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John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ finds new that means in Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart

John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ finds new meaning in Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart

May 25-30 is Studio Ghibli Week at Polygon. To have fun the arrival of the Japanese animation home’s library on digital and streaming providers, we’re surveying the studio’s historical past, impression, and largest themes. Follow alongside by way of our Ghibli Week web page.

Olivia Newton-John’s cowl of the John Denver staple “Take Me Home, Country Roads” isn’t the probably soundtrack for the opening scene of a delicate animated slice-of-life film about rising up in Tokyo. Yet because the opening sequence of Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart rolls, with its sweeping nightscape scenes of city Japan, Olivia Newton-John croons concerning the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River.

The music doesn’t simply set the tone for the opening montage, it additionally performs an integral half within the film’s storyline. Junior-high pupil Shizuku, an aspiring author, is requested by her choir mates to translate the music as a result of they need to sing it at an upcoming commencement efficiency. Shizuku is aware of she will be able to’t simply actually translate it — in spite of everything, they dwell in city Tokyo — so after penning a joke translation referred to as “Concrete Roads,” she struggles with attempting to convey the particular feeling that “Country Roads” conjures. Her efforts to speak the music’s poetry weaves in with the film’s overarching theme of Shizuku looking for herself throughout a difficult stage of adolescence.

At first look, it’s a bit humorous {that a} music so particularly about Appalachia suits so superbly in Whisper of the Heart. But the best way author Hayao Miyazaki and director Yoshifumi Kondô use the music within the story speaks to a deeper understanding of “Country Roads” than the lyrics about West Virginia geography would possibly recommend.

“Country Roads” is considered one of John Denver’s hottest songs. The lyrics are tailor-made to West Virginia, however the nostalgic eager for residence that Denver imbues into the music is common. The music has been coated by greater than 150 different artists in 19 different languages. Some covers select to adapt the lyrics to their very own experiences — Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole rewrote the song to be about West Mākaha, whereas reggae band Toot and the Maytals changed it to West Jamaica. Other artists sing it word-for-word, even when it’s translated into other languages.

A girl with her eyes closed sits in a dark room at sunset with sunbeams falling on her, facing a little statue of a cat in a suit.

Image: Studio Ghibli

In the case of Whisper of the Heart, it’s not a selected place that Shizuku longs for, it’s a selected feeling. Shizuku’s translation is about discovering braveness and belonging, following a private future, even within the face of failure, rejection, and rising up. In that means, it speaks strongly to the emotional core of “Country Roads”.

The factor about “Country Roads” is that it’s not West Virginia Denver actually yearns for, it’s “the place I belong.” Denver, who lived in Colorado most of his life, isn’t even from West Virginia. Nor are the music’s co-writers, Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff. In truth, Nivert and Danoff based mostly the music on a drive to Maryland, and picked West Virginia for the lyrics as a result of they wanted a state with 4 syllables. (Massachusetts, the place Danoff is from, was a detailed runner-up.)

When artists rewrite the lyrics, they aren’t simply making superficial modifications to the music. They’re portray an image of the place they lengthy for. The extra particular particulars they put into the music, the stronger that feeling turns into. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s cowl, as an example, principally transplants your complete music to the seashores of his residence, as he croons concerning the island sky and sunshine.

The Whisper of the Heart version takes a special method, stripping the music of any explicit location, and as an alternative specializing in the sensation of longing. To Shizuku, the music is so highly effective as a result of it’s about belonging, and he or she doesn’t really feel like she belongs anyplace specifically. She’s feeling the ache of rising up, as her sister strikes out, her classmates transfer on, and he or she struggles to establish what she actually desires out of life. To her, the music’s longing is about a lot greater than a bodily place. It’s about navigating the uncertainty of adolescence and discovering a street away from her hometown.

Shizuku debuts her full translation of “Country Roads” to Seiji, the boy she retains operating into, whereas visiting his grandfather’s antiques retailer. While she’s initially aggravated with him for teasing her about her “Concrete Roads” model of the music, she’s drawn to him and his ardour for the craft of creating musical devices. When they sing her “Country Roads” cowl collectively, together with Seiji’s grandfather and his mates, it’s a payoff for the movie’s wistful melancholy, and the music’s nostalgia. Whisper of the Heart is an underrated and underseen Ghibli film, however this scene speaks to every part that’s candy, smart, and joyful concerning the studio — on this second, not less than Shizuku is aware of who she is, and he or she’s discovered the place the place she belongs.


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