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The Dubs of Studio Ghibli

For my first entry on LiveJournal, I’m going to do an entry on the works of Studio Ghibli. No, you won’t find synopsises on the movies or evaluation (there’s plenty of other sites for that). What I am going to concentrate on are the dubs of the Studio Ghibli movies.

Yep, you heard me right. Unlike some Anime fans, who would rather stick to subtitles, I prefer watching dubs in my native language. Especially when they’re done right. The good news about the Studio Ghibli movies is that they have top-quality dub tracks, particularly the ones released by Disney. Purists love to diss the Disney-Ghibli dubs for whatever reason, but I think all of them are very well done.  Perfect?  No, but they’re still excellent and worth watching. I do not make any efforts to compare them to the Japanese tracks in any way because I believe they should be appreciated independently.

I am not biased just for Disney dubs, however, and I don’t hesitate to admit when I have seen a dub that rubs me the wrong way. But nearly everyone of these dubs are always a pleasure to listen to. There are even two non-Disney Ghibli dubs that I admit to liking, but more on that below. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the Disney dubs.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
is highlighted by Patrick Stewart’s dead on portrayal of Lord Yupa, and Alison Lohman does a commendable job as the title character. The supporting cast is equally good -- particularly Uma Thurman as the icy Kushanan, Chris Sarandon as her henchman Kurotowa, and Mark Hamill in a small cameo as the Mayor of Pejite (he has a bigger, and arguably juicier, role in Laputa, but more on that below). Shia LeBeouf’s Asbel is the only weak link. He comes across as a little too monotone for at least his first scenes.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky
is Cloris Leachman and Mark Hamill’s show all the way; their spot-on performances as Dola and Muska give the Japanese VAs a run for their yen. The supporting cast is similarly entertaining, especially the pirates, Uncle Pom, and Jim Cummings as the General. Leads James van Der Beek and Anna Paquin are little too mature-sounding (albeit decent overall), and the ADR script chattier than it has to be, but these are minor shortcomings of an otherwise entertaining, zesty dub. The other highlight (and point of interest) is the new score provided by original composer Joe Hisaishi--it’s gorgeous.

My Neighbor Totoro
is noteworthy for casting two real-life sisters as Satsuki and Mei--Dakota and Elle Fanning. Both do admirable jobs, although Elle is more juicy (partially because her character is hyperactive to begin with). Props should also go to Tim Daly as the girls’ father and Lea Salonga as their mother. The supporting cast is spot-on, especially Pat Carroll and Frank Welker. The redubbed OP song is a little too gung-ho sounding, but that’s the only weakness.

Kiki’s Delivery Service
should really be subtitled “Kiki and Jiji’s Delivery Service” because Phil Hartman as our heroine’s pet black cat steals the show here. He has great chemistry with lead Kirsten Dunst, who really brings Kiki to life with her enthusiasm and sprightliness. The rest of the cast is similarly enjoyable. There are a few embellishments to the musical score (which are less grand than Hisaishi’s ambitious and arguably superior reworking of his score for Laputa) and extra lines, but they’re nothing to scoff over.

I admit to being skeptical about Michael Keaton as Porco Rosso, but he quickly put my fears to rest. His dry, deadpan delivery works in favor of the character’s cynical, melancholy nature. Cary Elwes is gallantly boastful and amusing as rival Donald Curtis, and the rest of the cast is similarly good, but the real star of the dub is Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who brings spunkiness and likeability to her part as Fio. Her chemistry with Keaton is what gives the dub its heart.

Pom Poko
was obviously a nightmare to translate since this movie is so heavily steeped in culture, but the scriptwriters do a very commendable job of striving the line between faithfulness and reinterpretations where necessary. Other than Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the voice cast consist mostly of veteran vocal performers, notably Clancy Brown, Tress MacNeille, and John DiMaggio. All do credible jobs, although there aren’t any performances that really stand out.

Whisper of the Heart
is done beautifully; the leads Brittany Snow and David Gallagher are spot-on, and their classmates are equally convincing. Cary Elwes and Howard Gould steal the show this time around as the charismatic Baron and kindly shopkeeper Mr. Nishi, respectively. Special praise, too, goes to the script adaptation, particularly in the handling of Shizuku’s “Country Road” song--it’s so seamless, you’d swear that it was meant to be in English.

