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Whisper of the Heart
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 Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart

Studio Ghibli, the production house founded by Hayao Miyazaki and his closest colleague and longtime friend Isao Takahata in 1985, is remarkable not only for its output of internationally successful animation features but for the high degree of collaboration among its artists. Although Miyazaki is one of the greatest animation directors working over the past 30 years or so, he has continued to take on a range of functions - technical director, art director, animator and key animator, layout and storyboard artist, screen designer, etc. - on features directed by other artists. His skills beyond the technical aspects of animation - including producer, song lyricist and screenwriter - have also served him well on his own films and on those of others.

Miyazaki wrote the screenplay for Whisper of the Heart (1995), adapting the one-volume manga (comic book) Mimi wo sumaseba by Aoi Hiragi. It has all the earmarks of a Miyazaki story: a spirited and determined young heroine, a young male love interest, magical animals and a rich sense of fantasy. But unlike such wildly fantastic tales as Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001), Whisper of the Heart plays a little closer to simple reality in recounting the adventure of a middle-school student who dreams of becoming a writer and the boy she discovers that shares her same taste in books. When she meets him, she learns he, too, has an unusual ambition: to go to Cremona, Italy, and become a violinmaker. Inspired by the boy's utter determination to make his dream a reality, she decides to go headlong into her own dream by writing a story about a strange cat statue that comes to life. (The story also reveals another specific Miyazaki touch, the affinity for Italy he shares with the boy character, which lead to the director's creation of the aerial fantasy Porco Rosso, 1992, also set in Italy.)

Miyazaki's enchanting script was taken up by Yoshifumi Kondo, a talented animator making his directorial debut here. Kondo first worked with his future Ghibli colleagues as the key animator for the TV series Rupan sensei/Lupin III, adapted from a comic book series based loosely on the famous French character, a gentleman thief of the Belle Epoque featured in a number of novels, films and other media. The series was directed by Miyazaki, Takahata and others. After this collaboration, Kondo became part of the tight circle formed by the other two men, their producers and fellow artists, moving with them to various studios until they formed Ghibli.

Kondo worked with Miyazaki a number of times over the years - animator on Porco Rosso, animation director on Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) and Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki's international breakthrough hit. The younger Kondo was seen as the natural successor to Miyazaki at Ghibli, especially after the master's repeated announcements that he would retire soon from film. But Kondo died suddenly in 1998 from an aneurysm. He did not live to see the international success of his work on Kiki or long enough to supervise the English-language release of this, his only directorial effort. At Kondo's funeral, a shaken, grieving Miyazaki gave a moving speech in which he said he had lost his "right arm" and referred to Kondo's "sense of freedom" in his work, "just as when you climb a slope and finally see a vast ocean over the mountain."

As further evidence of the tight collaboration and multi-tasking on the part of Ghibli staffers, one of the producers on this film, Toshio Suzuki, and fantasy scene background artist Naohisa Inoue also provided character voices.

If some of the voices in the English-language version sound familiar, here's why. Brittany Snow (Shizuku) has played Meg on the TV series American Dreams and appeared as Zoe in the Vin Diesel movie The Pacifier (2005). David Gallagher (Seiji) has played Simon Camden on the TV series 7th Heaven since 1996. Courtney Thorne-Smith (Shiho) has had a successful U.S. TV career, as Allison on Melrose Place, Georgia on Ally McBeal and most recently as Cheryl on According to Jim. Cary Elwes (The Baron) has been a popular film actor and leading man since the late 1970s; among his best-known roles are Westley in The Princess Bride (1987), the title role in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), Dr. Jonas Miller, the rival storm chaser, in Twister (1996) and Lawrence Gordon in Saw (2004). He has also been in demand as a voiceover artist for the English versions of other Studio Ghibli productions, including Miyazaki's Porco Rosso and Hiroyuki Morita's The Cat Returns (2002), in which he once again voiced the Baron in a film that incorporates cat characters from Whisper of the Heart.

One other fact of note about Whisper of the Heart: it is the first film produced by Studio Ghibli in which some elements of the animation were composed on a computer (the Baron's flying scene within Shizuku's fantasy story). The various elements in this scene were animated by traditional means but combined using computer technology. This is also reportedly the first Japanese feature to use the Dolby Digital sound system.

WHISPER OF THE HEART (JAPANESE VERSION)
Producer: Hayao Miyazaki, Takashi Shoji, Toshio Suzuki, Yasuyoshi Tokuma
Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Cinematography: Kitaro Takasaka
Film Editing: Takeshi Seyama
Art Direction: Satoshi Kuroda
Music: Yuji Nomi
Cast: Youko Honna (Shizuku Tsukishima), Kazuo Takahashi (Seiji Amasawa), Takashi Tachibana (Shizuku's father), Shigeru Muroi (Shizuku's mother), Shigeru Tsuyuguchi (The Baron).
C-111m. Letterboxed.

WHISPER OF THE HEART (ENGLISH VERSION)
Producer: Rick Dempsey
Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Cinematography: Kitaro Takasaka
Film Editing: Takeshi Seyama
Art Direction: Satoshi Kuroda
Music: Yuji Nomi
Cast: Brittany Snow (Shizuku Tsukishima), David Gallagher (Seiji), Cary Elwes (The Baron), Harold Gould (Nishi), Abigail Mavity (Nao).
C-111m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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