Miyazaki's Proposal For Whisper of the Heart

(This is an English translation of Hayao Miyazaki's 1993 project proposal for Studio Ghibli's Mimi o Sumaseba, aka Whisper of the Heart. This unofficial translation comes from Online Ghibli, and was taken from the Chinese version of Miyazaki's book, "Shuppatsuten 1979-1996." My deepest thanks to Doraneko for translating this text and making it available to us in the West.

Traditionally, a project proposal is written after some degree of preparation, but as I've written in a previous post here, Miyazaki often begins production of a movie after writing and storyboarding the first act - the first 20 minutes or so. After that, the rest of the film is created as it goes along. So here we can see just what Miyazaki wanted to achieve at the beginning, and compare this to the final film that he and director Yoshifumi Kondo presented us.

One final short note: a "shoujo manga" literally means "girls' comic." Mimi originally appeared as a short graphic novel by Aoi Hiiragi. "Mimi o Sumaseba" translates as "If You Listen Closely." The official Western title was changed to "Whisper of the Heart," although the phrase has no direct connection. Enjoy!)

Nowadays, why do we need to use a shoujo manga as our main theme?

With the opaque future of the 21st century becoming clearer and clearer, the social structure of Japan is undergoing major changes and is beginning to be shaken. Our era has undoubtedly entered a period of changes, with the common knowledge and rules of the past rapidly losing their original strength. The pursuit of worldly possessions in the old days has already formed great billows of tide. Even though it has yet to dash high on the youngsters of today, there is already a straw in the wind.

In such an era, what kind of movie should we produce?

We should return to the nature of existence.
We should ascertain our starting point.
We should completely ignore the rapidly changing trends.
We should produce a movie that is capable of providing a broad vision.

The movie will neither cater to the tastes of the younger audience, nor deliberately raise questions or highlight the problems in their present situation.

To the middle-aged people who have unspeakable regrets and remorse towards their salad days, the movie should be able to deliver an inciting feeling to today's youngsters. Deep in the minds of these young people, they are assuming in great faith that they can never play the main roles in the stage of life. Indeed, they are the reflections of the old selves of the middle-aged people like us. Therefore, we hope to revive the wishes in their hearts, and reveal to them the importance of embracing their dreams.

Running into a partner who can raise our own potential by a stroke of fate - seemingly, it is a consistent feature in the works of Charlie Chaplin. While to enable such to miraculously resurrect is the main ambition of this film.

The original source of the movie is a common shoujo manga with a relaxing and standard plot. In the fiction world, there would not be any obstacle between the main characters. There would neither be inconsiderate parents nor unreasonable restrictions. With setbacks and grievances thrown into the distant future, the girl would see in her dream a story of her own. This seems to be the standard format of shoujo manga at present. Even the manga which our movie is going to be based on is no exception: focusing on the portrayal of the frames of mind of the boy and the girl, at the same time rendering everything else irrelevant. Everything included is used to ascertain the mutual bond of love, while nothing happens in the story aside from that. Since every shoujo manga ends in such a way, it is no wonder that they have become so popular.

The one whom the girl is attracted to is a teenage boy dreaming to become a painter. In the story he draws some kinds of art that look like illustrations. This is also a typical style of shoujo manga: the main character will never be someone with an extremely strong artistic inclination. The girl who dreams to become a writer is of no difference. Her works are merely fairy tales of unknown nationalities. Just like her soul mate, she is restrained in a safety zone where she can never be injured.

Then, why are we proposing to turn "Whisper to the Heart" into a movie?

That is because, no matter how the middle-aged people try every effort to complain about the fragility of the story, criticizing it as a dream with no regard to reality - they cannot deny that the story has illustrated, in a frank and healthy manner, the youngsters' hope of meeting their partners, as well as their admiration for a pure, innocent relationship. This is exactly the true and valuable part of youth.

We can freely point out in a sarcastic manner that the so-called "health" is actually a feeble behaviour under protection, or an unachievable accomplishment even in an age of no obstruction. Nevertheless, why can't we try to use an even stronger force majeure to show the goodness of wholesome love?

The healthy force that tosses reality aside - Aoi Hiiragi's "Whisper of the Heart" - isn't it the best subject for our experimental work?

If the teenage boy's ambition is to become a craftsman - if he decides to go to Cremona of Italy upon graduation from junior high school, and enters the school for violin-making to learn the art - what will the story become?

Actually, this is where the concept of animating "Whisper of the Heart" began.

The boy will be a woodworking-obsessed teenager who at the same time loves playing violin. While his grandfather, an antique dealer in the original story, will become a character with keen interest in playing instruments and repairing art and craft. To facilitate both his work and interest, he will have turned his basement into a workshop. Such a workshop will definitely have served as a seedbed for the teenage boy's dream of violin-making to grow.

When all the teenagers of his age are evading their future (since, to most children, growing up has no benefit at all), only the boy is able to look far ahead and live his life earnestly. What we are thinking is that, if the female protagonist in the movie meets such a boy, what will the outcome be?

Having set up this question, an utterly plain shoujo manga immediately becomes an uncarved gemstone with a breath of the contemporary world: a gem that will be able to shine and glitter after careful cutting and polishing.

In such a way, we can emphasize the pure and innocent feelings unique in shoujo manga, as well as let the audience to contemplate the way to lead a rich and healthy life in a materialistic society.

By making use of an idealized boy-meets-girl scenario, we aim to show all the realistic feelings involved and try to celebrate the beauties of life. These will be the challenges faced by us when doing this project.

Hayao Miyazaki
12th October, 1993


James said...

this made for fantastic reading! Have you got any more stuff like this?

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

If I find anything, I'll pass it along. Miyazaki's project proposals often serve as the introduction to the "Art of..." Ghibli books. The books for My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke (out of print, unfortunately), Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle are all available in the US from Viz Publishing. "Art of..." books for all the Ghibli movies have been published in Japan, so I'm hopeful that the rest will be translated and published by Viz.

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