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Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi
(Spirited Away)

Q&A with Carl Horn of Viz Comics

Mr. Horn is one of the editors working on the English translations of three "Spirited Away" books at Viz Comics and has previously written about Studio Ghibli for the Studio Ghibli Retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive and for the book "Japan Edge".


Q1) Are the Viz "Spirited Away" books printed in Japan?

They are printed in Hong Kong, at the local subsidiary of two Japanese printers. For the SPIRITED AWAY 5-volume anime comic novels, at Toppan. For THE ART OF SPIRITED AWAY and the SPIRITED AWAY PICTURE BOOK, at DNP. This is the same DNP plant which printed our English-language version of the Yoshiyuki Sadamoto art book, DER MOND.

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Q2) Will there be an attempt in the books to provide via footnotes, sidebars, etc. the cultural background that a Japanese reader would have but that the average non-Japanese reader might be missing?

Our major addition in this area is the creation of a sound-FX glossary for the back of the five-volume anime comic novels. It tries to make the original Japanese meaningful and interesting to the reader, by giving both the literal reading of the katakana as well as giving an "equivalent" sound FX in English-for example: KATSUN KOTSUN [tok tok]. We try to make it exactly accurate; if a certain sound is repeated five times in the course of a FX, we will also give it five times in the translation. We also demonstrate some of the different and not necessarily consistent conventions in writing these FX.

The sound FX glossary was my personal idea, based on my experience doing one for the NEON GENESIS EVANGELION Special Collector's Edition manga, an edition that, like the five-volume SPIRITED AWAY set, is printed right-to-left, and unretouched. I am happy to say that Tokuma Shoten was pleased with the idea of this glossary.

I personally feel that a knowledge of Japanese culture is not at all necessary to enjoy SPIRITED AWAY, especially since the film takes place almost entirely not in an everyday Japanese social context, but in an otherworldly setting. The first few minutes of the film that are set in "normal" Japan involve moving to a new house, an experience everyone can relate to. You'll notice that even the family car (an Audi) has left-handed drive, just like in America!

Indeed, much of the plot of the film involves Chihiro/Sen learning the ways and customs of this strange new place, so that the audience learns with her. The basic setting of SPIRITED AWAY is a public bathhouse, something rare in the United States (indeed it is increasingly rare in Japanese cities). But the idea of a place where people go on vacation and pay for special baths and meals is very close to the Western idea of a luxury spa resort; I think of the "Abura-ya Bath House" of the movie as a "spa of the spirits," and I think the concept will be clear to English-speaking audiences.

An interesting point is that many Japanese are not familiar with the folklore that inspired Mr. Miyazaki's designs for the film; the fact that modern-day Japanese are cut off from these "roots" is one of the things that inspired Mr. Miyazaki to make the film in the first place, as he so states in THE ART OF SPIRITED AWAY.

It is important to bear in mind that the spirits of the film are described in THE ART OF SPIRITED AWAY as Mr. Miyazaki's original fantasy creations, based on certain inspirations from Japanese folklore. It was his desire that young Japanese look upon such motifs from the native Japanese past to fire their own imaginations. But SPIRITED AWAY is no more meant to be taken as an anthropology textbook than PRINCESS MONONOKE is meant to be a dissertation in history (for example, the muskets that appear in MONONOKE did not yet exist in Japan during the period in which the film is set).

This may also indicate that while Mr. Miyazaki wants to make use of the richness of the Japanese cultural tradition, it is not as if in his actual films he insists on anything that could be called "cultural purity." In the fantasy world of SPIRITED AWAY there are many items large and small not native to Japan but introduced through Western contact, such as gauged steam boilers, cigarettes, pull-cord table lamps, leather-bound books, screw-thread adjustable wrenches, stuffed armchairs, and of course, a train.

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Q3) Will the work on the books be based on translations of the material done by Viz, by the people working on the dub of the movie, by the studio, or by someone else?

