Whisper of the Heart is a 1995 Studio Ghibli film, originally titled Mimi o Sumaseba (耳をすませば — "If You Listen Closely") and based on a manga written by Aoi Hiiragi and serialized in Shueisha's Ribon Original magazine in 1989. It was directed by Yoshifumi Kondo and written by Hayao Miyazaki, to whom Kondo was propped up as a potential successor. Released on July 15, 1995, it was Kondo's sole directorial work, as he passed away nearly three years later of a brain aneurysm brought about by overwork.
Book-loving junior high school student Shizuku Tsukishima (Yoko Honna) notices someone named Seiji Amasawa (Issei Takahashi) has previously checked out all of her library books. While she's intrigued by the notion of a boy who shares her tastes in literature, she's got to get cracking if she wants to achieve her goal of reading 30 books over summer vacation. She sets out for school to meet a friend and chivy a teacher into letting her borrow yet another book from the library, but she still can't help wondering just who Seiji Amasawa might be. Hopefully he isn't anything like that annoying boy who poked fun at her song lyrics.
The next day Shizuku spots a cat riding the train. Intrigued, she follows it to an antique shop owned by a kindly old man named Nishi (Keiju Kobayashi) where she finds a striking cat figurine dressed in formal wear that Mr. Nishi calls the Baron (Shigeru Tsuyuguchi). When Shizuku returns to the shop hoping to see the Baron again she learns that the annoying boy is not only Nishi-san's grandson, he's also Seiji Amasawa! Seiji may not be anything like she imagined but he's very passionate about making violins and Shizuku is soon smitten by his enthusiasm. And when he tells her that he'd been deliberately checking out books hoping to make her notice him...
Subplots include the trials of junior high romance for Shizuku's friends and Shizuku's efforts to translate John Denver's signature song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" into a Japanese version for her school's chorus club. The movie is bookended by Olivia Newton-John's 1973 cover version (which was a big hit in Japan) and the film's Japanese version, sung by Honna.
The Cat Returns is a semi-sequel, as it was conceived as a story written by Shizuku after she grows up to become a novelist.
Whisper of the Heart provides examples of:
- Adapted Out: In the original manga, Seiji had an older brother, Kouji, who would serve as the love interest for Shizuku's sister, Shiho.
- An Aesop: Following your dream is more important than following convention (Seiji) but sometimes the best way to follow your dream is by following convention (Shizuku).
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Shizuku and Seiji, with Shizuku being the Type B Tsundere (dere dere) and Seiji being the Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
- Book Ends: The film opens and ends with two versions of John Denver's signature song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads".
- Cool Big Sis: Downplayed. Shizuku's college-aged sister Shiho obviously cares about her little sister, but she's very, very bossy.
- Covers Always Lie:
- In the same vein of Never Trust a Trailer, the back of the Disney DVD box heavily implies that this is another Ghibli fantasy film. There's a picture from her fantasy writing, along with the description of Seiji being "mysterious" and the Baron being "a magical cat figurine who helps [Shizuku] listen to the whispers in her heart. Soon, Shizuku's exciting adventures carry her far beyond the boundaries of her imagination." Metaphorically speaking, yes, you could say that. But literally is what the box is trying to sell.
- Downplayed with one of the Japanese release posters (which is also used for GKIDS' and Studio Canal's rereleases). The poster promimently features Shizuku and the Baron in the front of a fantastical setting, which can give off the impression that the film is a fantasy adventure movie à la many of Ghibli's works. While the film does feature the scene seen in the poster, it's nowhere near as prominent as the poster makes it out to be and it, alongside the other scenes featuring her and the Baron in a similar fashion are just Fantasy Sequences of Shizuku, with the film actually being a Slice of Life romance taking place in the real world.
- Cover Version:
- Olivia Newton-John's 1973 recording of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" can be heard over the opening credits.
- Yoko Honna's rendition of the song, titled "Country Road", is first heard in the second half of the film when Shizuku performs with Seiji. A full version of Honna's rendition is played over the ending credits.
- Creator Cameo: Toshio Suzuki and Naohisa Inoue appear as Kita and Minami, Nishi's friends who accompany Shizuku and Seiji on "Country Road".
- Dogged Nice Guy: You find out in the latter half of the film that Seiji had always admired Shizuku from afar and had borrowed all of the fantasy books in the library in an attempt to make her notice him.
