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Whisper of the Heart DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Japanese Theatrical Release: July 15, 1995 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Yoshifumi Kondo

English Voice Cast: Brittany Snow (Shizuku Tsukishima), David Gallagher (Seiji Amasawa), Ashley Tisdale (Yuko), Harold Gould (Mr. Nishi), Courtney Thorne-Smith (Shiho Tsukishima), Martin Spanjers (Sugimura), Jean Smart (Asako Tsukishima), Cary Elwes (The Baron)

Japanese Voice Cast: Youko Honna (Shizuku Tsukishima), Kazuo Takahashi (Seiji Amasawa), Keiju Kobayashi (Chikyu-Ya' shujin), Yorie Yamashita (Shiho Tsukishima), Shigeru Muroi (Asako Tsukishima), Takashi Tachibana (Yasunari Tsukishima), Shigeru Tsuyuguchi (The Baron), Minami Takayama (Kousaka-sensei), Mayumi Iizuka (Kinuyo)

Song: "Country Roads"

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (Japanese, English)
Subtitles: English, English captions; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: March 7, 2006
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 & DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps and Cardboard Slipcover

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By Aaron Wallace

Despite years of collecting and reviewing Disney DVDs, I had never dabbled in the films of Studio Ghibli until this review presented me with the opportunity to finally do so. Of course I had read much about Ghibli and its co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki, but I wasn't quite sure of what to expect from the revered animator whose films have impacted Japanese culture in much the same way as Disney films have affected American culture.

Mimi wo sumaseba made its Japanese debut in 1995. Though its title literally translates to "If you listen closely," under the supervision of Walt Disney Home Entertainment, it makes its way to America on home video as Whisper of the Heart, a less fitting but still applicable title. It's not the studio's most revered film, but is a noteworthy part of the canon nonetheless, for reasons
including its distinction as one of the few Ghibli films not directed by one of the studio co-founders. Instead, Yoshifumi Kondo, once Miyazaki's right-hand man and assumed successor, takes the helm. (Whisper is Kondo's first and only directorial credit, due to his death a few years later). Miyazaki may not have been behind the director's wheel, nor is the story all his (credit goes also to Aoi Hξragi, author of the manga that is the movie's basis), but his imprint is all over the film. He not only served as producer, but authored the screenplay and storyboards as well.

The story focuses on Shizuku, a middle school student whose interests are solely academic. When she's not fretting over high school entrance exams (remember, this is the Japanese education system) or trying her hand at amateur songwriting, she devours fantasy novels in rapid succession. It's the latter activity that introduces a series of events that lead her to re-evaluate her self-worth and life goals in light of those first two hobbies.

Shizuku searches for Mr. Amasawa. Mr. Nishi encourages Shizuku's love of writing.

While perusing her most recent library rentals, Shizuku notices that a frequent reader with the last name of Amasawa has checked out each of books that she herself has been reading. Intrigued, she tries to uncover the identity of the mysterious patron but is soon distracted from her quest when she decides to follow a curious cat that she finds riding a bus unaccompanied on a bus. The chase leads her to a boutique run by Mr. Nishi, a kind, older man whose shop holds many wonders for Shizuku, not least among them a statuette of a cat named The Baron. There's a rich story behind The Baron and several other objects in the store, stories that facilitate Shizuku's self-search for talent at the encouragement of Mr. Nishi and his grandson, a boy who captures both Shizuku's fancy and her ire.

Whisper of the Heart embraces its contemporary setting, something that Walt Disney's classics rarely did. Eleven years later, it doesn't at all feel dated, though how well it will age remains to be seen. (The constant recurrence of the John Denver-penned pop tune "Country Roads, Take Me Home" does seem a little odd, but not inappropriate). Sometimes a but awkward in its pacing, the story spends certainly too much time on romance and perhaps not enough on the mysteries that make the earlier parts of the film so appealing. The ultimate conclusion to the romantic storyline certainly seems sudden to say the least. Still, none of those drawbacks spoil the end result, and stirring poignancy doesn't seem to be the goal. One thrilling sequence involving The Baron and Shizuku's imagination (purportedly directed by Miyazaki) leaves the viewer thirsting for more of those fantastical moments, but the compelling story remains likable, if not instantly lovable.

Shizuku boogies down with Nisi & the Gang. The Baron: a mysterious statuette of a cat

The English voice cast is comprised of a host of celebrities, TV stars all: David Gallagher ("7th Heaven"), Ashley Tisdale ("The Suite Life of Zack & Cody"), Courtney Thorne-Smith ("According to Jim"), Martin Spanjers ("8 Simple Rules"), and Jean Smart ("Designing Women") make up the essential supporting cast and all do a fine job. As the central protagonist, Brittany Snow (The Pacifier) comes off as a little bland, as does her character at times. Cary Elwes notably returns to briefly voice The Baron, after having done the same in the English language version of The Cat Returns (2002), a prequel of sorts to Whisper of the Heart. The award for best voice-acting performance, however, without question goes to Harold Gould (whose credits include Gus, The Strongest Man in the World, and "The Golden Girls"). He brings warmth and vitality to Mr. Nishi, whose role in the movie as mentor and sage is so essential.

Whisper of the Heart is one of three DVDs making up the latest wave of Studio Ghibli releases,
which Disney distributes both theatrically and to home video outside of Asia. Like their predecessors, all three are 2-Disc sets, though as the rest of this review will demonstrate, that doesn't always make for a substantial release.


