Country Roads, Take me Home,
The first time I saw Whispers of the Heart, or Mimi o Sumaseba, was during the spring of my freshman year at one of Cam's, now legendary, informals. Back then, I was a newbie without a tape to my name, and my first reaction to the opening (and the opening song in particular) was one of "Excuse me?!?!". After all, who would have expected to see a John Denver song in anime?
At that time, I barely knew what Studio Ghibli was, and had only heard the names Miyazaki and Takahata mentioned a couple of times in passing. So how could I have been expected to recognize that of Yoshifumi Kondo, or know who he was? Standing at the front of the basement lounge of South Baker, beside the bolted-down TV and the brown and yellow trash can upon which his VCR sat, Cam took a moment to note the passing of one of the brightest of Japan's rising directors.
The tape he showed was rather poor quality, with the picture getting fuzzy in places and static in some parts of the sound, and as I mentioned, my first impression was one of stunned disbelief. All this could have taken something away from the movie's impact and yet, I walked back to my room, that day, with the song in my head. My roommate must have thought that I had gone crazy that night because I'd randomly hum bits of the melody without noticing it. Since then, I've seen and heard about quite a bit more anime, but Whispers of the Heart still places among my favorite movies. To date, I've informaled it once or twice (does it really matter?), and I've seen it many more times -- it was one of the first tapes I ever acquired. I even have two different mp3s of the song "Country Roads": the original by John Denver (which I found that night after returning from Cam's informal) and the Japanese version from the movie (which I got from a friend, the night that I informaled it). Am I obsessed? Nah, it's just a great movie.
The story revolves around a 14-year-old, junior high student, with an avid love of reading and a gift with words, named Shizuku Tsukishima. She lives in an apartment complex with her mother, her father, and her older sister Shiho, who is in college. I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't go into the story itself. But I would like to say that Shizuku has the most understanding Asian parents that I have ever seen. That includes both real life and fiction.
Here are a couple of tidbits about the movie:
* Released on July 15, 1995, Whispers of the Heart was Yoshifumi Kondo's directorial debut. However, Kondo was involved in many of Studio Ghibli's other movies including: Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Only Yesterday, Future Boy Conan, and Princess Mononoke.
* Yoshifumi Kondo passed away at 4:25 AM, January 21, 1998, of an aneurysm.
* The two-minute fantasy segment showing Shizuku's story was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the same director who directed such works as Kiki's, Totoro, and most recently, Princess Mononoke.
* Lapis lazuli is a real semi-precious stone noted for its deep blue color and golden flecks. Almost all lapis comes from only two places in the world: Chile and Afghanistan. (Note: The name of the young Ruri lookalike in the Nadesico movie is Lapis.)
* The second meeting in each semester of CJAS is dedicated to the showing of a movie from our "Miyazaki Cycle". Mimi o Sumaseba is the only movie in that cycle that was not directed by Miyazaki himself.
* The area in which Shizuku lives is the area that used to be the raccoons' forest in Pon Poko. Mimi o Sumaseba has many other references to Studio Ghibli movies, most notably: Totoro, Porco Rosso, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Laputa. Try to keep an eye out for them.
Mimi o Sumaseba is a story about self-discovery, finding love where it is least expected, and unexpected meetings leading to wonderful experiences. But most of all, it is about growing up and trying to find happiness in life.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.