As a coming-of-age drama that happens to be animated, ‘Whisper of the Heart’ is an interesting themed choice for Ghibli Park’s next area, Seishun no Oka. It comes across almost like Flex: This is a slice-of-life story about craftsmanship.
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, the film is not as famous as Princess Mononoke. The latter has Mononoke Village, its own area under construction along the next Witches Valley (also coming in 2024 with “Kiki’s Delivery Service”).
Entering the Hill of Youth gives you access to the ‘Whispering Heart’ two-story World Emporium antique shop. First, you’ll pass through the roundabout in the movie, which is modeled after the actual roundabout on the outskirts of Tama, Tokyo.
The real roundabout is accessible from Seiseki-Sakuragaoka Station, where I lived for many years, and can still be reached on foot. Irohazaka, or Winding Road, the way Shizuku, the protagonist of the movie. The difference is that once you reach the actual roundabout, there is no World Emporium there.
Until now, this place has existed only in the imagination, inside a mailbox modeled after the outside of a train station. Hill of Youth brings the shop to life with a cat-sized cat bureau from the fantasy spin-off Cat Returns. Her two anthropomorphic cats, Baron (voiced by Carrie Elwes in the film) and Muta, are seen lounging out of the station window.
Unlike the Ghibli warehouse, photography is not permitted inside the World Emporium. However, when she crosses the threshold, she sees the same yellow antique pig she passed through when Shizuku entered the shop chasing a fat wandering cat (a non-speaking version of Muta).