Whisper of the Heart–Anime Review

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5 Stars
Studio Ghibli is the most prestigious of all anime studios. A small studio founded by acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki, it primarily does theatrical movies with clever, original screenplays and top-quality animation. Disney has an exclusive deal to import these movies and usually gives them a limited theatrical run.

I can’t say for sure that every Studio Ghibli movie is worth watching, since I haven’t seen all of them, but I’ve been pleased with all the ones that I have watched (and someday I’ll get around to reviewing all of them.)

Whisper of the Heart is one of the less known Studio Ghibli films. It’s a small, simple story, but just about perfectly executed. It could hardly be simpler: a teenaged girl finds her ideal boyfriend, then learns that he is about to move out of the country, and she has to decide how she is going to deal with that. And that’s it; no battles, no explosions, no monsters, not even any magic.

Or maybe there is some magic. (That cat sure looks like he knows more than he’s saying.) Let’s just say that everything has a possible rational explanation. Perhaps the real point is that the heroine has the ability to see the magic underlying ordinary life.

I can’t help comparing this to Revolutionary Road, the last movie I reviewed, not because they are similar but because they are opposites. Revolutionary Road explores the dangers of not having a dream (while thinking that you do.) Whisper of the Heart is about what it really means to have a dream.

  • Original Title
    Mimi wo Sumaseba (If you listen closely)
  • Genres
    Romance, Coming of Age
  • Languages
    English, Japanese with subtitles
  • Demographic
  • Contents
    111 minutes plus bonus material in a 2-DVD set.
  • Based on
    A manga by Aoi Hiiragi
  • Director
    Yoshifumi Kondou
  • Screenplay
    Hayao Miyazaki
  • Storyboard
    Hayao Miyazaki
  • Character Design
    Kitarou Kousaka
  • Art Director
    Satoshi Kuroda
  • Animation Director
    Kitarou Kousaka
  • Music
    Yuuji Nomi
  • Animation Studio
    Studio Ghibli
  • Released
  • Region 1 Publisher
    Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Parental Advisory

Disney knows the American animation market as well as anyone, and they clearly think that they can sell the most DVDs by convincing parents to buy this for their small children. The DVD cover art shows a scene that is not in the movie at all and makes Shizuku look about 6 years old.

Now there’s no reason not to let a six-year-old watch this. It’s gentle and non-threatening. Small children will probably enjoy watching it, even if they don’t fully understand it. They’ll like it but they probably won’t love it.

Still, the main characters are in their mid-teens and have teenage concerns. This story will probably resonate most with viewers whose ages are in the double digits. It’s regrettable that the older children and teenagers who might enjoy the move most are likely to be repelled by the way it is marketed.

Premise and Characters

Shizuku Tsukishima is a middle-school student Shizuku Studyingstudying for her high-school entrance exams. (Which means she must be 15 or nearly so at the beginning of the story, but she is small for her age, and drawn young-looking in the usual Studio Ghibli style.) She loves fairy tales and fantasy stories, but lately they don’t seem as real to her, which sometimes makes her feel grumpy and depressed.
ShizukuShe seems to have a talent for poetry, and has been commissioned by the Music Club to translate the lyrics of Country Roads into something that can be sung in Japanese. (She ends up taking a few liberties.)
ApartmentShizuku lives with her family in the outskirts of Tokyo in a small, messy apartment overflowing with books.
FatherHer father Seiya Tsukishima is a librarian. He is an easy-going, bookish fellow.
MotherAsako Tsukishima, her mother, has gone back to graduate school and is absorbed in research for her thesis.
ShihoHer older sister Shiho is a college student, and is bossy and intrusive.
Book CardShizuku notices that most of the books that she checks out of the library have been previously checked out by someone named Seiji Amasawa. She wonders about this mysterious person who seems to like all the same books that she does.
Shizuku and YuukoShizuku’s best friend Yuuko Harada has boy trouble.
SugimuraShe has a crush on Sugimura, who is barely aware of her existence.
Annoying BoyShizuku keeps running into a good-looking but annoying boy, who acts interested in the books she is reading and who teases her about her poetry. He couldn’t possibly be the mysterious Seiji Amasawa could he? Naah!
Shizuku with CatOne day she takes the train to the library and notices a big, fat cat with a misanthropic expression, who is also riding alone on the train.
Cat Entering ShopThe cat gets off the train at the same stop that she does. Intrigued, she follows it and is led to a strange little shop called The World Emporium, which is filled with wonderful objects.
Nishi with ClockShiro Nishi, the owner, is a cheerful old man who invites her to look around.
Porco RossoMr Nishi shows her an old grandfather clock that he has been repairing.
Elf PrincessIt contains clockwork figures that enact a fairy tale about a dwarf king who loves a fairy princess but can never be with her.
BaronBaron Humbert von Jechingen is an elegant cat figure with sparkling eyes.

DVD Notes

The subtitle translation takes a few liberties but for the most part seems reasonable. My only real objection is that is sometimes makes Shizuku sound rather pompous. At one point it has her saying “I’m no man’s burden!” when the original Japanese is more like “I don’t want to just be your luggage!”, which in context seems more natural and expressive.

The English dub naturally has some tonal differences from the original. It’s just about impossible for American actors get the cultural nuances right. Nevertheless it is significantly better than the usual slapdash dub on a typical anime DVD. Disney knows more about how to dub animation than most American anime publishers.

I recommend listening to the Japanese soundtrack with subtitles, if only to hear Youko Honna sing Country Roads in Japanese. That’s definitely worth hearing at least once (but maybe not too often.)


ANN Encyclopedia entry.

Wikipedia entry (spoilers.)