Whisper of the Heart

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Whisper of the Heart (Japanese 耳をすませば, Hepburn Mimi o Sumaseba, literally If You Listen Closely) is a 1995 Studio Ghibli film. The film was based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi, serialized in the Ribon Original magazine. It was the masterwork of Yoshifumi Kondo, who was widely expected to become the first of a new generation of Studio Ghibli directors before his premature death from a brain aneurysm in 1998.

Book-loving junior high school student Shizuku Tsukushima notices someone named Seiji Amasawa has previously checked out all of her library books. While she's intrigued by the notion of a boy who shares her interests 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. Still, Shizuku 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.

Oh no. Seiji Amasawa is something like that annoying boy who poked fun at her song lyrics. In fact, he is the annoying boy who poked fun at her song lyrics.

For you see, 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 where she finds a striking cat figurine dressed in formal wear that Mr. Nishi calls the Baron. 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. Shizuku is soon smitten by his enthusiasm, but she is lost for what to do in life. Well, time for her to pick up that pen, and pursue the art of writing!

Subplots include the trials of junior high romance for Shizuku's friends and Shizuku's efforts to translate John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" into a Japanese version for her school's chorus club. The movie is bookended by Oliva Newton-John's 1973 cover version (which was a big hit in Japan) and the film's Japanese version, sung by Yoko Honna.

The Cat Returns is a semi-Sequel, serving as a Defictionalization of a story written by Shizuku after she grows up to become a novelist.

Tropes used in Whisper of the Heart include:
  • Adaptation Distillation: The original manga had both Tsukushima sisters in romantic relationships with two Amasawa brothers.
  • 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.
  • Blind Idiot Translation: Shizuku's first attempt to translate "Country Roads" includes such gems as "My mother the Mountain" for "mountain mama".
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Sugimura
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Harada and Sugimura can be seen walking together over the credits.
  • Coming of Age Story: The story focuses on Shizuku growing up, and finding a purpose in life through writing.
  • Cool Big Sis: Averted; 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. Theres a picture from her fantasy writing, along with the decription 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 boundries of her imagination." Metaphorically speaking, yes, you could say that. But literally is what the box is trying to sell.
  • Cute Bookworm: Why, the main couple.
  • Diegetic Theme Cameo: The Real Song Theme Tune "Country Roads" is played on the violin halfway through the film, with accompanying vocals from Shizuku.
  • 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 library books in an attempt to make her notice him.
  • Duet Bonding: Shizuku and Seiji, bonding over the Real Song Theme Tune "Country Roads". Seiji plays the violin, Shizuku sings, and she slowly opens up and becomes more confident.
  • Early Teen Hero: Shizuku attends junior high school.
  • Follow the White Rabbit: Shizuku follows the cat across town.
  • Friends Rent Control: A rare aversion, 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: Aversion - 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 Roads called "Concrete Roads".
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: Shizuku on the subject of Seiji.
  • Living in a Furniture Store: A rare animated aversion, the Tsukushimas' apartment is extremely cluttered.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Harada likes Sugimura, who likes Suzuku, 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) Suzuku and Seiji, and it's implied in the credits that Sugimura eventually reciprocates Harada's feelings.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Played for tears in an important subplot.
  • Missing Mom: 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 had no idea Sugimura had a crush on her and is devastated when he reveals it.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Shizuku's parents accept her penchant for writing very soon. Shiho is the one who's more dismayed, actually.
  • Opposite Gender Protagonists: Seiji and Shizuku, where the relationship is developed into a romance. The two start out bickering, with Shizuku disliking Seiji as he mocked her lyrics for the Real Song Theme Tune "Country Roads". Later, while singing and playing music at night, they get over their differences and start forging a relationship. Shizuku, believing that she is lacking in talent and is lost for what to do in life, looks up to Seiji, a violin maker. She eventually picks up writing, and writes the titular Whisper of the Heart Story Within a Story. This relationship gives audiences a reason to care when Seiji eventually departs to Italy, as well as allows them to understand the significance of the moment when Seiji returns.
  • One Head Taller: Shizuku and Sugimura. When he grabs her hand to prevent her from leaving you suddenly realize that she's a petite girl at the mercy of much larger boy. Fortunately for her he's more distraught than angry.
  • Plucky Girl: Shizuku, of course.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "Country Roads", in two versions.
  • Scenery Porn: Up to Eleven! Since this is a Ghibli production, you can expect the story to come to a standstill for wide establishing shots.
  • Shout-Out: 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.
  • 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.
  • Slice of Life: The entire film revolves around this singular trope, focusing on the life of a teenage girl with the occasional pinch of Magic Realism.
  • Spin-Off: The fantasy novel Shizuku is writing eventually evolves into The Cat Returns, though the story she starts with bears little resemblance to the final product.
  • Write What You Know: In universe example. Shizuku struggles with her translation of "Country Roads"--she is a city girl, after all--and her first attempt comes out as a storm of cliches. Her "Concrete Roads" parody, on the other hand -- "Western Tokyo, mountain 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.