Princess Mononoke
is highlighted by Neil Gaiman’s impeccable adaptation--it was, and still is, an impressive achievement in Anime dub scriptwriting. The cast chosen to speak his adaptation are similarly skillful; Billy Crudup is fantastic as Ashitaka, as are Minnie Driver as Lady Eboshi, and especially Keith David in two roles. Claire Danes’ San is good during her angry scenes and awkwardness around Ashitaka, although she falters in some other moments. I must be in the minority here, but I liked Billy Bob Thornton as Jigo; I thought he brought a foreign quality to his cynical character.

My Neighbors the Yamadas
is weaker than the ones on this list, partially because the translation isn’t as smooth as it could have been--it concentrates too much on staying true to the Japanese humor rather than making it comprehensible for audiences. Still, the casting is spot-on, with James Belushi and Molly Shannon working chemistry and Tress MacNeille getting all the best lines as Grandma.

Spirited Away
is undoubtedly done well, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best of the Disney-Ghibli dubs; given that I like all of them, I’d rather say it’s just another good one. Daveigh Chase is a little too shrill as Chihiro (although this works in her character’s favor), but the rest of the cast makes up for that--Suzanne Pleshette as Yubaba and Zeniba is especially outstanding.

The Cat Returns
is a disappointing entry to the Ghibli canon, although I don’t have much complaints about the dubbing--it’s well done, especially Cary Elwes as the charismatic Baron, although Tim Curry’s Cat King is a little off-putting. Probably because of the movie, this is actually one of my least favorite Ghibli dubs to listen to--although keep in mind that it is still good.

Howl’s Moving Castle
is very well done--with great performances from everyone involved, including Christian Bale as Howl to Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons as Sophie. Of course, there is a scene-stealer, and that is Billy Crystal, who scorches every scene he’s in as Calcifer (hey, he’s hot). Crispin Freeman’s cameo at the end of the film is a nice touch as well.

Of course, I have heard other Ghibli dubs that Disney didn’t do, here’s my thoughts:

There are two different dubs of The Castle of Cagliostro--one of them was done by Carl Macek and his infamous company, Streamline Pictures. The other was done by AniMaze, inc. (best known for stuff like Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star), and this was the version I saw. The casting and the performances are spot on, although I do take issue with the inclusion of extra profanity--it’s distracting and pointless.

There was also a previous dub of Nausicaa that I have never seen, but it was the one that Miyazaki and Ghibli fans detested. Dubbed back in the mid 1980’s, this edition, christened “Warriors of the Wind” eliminated a quarter of the two-hour feature and rewrote the entire story, giving the characters new names. None of the Disney dubs are guilty of the sins that this early dub committed, thanks to a tight agreement where the movies cannot be cut.

Macek and Streamline had nothing to do with the first dub of Laputa; it was produced by an independent studio hired on the cheap by Tokuma. There are a group of naysayers who have been overly critical of the Disney dub, saying it pales in comparison to this previous dub. Well, after sitting through a brief sample of this previous dub, I was completely baffled at how anyone could claim that it is a “true translation”--the voices I heard were disappointingly flat and lifeless (Muska’s boring, newscaster-like voice immediately put me off --this guy is better than Mark Hamill? Give me a break--, while Pazu and Sheeta’s girlish-sounding were not much better), and the script, in addition, comes across as choppy and unnatural-sounding. The only advantage this older dub has over the Disney dub is that it doesn’t have the sometimes extraneous additional lines (as I read from a transcription of the older dub from a source that shall name anonymous), but otherwise, I’d rather hear the current English version. It’s lightyears above this earlier dub in terms of acting and writing, and definitely runs circles around the aforementioned Warriors of the Wind.

I will say that I did like Macek’s dub of My Neighbor Totoro; it probably may have been his finest hour ever. The performances are above average, although the script sometimes doesn’t sound as smooth. There are those who say that this older dub outclasses Disney’s, but I have no preference. Ether dub is perfectly fine.

Grave of the Fireflies
was done by Central Park Media; for the most part it’s a listenable effort--Seita is voiced well, and so is his Aunt, and other roles are turned in by fellow Anime voiceovers Dan Green, Veronica Taylor, and Crispin Freeman. Setsuko is the only voice that doesn‘t fare so well; she sounds too much like a woman pretending to be a young girl, and as such comes across as unconvincing at times.


I don’t know what the pre-Disney Kiki or Porco Rosso dubs sound like, so I can't make any comments.

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Jon Turner

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