Mimi wo sumaseba [1995]

Based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi, the gentle coming-of-age story Whisper of the Heart (1995) was scripted and storyboarded by Hayao Miyazaki, and directed by the late Yoshifumi Kondo. Shizuku Tsukishima is an absent-minded, insecure junior high school student who reads book after book of fairy tales, helps her friends, and does most of her chores, but remains dissatisfied. When she encounters a wonderfully supercilious cat on the train, she follows him and meets Seiji Amasawa, a student in her class who hopes to become a violin maker. Seiji's commitment to his dream helps Shizuku find her voice, literally and figuratively: she realizes she wants to become a writer. A statue of a cat in the antique store of Seiji's kindly grandfather inspires her first story, "Whisper of the Heart." Shizuku and Seiji exhibit believable strengths and flaws: their warm humanity contrasts markedly with the shabby superficiality of the characters in many American animated films. The lively performances of Brittany Snow and David Gallagher transcend the geographic limits of the story to make Shizuku and Seiji the kids the viewer wishes lived next door. Miyazaki's script suggests that a sense of magic can exist, even in everyday Tokyo. Whisper of the Heart was the only film Yoshifumi Kondo directed before his untimely death at age 47, but its understated charm stands as a monument to his talent. (Rated G, suitable for ages 10 and older: tobacco use) --Charles Solomon

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