[Nausicaa.Net] The Hayao Miyazaki Web

||  Main  |  Mailing List  |  Films  |  Search  |  Ghiblink  |  Feedback  ||

An Interview with Cindy and Don Hewitt

December 2003

Many thanks to Cindy and Don for their time and answers and to the multitude of people who submitted questions.



General Overview

Q: Of the completed or in-progress films ("Porco Rosso", "Whisper of the Heart", "Nausicaa") what is their status of in terms of projected release date/method?

A: According to the Disney marketing department, the release dates for Porco, Whisper, and Nausicaa are still being discussed.

Q: Disney has almost released all of the Studio Ghibli catalog in the US. "My Neighbor Totoro", "Only Yesterday", "My Neighbors the Yamadas", and "Ocean Waves" remain unknown. Is there any word on when (or if) these will be released by Disney in the US?

A: Disney will release new dubs of "My Neighbor Totoro," "Only Yesterday," and "My Neighbors the Yamadas," but not "Ocean Waves." The release dates for these films have yet to be determined.

Q: For 'Spirited Away's English dub, Disney recruited animation director Kirk Wise. Tony Bancroft, co-director on 'Mulan,' did English Language direction for 'Porco Rosso.' Are there any other Disney animation directors lined up?

A: For Whisper and Nausicaa, Rick Dempsey--head of Disney Character Voices--has taken the helm. He's been a voice director for 15 years and is phenomenal at it. (His fashion sense, however, leaves something to be desired...) At this time, no other Disney animation directors have been lined up.

Q: Has John Lasseter also contributed his services to the upcoming Studio Ghibli titles?

A: John Lasseter has had and will continue to have creative input in all the upcoming releases.

Back to Contents

Voice Actors

Q: What is the process for assembling a cast? Are you involved from the start or are you presented with a finalized list?

A: Disney is open to our suggestions, but Ned Lott, (Senior Manager of Disney Character Voices) does most of the work. He presents to Rick Dempsey (head of Disney Character Voices) a list of recommendations and available actors for each character, taking into account all of Studio Ghibli's requests. Then, Ned, Rick, and the two of us listen to auditions and view film references for the various actors. The four of us discuss which actors best match the characters. Once the list has been narrowed down, Ned and Rick submit the principal actor suggestions to Studio Ghibli for final approval, and run it by John Lasseter for his input.

Q: Do you ever adapt dialogue with specific actors in mind?

A: No, not at all. Our number one rule with dialogue is to keep it true to the characters. Also, we try to stay true to the period in which the film is set. "Porco Rosso," for example, is set in 1929, so we did our best to avoid any contemporary sounding words or phrases.

Q: Are there any actors who you would love to have do a Studio Ghibli dub?

A: Cindy wants Colin Farrell to be in everything. The rest of us, however, just want whichever actor is the best match for the character.

Q: Conversely, has anyone requested to take part in a film?

A: A good deal of famous actors (including Oscar winners) have asked to take part in Miyazaki's films. But again, we only consider an actor if he or she is a match for the character.

Q: Since the first Disney/Ghibli release, the studio has secured some top-notch voice talent (Kirsten Dunst, Mark Hamill, Billy Crudup, etc.) for the Ghibli titles. However, does the studio still consider non-famous voice actors for the roles?

A: Yes, Disney uses non-famous voice actors all the time. ADR is very technically demanding, however, so experience with looping is key. Also, we do our best to keep the characters from sounding "cartoony." Actors who have spent the majority of their careers doing live-action work in movies or in the theatre, are often best at keeping their performances sounding real.

Back to Contents


Q: How do you deal with references in the original Japanese dialog that may not be familiar to non-Japanese viewers?

A: Because Miyazaki does such a fantastic job of writing about issues which are universal, we've had to deal with this issue much less often than we originally thought. Also, the majority of the Miyazaki films that we've worked on are set in environments other than Japan: "Spirited Away" is set in a fantasy world (a bath house for the gods), "Porco Rosso" is set in the Adriatic Islands in 1929, and "Nausicaa" is set in a post apocalyptic future. Only "Whisper of the Heart" is set in modern-day Japan. In Whisper, we had to clarify how important it is in Japan to do well on high school entrance exams, since these exams don't exist in the United States. There were some other smaller issues. In Spirited Away, for example, Kamaji performs a ritual on Chihiro (similar to what we'd call a cootie shot) to "cleanse" her after she steps on the black slug that pops out of Haku's mouth. We did our best to slip in some dialogue which explained what Kamaji was doing. We later found out that this Japanese "cootie shot" is an old-fashioned thing, and many young Japanese viewers didn't know what Kamaji was doing either!

Q: Of all the Miyazaki movies you're worked on, what was the one scene or bit of dialog that was the hardest to understand, hardest to rework into sensible English dialog?

A: The hardest moments are when characters talk for long stretches. Both Yubaba (Spirited Away) and Fio (Porco Rosso) have some massive monologues, which made us want to tear our hair out. With both of these characters, their Japanese dialogue took a lot longer to say than the English translation. It's quite a brain-teaser to fill characters' mouths without changing the content of their speeches, while at the same time not being redundant and boring.

Q: What has been you favorite part of all the movies? Which part would you like to point to and say "we're really proud of how that worked out in English"?

A: We were thrilled by how well the audience responded to the humor in "Porco Rosso" at the Austin, Texas screening. Also, it's a rush to have A-list talent read dialogue you've written. They can make even throw-away lines like, "Have a nice day," sound fantastic.

Q: How much did you know about Japanese animation and Japanese culture before you began work on "Spirited Away"?

A: Don had spent a month in Japan and had visited a Japanese bath house while he was there. Cindy had eaten sushi a few times. That's about it.