- Follow the White Rabbit: Shizuku follows the cat across town.
- "Friends" Rent Control: Averted. The apartment Shizuku lives in is cramped and cluttered with Shizuku sharing bunk beds with her twenty-something sister for most of the movie.
- Ghibli Hills: Averted. The story is deliberately linked to Tokyo: in fact, it's set in the very same Tama New Town development the forest creatures tried to halt in Pom Poko. Shizuku even acknowledges this by writing a parody of "Country Road" called "Concrete Road".
- In Defence of Storytelling: Shizuku's decision to pursue her writing at the expense of her grades. Deconstructed, since Shizuku's family all warn her that she's slowly but surely wrecking her future (in the meantime, she's also poisoning her relationships as she isolates herself and gets into arguments with her family).
- Living in a Furniture Store: A rare animated aversion. The Tsukishimas' apartment is extremely cluttered.
- Living Toys: The Baron and Luisa are living dolls, a state owed to them being a special project by their creator.
- Love Dodecahedron: Harada likes Sugimura, who likes Shizuku, who eventually falls in love with Seiji and vice versa, and some unnamed boy on the baseball team likes Harada. It's resolved in the end with the Official Couple being (obviously) Shizuku and Seiji, and it's implied in the credits that Sugimura eventually reciprocates Harada's feelings. (In the meantime, Shizuku's big sis is sending love letters to an unknown recipient).
- Love Informant: Harada uses Shizuku to confess her love to Sugimura. Unfortunately, Sugimura likes Shizuku, who is starting to like Seiji.
- Missing Mom: A very mild case. Shizuku's mother is present, just distracted.
- Mood Dissonance: Several emotional scenes are strung together, including the old man dreaming fondly of the lost love from his youth. This moment is rudely interrupted by a smoldering log splitting in his fireplace, causing him to wake up.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Much of the trailers and cover art are taken from a short fantasy sequence illustrating Shizuku's story. Possibly an attempt to make this movie seem like the other fantasy films from Ghibli.
- Oblivious to Love: Shizuku gets this two times over. She had no idea Sugimura had a crush on her and is devastated when he reveals it. She was also unaware of Seiji having a crush on her as well, though she reciprocates.
- Sugimura, likewise, is unaware of Yuko's crush on him, and is shocked when Shizuku reveals it to him.
- Open-Minded Parent: Shizuku's parents accept her penchant for writing very easily. Shiho is the one who's more dismayed, actually.
- Product Placement:
- In the opening, Shizuku can be seen exiting a FamilyMart, a convenience store chain in Japan, China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
- In the background, as Shizuku was aboard in the train, the Panasonic sign goes by.
- And another one is a Coke can on the ground, which had the privilege to be closed up, along with Shizuku's footsteps.
- Sailor Fuku: The girls' uniform at Shizuku's middle school is the classic sailor fuku, with a grey collar and skirt.
- Scenery Porn: Even as the girls lament the loss of Ghibli Hills.
- Jiji and Totoro can both be seen, on the shelves in the fantasy dollmaker's shop, and Shizuku has a witch ornament hanging from her bookshelf (though it doesn't look like Kiki). The grandfather clock in Mr. Nishi's shop, has Porco Rosso emblazoned on the dial.
- Not to mention the blimp in the panorama of Tokyo with the word "Ghibli" emblazoned on it.
- Show Within a Show: A major subplot is Shizuku trying to write a fantasy novel, and the scenes she works on are shown on screen, just as she imagines them.
- The Song Remains the Same: In some foreign dubs (including the Latin American Spanish one), "Country Road" is kept in its original Japanese language.
- Spin-Off: The fantasy novel Shizuku writes would eventually serve as the inspiration for The Cat Returns, which features both the Baron and a large cat named Muta (who is chased through the streets by a Japanese schoolgirl).
- Write What You Know: In-Universe:
- Early on, Shizuku struggles with her translation of "Country Road" — she is a city girl, after all — and her first attempt, comes out as a storm of clichés. Her "Concrete Road" parody, on the other hand — "Western Tokyo, Mount Tama..." is spot on, and very funny. Her final version ditches the whole going back to the country motif, and is instead about choosing one's road in life.
- Shizuku also takes a liking to the Baron as soon as she sets eyes on him, and she eventually makes him a prominent character in the fantasy novel she writes.