We are working from two independent translations, one provided by Disney, and credited to the team of Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt, and one done by Viz, in which the translator is Yuji Oniki, a person of great experience in the manga field who also teaches Japanese literature at the University of California at Berkeley.

We haven't actually seen the finished English dub of SPIRITED AWAY, but it is my assumption that the Disney script is the basic dubbing script, based on such things as syllable counts. For example, when Chihiro first sees the pigs where her parents were sitting, she doesn't believe at first that these are really her parents. She runs out into the darkened street to look for them, and yells "Otoosan! Okaasan!" meaning, "Dad!" "Mom!"

But that's six syllables in Japanese and only two in English, and I see that in Disney's script, the line is given as the five-syllable "Mom! Dad! Where are you?" Chihiro is too distant in the shot to make out her actual mouth movements well, but adding "Where are you?"-which is what she means by calling out for them in the first place-helps to match the timing of the line.

Because the Disney script will be used in the film American audiences will see, our independent Viz translator is using it as a default. However, there are several things which will come from our translation alone: the Disney script sometimes does not include characters talking in the background of a scene.

In one example, an entire scene is actually missing: When Lin takes Chihiro up from the boilerroom in the elevator, they stop on one floor and transfer to another elevator. While they walk from one to the other, they pass a group of frog-men who are discussing the catering. If you have the Japanese SPIRITED AWAY anime comic books, this is the scene in Vol. 2, pages 64-65 (they will be pages 62-63 in the Viz version, as our page plan is slightly different).

But note that this dialogue isn't in the original Japanese script either! If you have the Japanese ART OF SPIRITED AWAY, you'll see the lines are missing: they should be on page 205, between Chihiro's line (the last line in column 2), and Lin's line (the first line in column 3). The scene itself is described, but not specifically what the frog men are saying-eleven whole lines that ended up in the actual movie but are not in Ghibli's script. I can only conclude that Disney's working faithfully from the Ghibli script led them to inadvertently repeat the omission in their basic dub script.

But in your post-production into English, you watch the anime, too, of course, and notice deviations from "the plan on paper." I'm quite certain those "missing" lines will in fact be in the actual Disney version of SPIRITED AWAY, just as they were in the actual Japanese version, even if they were absent from the original Japanese script.

If you talk to people who translate anime for U.S. companies, they'll tell you that what's in the actual finished anime and what's in the official Japanese script are rarely 100% the same thing. This is for various reasons, one possible one being that the scene was added after the script stage of the production-in the storyboarding stage, for example. And sometimes miscellaneous background voices are left up to the discretion of the voice-recording director; the sort of thing that is called "wallah" in the U.S. industry.

Again, I mention all this not to provoke worry that anything will be missing from the Disney version; I have no reason to believe that would be the case. I just want to illustrate that with anything as long and complicated as a feature film, even the "official script" may not be the whole story, and people who work in the industry on both sides of the Pacific certainly understand this. That's why you check things over, as we have.

And you won't miss out on it in the Viz books, either, because our independent translation of the film is based on the anime comic books themselves (and not the script in THE ART OF SPIRITED AWAY) in which all the actual scenes in the finished film appear (and therefore all the actual dialogue). The translation of sound FX is also based on Viz's own work.

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Q4) How involved are the original authors of the material with the translations?

In the case of our books, we send complete proofs of all pages to Tokuma Shoten (who is, as you know, the parent company of Studio Ghibli) for their approval before we go ahead with the printing.

We have had minor questions for them (for example, the meaning of a technical term used in anime production) and they have had minor requests of us (for example, asking us to phrase Mr. Miyazaki's credits one way on the title page and a slightly different way on the credits page). But otherwise, our work with them has been very smooth, which I attribute to the high professional standards of our translator, graphic designer, and liaison personnel, as well as that of Tokuma's editors.

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Q5) In the Japanese version of "Art of Spirited Away" they print the entire dialog from the movie in the back of the book. Will that be done in the US version and, if so, will it be a direct translation from the Japanese script or will they be using the final English script that was used for the dubbing?