Q: When doing the script they give you the literal translation and a video or DVD of the film in Japanese. Do they give you any other sort of background material? Would having that sort of material or information help you in doing the script, or just be beside the point?

A: Since American audiences need to be able to understand the film without knowing anything about Miyazaki or Japanese culture, it's generally not necessary for us to have supplementary material. Our process is this: when we first watch a subtitled version of the film, we note anything that we find confusing. Then we watch the film and read the script a number of times to look for answers within the material. If we're stumped, we contact Steve Alpert at Studio Ghibli and ask him what Miyazaki's intentions were. Our goal is to make the experience of watching the English dub as true as possible to the experience which Miyazaki intended. If we consulted sources other than his film and script, we might blind ourselves to what American audiences won't understand or we might accidentally add information into the story which Miyazaki never intended.

Q: Is it difficult to keep concentration on a film that you see so much?

A: No. Miyazaki's films are so well-crafted, studying them is exhilarating--like taking an advanced course in screenwriting. Also, we're used to spending a year or more writing and rewriting our own scripts, so focusing on a Miyazaki film for a few weeks is a piece of cake.

Back to Contents

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

Q: What is the cast list?

A: The cast list includes:

Q: Was the extended storyline of the "Nausicaa" manga used in anyway to enhance the "Nausicaa" movie translation or story depth?

A: We looked at the manga for clarification on a few issues, but the storyline in the manga is significantly different from the film's storyline. So we ended up relying on Studio Ghibli for depth and clarification instead.

Back to Contents

Whisper of the Heart

Q: What is the cast list?

A: The cast list includes:

Back to Contents

Spirited Away

Q: The English adaptation of "Spirited Away" has some extra dialogue which was not present in the original Japanese dialogue (end of the film, Chihiro making the connection between Haku's human and dragon form.) Why, and to what purpose, is this so, and can we expect to see more of such extra dialogue in future adaptations of Ghibli movies?

A: Adapting a film to another language is a fluid thing. Words are representations of emotions set in a cultural context. Sometimes simply translating word for word does not express the emotional experience. We try to capture the experience of the movie as a whole not just the specific words.

"Haku," for example, is the name of a mahjong tile with a white dragon on it. Very few people in America play mahjong, so very few Americans would be able to make the link between the character Haku and a white dragon. Therefore, we added a few lines of dialogue to help the non-mahjong-playing Americans follow the plot.

Q: John Lasseter was the executive producer of 'Spirited Away.' What did his duties entail? Did he ever stop by to critique some of the script work?

A: John was very hands-on when it came to adapting the script. First, we'd show a draft of the script to director Kirk Wise, producer Don Ernst, and Disney execs Leo Chu and Pam Coats. After meeting with them, we did some revisions, and then we faxed the new version of the script to John at Pixar. John read the script and faxed us his notes. Then all of us had a live videoconference with John (since we were in Burbank and Pixar is in Northern California.) Once we were all in agreement, a final copy of the script was sent to Studio Ghibli, where it was enthusiastically approved. John also participated in many other aspects of the dub (casting, etc.) that we were not integrally involved with.

Back to Contents

My Neighbor Totoro

Q: Are you also working on an upcoming release of "My Neighbor Totoro"? Do you know if Disney intends to use the existing dub of the film, or re-dub it as they did with other Ghibli movies?

A: We are presently working on a new version of "My Neighbor Totoro."

Back to Contents

Howl's Moving Castle

Q: "Howl's Moving Castle" is currently in production for a July 2004 release in Japan. Is there any word about whether Disney will be releasing an English language version of it in the US after that?

A: Disney would like to release it in the US. They are currently negotiating for the rights.

Back to Contents


Q: What was your reaction when you found out your adaptation had won an Oscar?

A: We were on cloud nine! We weren't sure "Spirited Away" had a chance, since Oscars often seem to go to whichever studio spends the most on its marketing campaign, and "Spirited Away" was up against some BIG releases. We feel extremely lucky that we were able to be a part of bringing such a great film to the US.

Q: Word is that you are currently working with PIXAR animation studios on an upcoming project. Along with the Studio Ghibli dubs, is there anything else we can look forward from you two in the near future?

A: We were hired by Pixar to write a treatment for a feature-length film, but that's all we can say about it-Pixar has sworn us to secrecy. We sold a script to Miramax called "This is Not a Toy," which is about a toy that comes to life and runs for president. We're hoping that will get made soon.

Q: I was wondering if anything odd or funny that is worth mentioning occurred during the English adaptations of the Studio Ghibli movies you worked on?

A: The oddest thing about working on all these adaptations is how much fun it has been. All of the directors and execs we've worked with at Disney, Pixar, and Studio Ghibli have been extremely talented, intelligent, and a joy to work with.

Q: Also, how long did it approximately take to finish each of the English adaptations?

A: We were given three weeks to write the script for "Spirited Away" and about two weeks each for Porco, Whisper, and Nausicaa.

Q: Recently, the United States animation market has been quick to decide that traditional animation is not profitable, and has dropped the pencils in favor of computer workstations. What is your opinion on traditional animation?

A: We love hand-drawn animation. We found both "Spirited Away" and "Porco Rosso" to be particularly awe-inspiring when seen on the big screen.

But the most important element is story. If the story is good, audiences won't care whether the movie is hand-drawn, computer-animated, claymation, or done with hand-held Barbie dolls.

Q: Who has been the most interesting, fun, and well, good looking US director you have worked with on one of the English dub projects?

Tony Bancroft

A: Well, besides John Lasseter, Kirk Wise and Rick Dempsey, ah... yeah of course, it has to be Tony Bancroft.

[Blue Ribbon Icon] This page is brought to you by Team Ghiblink.