heart is appropriate for most ages, containing only a few non-profane insults, such as “stupid”, “idiot”, “shut up”, etc., and no violence or intense action. It is humorous and entertaining and, as most Studio Ghibli films are, visually breathtaking.
Whisper of the Heart was both the first and last film of director Yoshifumi Kondo, sometimes spelled Kondou), who died in 1998.
Studio Ghibli heads had hope he would become a successor to greats Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, whom he had been working with for many years in various roles such as Tech Director, Character Designer, and most often, Animation Supervisor. See Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Grave of the Fireflies, etc.
His unexpected passing, prompted Miyazaki to reconsider his plans for retirement and continue his direction in Studio Ghibli productions. Miyazaki’s more recent films include Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle.
The film features a rather odd, but amusing soundtrack. While, of course, mostly comprised of instrumentals, there is one song which is repeated several times, in both diegetic and non-diegetic form, and sung by multiple artists (including Olivia Newton-John and Yoko Honna), in English, as well as Japanese.
The song- John Denver’s “Country Road”.
It is heard first in the intro (in two versions, one blending into the next), then soon after as sung by Shizuku and her friend Yuko, in preparation for a school performance. The song becomes a theme, as well as a catalyst in the blossoming relationship between Shizuku and Seji. Seji first finds new lyrics Shizuku has written (“Concrete Road”) and calls them “corny”, but later plays the song for her on a violin that he has made, encouraging her to sing her own lyrics, in what becomes a crucial turning point, both in their relationship and the film.
Trivia and Additional Information
- Whisper of The Heart, like many anime films, was based on a Manga series- Mimi o Sumaseba, written by Aoi Hiiragi.
- In 2002, Studio Ghibli released The Cat Returns, a film based on Shizuku’s fantasies about the Baron.
- Whisper of the Heart was the first Japanese film to use the Dolby Digital sound format.
- The backgrounds and fantasy sequences in the film were painted by Japanese surrealist painter Naohisa Inoue, who also played the voice of one of Mr. Nishi’s friends.
- These fantasy sequences were directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who also wrote the screenplay for this film.