We are using Disney's script for the back of our version of ART OF SPIRITED AWAY, which as noted in Q3, appears to be a translation based on the original Japanese script printed there. As noted in Q3, though, neither the Japanese script in ART OF nor the Disney script includes 100% of the dialogue from the finished film.

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Q6) Will the books only be distributed through comic book stores or will they also be available in major retail chains (Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc.)?

They will also be available in the retail chains; we distribute through Publishers' Group West, who distributes to all the major book stores.

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Q7) To the extent that you're free to discuss these questions, why did Disney decide to release these books through Viz rather than use their own in-house publisher (Hyperion) as they did with "Art of Princess Mononoke"? Does this indicate that Disney realizes the anime fan market that Viz reaches and feels it will do better going through Viz, or do they feel that only the niche market of anime fans will be interested in these, so it's not worth having their own in-house publisher do it?

It is again the case that it was through Tokuma Shoten directly that Viz received permission to publish English editions of these three "Spirited Away" books. We were able to demonstrate with our recent DER MOND project that we were capable of producing a full-color anime art book in English of very high print quality.

But of course Viz had previously worked with Tokuma on our publication of Mr. Miyazaki's NAUSICAA manga. I think that many Miyazaki fans would agree with me that the NAUSICAA manga story is itself an achievement of equal importance to any of his animated films; Mr. Miyazaki himself once called it his "life's work." We therefore feel we have important prior experience with and sensitivity towards the creator of SPIRITED AWAY, and are very honored to have the opportunity to once again adapt into English one of Mr. Miyazaki's works.

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Q8) From your dealings with Disney, can you tell how much "push" are they putting behind the film?

Again, because we are working directly with the original Japanese company, we do not know what Disney's plans are for promoting the English-dubbed version of the film.

Naturally, for both for the sake of the film itself and for our book publications, we would hope for as much push as possible. Currently SPIRITED AWAY is listed on Touchstone Pictures' site as being released through that particular subsidiary of Disney. This is different from PRINCESS MONONOKE, which as you are aware was released through Disney's Miramax/Dimension, and may also suggest a different strategy and different staff working on the release.

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Q9) I'm very excited by the translations of the "Spirited Away" film comics. Are there any plans to translate the other Miyazaki and Ghibli film comics? What about Miyazaki's other manga such as "The Age of Flying Boat", "Tigers Covered with Mud", or the one about airplane food?

We do not currently have plans to translate other Ghibli books or Miyazaki manga, but it is definitely something of interest to us. Viz actually did translate "The Age Of The Flying Boat" way back in 1993. It ran in three parts, in Animerica Vol. 1, issues #5-7. We would like to be able to reprint this one day at the appropriate time.

I personally would love to do an English version of "Dining In The Air," as that sort of thing is right up my alley. I have always loved in-flight meals. Ever since I was a kid, they reminded me of the trays they served the astronauts in 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY.

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Bonus query: Any plans to reprint "Nausicaa" in the larger Japanese A4 format?

Yes, we would like to do an English version of that A4 hardcover, slipcased two-volume set of NAUSICAÄ that was published in 1996 after the completion of the series. If NAUSICAÄ were to be released on home video here, and fans showed an interest in such a deluxe (and expensive) edition, we would give it strong consideration.

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If I may add a final note, let me say that I am sure the readers of can understand what an honor it is to work on the SPIRITED AWAY books. I first saw NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF WIND in the summer of 1984, when I was 13. That year I also saw the Miyazaki-directed episodes of FAMOUS DETECTIVE HOLMES and LUPIN III. Since then I've seen each of Mr. Miyazaki's films as they've come out, and now that I'm 31, I consider myself to have grown up with his movies, as much as his Japanese fans have. I also am trying to do my best not only for Mr. Miyazaki and his film, but for the sake of Tokuma Shoten, which, in the person of Mr. Hideo Ogata, was extremely kind to me when I first went to Japan at 16, and was just starting out as a writer on anime.

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