Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away, is considered not only to be Miyazaki’s finest work, but it is also considered to be one of the best films of all time and even won “Best Animated Feature Film” at the 75th Annual Academy Awards (Details). The film revolves around a young heroine named Chihiro, who is moving to the countryside with her parents. Initially, Chihiro is very sullen and afraid of relocating because she does not know anyone or is familiar with her environment. During their trip the trio stop and decide to visit an amusement park that is nearby. Upon entering, her parents decide to eat, despite the owner not being present at the food stand. While her parents stuff themselves with food, Chihiro decides to explore the park, instead. During her exploration, she befriends Haku, a friendly dragon who disguises itself as a boy, and the two of them become inseparable friends by the film’s conclusion. Throughout her adventure, Chihiro meets and befriends many people. Some are bad, like Yubaba, a witch that takes away Chihiro’s name and has Haku under her control. But some are good, like Zeniba, Yubaba’s nicer twin sister, and Haku.
During the English dubbing process, changes to the script had to be made so that the film would appeal to the average American consumer’s taste. For example, people have pointed out that the English version creates a more romantic dynamic between Chihiro and Haku, while the Japanese version does not. In addition, the conclusion of the English dubbed version and the Japanese send out two different concluding messages. While the Japanese version has Chihiro sit in silence because she cannot recollect her memories of the adventure after exiting the amusement park, the English version acknowledges Chihiro’s journey and ends with her reassuring her parents of their new home.
The modification of Miyazaki’s film does two things. 1. It undermines Miyazaki’s creativity and control over his work. There is a famous story that Miyazaki sent a traditional samurai sword to Disney with the inscription “No cuts.” This goes to show how much effort and time Miyazaki spends drawing his film by hand, but it also demonstrates how Western filmmakers change foreign films to meet their audience’s demands. 2. This change distorts the film’s message and internal growth. Of course, interpretation is different and subjective; however, through Chihiro’s silence at the film’s end, Miyazaki was suggesting that an individual’s maturation process happens without them knowing. When a person overcomes an adversity, they grow and develop as a person, and as Zeniba says, “You can’t never really forget something, you just can’t recall it,” (Away).
Zeniba’s words of wisdom ties in very well with the class’ theme of migrant archives, and I felt it especially rang true with GB Tran’s quote in his graphic novel Vietnamerica, “A man without history is a tree without roots.” While the American studio’s intentions were good, it could not be completely true to its source because of the consumer demands, and consequently, pieces were moved around the dubbing process. Thus, a dubbing without prior knowledge of that original’s roots is bound to distort the real meaning of the artwork.
This YouTube video showcases the troubles and the changes the American actors went through while dubbing Miyazaki’s masterpiece. Here, the voice actors talk about the restraints placed on them due to the lack of freedom the Japanese animation presented. Unlike American feature films, the actors did not record their voice beforehand; instead, they had to do a voice over on the completed Japanese version. This was challenging because the actors would have to be notified when they would speak, when they would stop, and when they would react.
Pam Coats, the Vice President of Creative Affairs, says, “I think our number one priority was protecting the intent of Miyazaki,” (Spirited 4:53-4:58). This is a very admirable mindset when approaching a piece of work that is as critically acclaimed as Spirited Away. However, with all this in mind, if possible, play the video from 3:56 mark to the 4:08 mark. For the most part, the problem with dubbing lies within its destructive ability to distort; however, in this case we see a white voice actor mimicking a stereotypical Japanese English accent. What is even worse is that before they showed the voice actor, a production member called it, “very funny.” I am not sure as to what their intent was in having a white man fake an accent, but it does not necessarily portray the studio in a positive light. This demonstrates how American studios can unknowingly be ignorant of Asian cultures, and in cases like this, it hurts the the integrity of Miyazaki’s work. If they were going to humor the audience with an stereotypical accent, could they really not afford an actual Japanese person? This sort of whitewashing is prevalent everywhere.
This is not say that the dubbed version was bad, in fact, it was very good; however, there are messages and actions that should be carried out by a native body. It is important to stay true to the primary source; however, something always gets lost in translation.
No one ever thought an Asian filmmaker would be able to win “Best Animated Feature Film” in a heavily white-central industry, but Miyazaki did, and this has helped in popularizing Japanese animation in Western culture. His influence can be seen everywhere, including Nickelodeon’s popular show Avatar: The Last Airbender.
“A small child sinks deeper into her seat/ into her shame/ into her difference/ into their laughter / into their stares /into their sneers,” (REVN 147-148)
I thought this quote wrapped up the archive project very well. As second Asian-Americans we are sometimes expected to be “white,” almost as if that is automatically better than being Asian. Although the U.S version of Spirited Away was a success, the fact that it under went changes to fit the American audience is still bothersome. From Binh in Book of Salt to Anil in Anil’s Ghost, Asians had to morph their identity in order to fit in Western culture, whether they liked it or not. Only when we begin to act white are we accepted by the mainstream media. They love us, as long as we are not ourselves.
“Details about Miyazaki // Hayao Miyazaki // Nausicaa.net.” Details about Miyazaki // Hayao Miyazaki // Nausicaa.net. Team Ghiblink, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
(Re)Collecting the Vietnam War. Vol 6, Issue 2. Fall/Winter, 2015. 147-148.
“Spirited Away – Behind the Microphone.” YouTube. Disney. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.
Spirited Away. By Hayao Miyazaki. Ghibli, 2001. Online.
Tran, GB, illustrated by GB Tran. Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey. Villard Books, 2010.