Middle School student Shizuku is a young smart girl who loves reading and writing, she regularly goes to her father’s library to read novels and helps her friends in a music class translate English songs for them, such as John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads” for the middle school graduation ceremony. One day while looking through the books she borrowed, she notices that there is one other person who has read all the books she had, “Seiji Amasawa”. While it crosses her mind every now and then of whom he is and what he’s like, she notices an interesting cat that takes the same train that she takes to go to the library. While following the cat, she ends up finding an interesting antique store and befriends the store’s owner.
It is at this place where she later finds Seiji, a middle school student himself, aspiring to be a violin maker, willing to spend 10 years training in Cremona to make that dream come to. Troubled to know what she wants to do in her life, she decides to write her own fantasy novel, risking her own education. Will she finds what future she will take? And will Shizuku and Seiji manage their relationship, being far apart from where they are and what paths they take?
Hayao Miyazaki wrote the film adaptation of the manga (titled “Mimi wo Sumaseba”) and worked on the storyboards for it in 1993. The film’s version of Country Road was written by Toshio Suzuki’s daughter, Mamiko, since Miyazaki had trouble writing the version himself. As mentioned in my Ocean Waves review, Studio Ghibli needed directors to make films instead of Miyazaki and Takahata. Miyazaki decided to give animation director and long time friend Yoshifumi Kondo the chance to direct his own film. Whisper of the Heart was released on July 15th 1995, with a Miyazaki directed music video called “On Your Mark”, shown as a double feature.
This was the first Studio Ghibli film to use Computer Animation, which is most notable in the fantasy scenes where Shizuku is writing her story. These scenes alone look really impressive with the several planets moving around freely in the background, and it doesn’t really feel like they were made with computers since they are combined cleverly with traditionally animated characters. The rest of the animation is basically standard for Studio Ghibli, movements are detailed and human-like. So there are no problems with it, but unlike the fantasy scenes, it isn’t really ground breaking as such.
The art design is also pretty much standard for Studio Ghibli films, there is a sign of attention to detail to the design of the town of Seiseki Sakuragaoka, Western Tokyo (and a possible nod to the previous film “Pom Poko”, since it’s situated on Tama Hills and is very close to Tama New Town). Aside from that, the art style is pretty similar to most other Studio Ghibli films so most people will be easily comfortable with the art style.
The music is OK, a series of nice piano, guitar and orchestral compositions, and as well as this really good version of “Country Road” that was written by Mamiko Suzuki. There is also this one odd piece that plays in this scene where Shizuku gets irritated with a student for making fun of her song lyrics, it is both funny and great to listen to and I don’t know why. However, the overall soundtrack is not so good it is memorable, since a large portion of the scenes are silent anyway.
The voice acting in both versions, all the actors put a lot of effort into their roles and are faithful to their characters. If I was to nit-pick, the English version probably sounds too American, and it slightly breaks the illusion that the story is set in Japan. Another nit-pick is that while both Britanny Snow and Yoko Honna both do well both speaking Shizuku as well as good singers, although Britanny Snow is much better singer AS Shizuku. In the Japanese version, Shizuku sounds like she suddenly becomes older when she sings, which isn’t a problem in the English version.
While the story is basically a romance “Girl meets Boy” kind of story, it thankfully underplayed. The main focus of the story is more about motivations and following ones ambition, which the way it is presented in Whisper of the Heart is very unique and isn’t shoved in your face. Since Miyazaki wrote the story and it’s adapted from the manga by Aoi Hiigari, there are changes in it. However most of the changes actually improve the story, which is interesting since it normally has the opposite effect. One example is that Seiji in the original manga wanted to be an artist, not a violin maker, and never goes abroad to study, but those two elements are both really unique, and add to the relationship between him and Shizuku.
Whisper of the Heart is a really heart-warming film, very sweet and while it doesn’t look or sound impressive, it really has a great story and is a great manga adaptation.
Whisper of the Heart is available from Walt Disney and Optimum Releasing. The original manga and a sequel manga subtitled “Shiawase na Jikan” (Happy Time) both by Aoi Hiigari has not been released in America or the UK, although it has been fan translated. The story that Shizuku wrote in the film has never been made or released, although it was the intention of the story for “The Cat Returns” which I will review eventually.