I don't personally find the visuals of anime particularly appealing, but there's no denying the talent that went into the film's animation. Fortunately, that comes through quite well on the DVD. Presented in its original 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 screens, the video conveys the fairly simple color palette without incident. There are times when colors are a bit inconsistent and the visuals too soft, but that seems to have been part of the movie and not a fault of the DVD. Those viewing without overscan will notice some very slight letterboxing.

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track gets the job done without any problems but isn't particularly impressive. The majority of the sound comes from the front speakers (the center channel in particular) and even the rear speaker reinforcement often goes undetected. The occasions on which music does sweep around the whole room are appreciated and it's too bad that it couldn't have been so enveloping more often.

Disney is to be applauded for offering the original Japanese track in Dolby Digital 5.1 too. This allows Japanese speakers and/or viewers who wish to see the movie in its original form to see it that way with or without the use of the included English subtitles.

Brittany Snow and Ashley Tisdale in "Behind the Microphone." "7th Heaven"'s David Gallagher is ready to pounce in "Behind the Microphone." A still from one of the many trailers included on the disc, with both Japanese and English titles.


For a 2-disc set, Whisper of the Heart is very much a lightweight affair, much like most of the Disney-Ghibli DVDs that have preceded it. In terms of supplements, it falls somewhere in the middle of the Ghibli roster thus far.

The first disc serves up "Behind the Microphone," a nice 8-minute featurette that pieces together interviews with much of the prominent English voice cast: Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Cary Elwes, Jean Smart, Martin Spanjers, and Harold Gould. It's not a making-of piece (alas, one of those isn't to be found here), but it's a great inclusion and my favorite supplement on the set.

"Whisper of the Heart - Special Trailer Collection" (10:45) is one long reel that joins numerous teasers, TV spots, theatrical trailers, and promotional films for the movie. It's quite interesting to see the various ways in which it was marketed in Japan and it shows that non-US trailers have aged just as poorly as those stateside '90s ones have. All the Japanese headings remain, along with English subtitles beside them. Watching the same footage over and over with only minor changes in arrangement grows old, though, and it's frustrating that these weren't made available for individual selection. That allows me to issue a challenge, however: try watching the whole thing without getting the Japanese version of "Country Roads" stuck in your head.

The second disc has only one feature to offer: the entire movie in its original storyboard version. It's always interesting to compare a film's conceptual stage to the final product, but these aren't always the most illustrative drawings and with rare exceptions, there isn't much panning work done to keep things lively. The original soundtrack is matched up with the drawings perfectly, and it's a nice inclusion, but a beginning-to-end viewing won't be for everyone.

Whisper of the Heart was accompanied in Japanese theaters by a widely revered Miyazaki-directed short, "On Your Mark." A music video of sorts, it was set to the music of Japanese pop artists Chage & Aska. That would have made for a relevant and appreciated inclusion, but fans who are hoping to find it included will be disappointed.

Disc 2's storyboard version of the movie isn't very colorful. The main menu is sort of plain, but in 16x9!


The 16x9 main menu has a nice introduction and comes to rest at a barely-animated scene that comes from a significant part of the movie but isn't the most inviting to people who have never seen it before. Much like Disney's Sing Along Songs series, the menu options appear on a musical staff and a one-quarter note serves as a cursor for each option.

The discs are housed inside a standard dual Amaray black keepcase, complete with protective snaps on the side. Early printings also come with a slip-cover featuring the red "Walt Disney Home Entertainment Presents a Studio Ghibli Film" banner (which also appears on the case itself) and an open slot in the back to make room for the case's barcode.

The disc opens with previews for other Ghibli DVDs as well as Chicken Little, The Little Mermaid: Special Edition, and Cars. A second page of sneak peeks inside the first disc's main menu offers a look at The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and an upcoming live-action direct-to-video project called AirBuddies.

Shizuku heads to the library but gets distracted along the way. Shizuku takes a stroll with Seiji.


My first impression of Studio Ghibli has been a favorable one. Whisper of the Heart isn't a perfect or life-changing movie, but it's entirely likable despite a few shortcomings. It flirts with the wonderment that I gather to be Miyazaki's hallmark, but is mostly reserved in that regard. This leads me to think that newcomers like myself might want to try out another Ghibli flick first, but then, Whisper made a fine introduction for me.

The DVD is satisfactory, but just barely so. While the video quality won't be the subject of any serious complaints, the audio track could have been more dynamic, even if it sounded fine. When it comes to bonus features, this is as meager a 2-disc set as they come, but what is there manages to compliment the film well. Be sure to take a look at the studio's other offerings, but you can't go too wrong with this DVD.

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Related Reviews
Prequel: The Cat Returns (2002)
New to DVD: Howl's Moving Castle (2005) • My Neighbor Totoro (1988) • The Shaggy Dog (1959) • Lady and the Tramp (1955)
From Studio Ghibli:
My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) • Pom Poko (1994) • Porco Rosso (1992)
Spirited Away (2001) • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) • Castle in the Sky (1986)
1995 Disney Films: Pocahontas • Toy Story
Disney DVDs Featuring the English Voice Cast of Whisper of the Heart:
Brittany Snow: The Pacifier (2005) | Ashley Tisdale: Disney Channel Holiday | Cary Elwes: Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994)

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Reviewed March 7, 2006.