An Editorial by William C. Raymer, Editor,
The views and opinions expressed in this article
are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views and
opinions of The Walt Disney Company, Studio Ghibli Co. Ltd., Tokuma
Shoten Communications, Inc., OnlineGhibli.com, Nausicaa.net, their
affiliates, parents, or their employees.
Prologue: A "Delivery" is Made
On September 1st, 1998, Walt Disney Home
Video released an animated film that was not made by Disney. It
was made by a Japanese studio with an Italian name: Studio Ghibli.
The film was Kiki's Delivery Service,
or "Majo no takkyubin" (literally translating to Witch's Delivery
Service) in the original Japanese. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and
originally released in Japan some nine years earlier, this film would
introduce many a fan of Disney (such as your humble author) to the works
of Miyazaki-sensei and his studio.
Over the following ten years, the alliance of
Disney and Ghibli would co-produce seven more films and release the
majority of those films to the world at large. But the history of this
deal is largely forgotten by all but the most hardcore anime
fanatic. That is where this article comes in.
Act One: The Origin of the D-T Deal
The deal between Disney and Ghibli's
then-parent company, Tokuma Shoten Communications, goes back to the
mid-1980s, when a horribly-edited and dubbed version of Hayao Miyazaki's
1984 classic Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind ("Kaze no
tani no Naushika") was released in the United States by B-movie producer
New World Pictures.
Re-titled Warriors of the Wind,
this some-would-say-"bastardized" version of Nausicaa
would make its way back to Japan. After Miyazaki saw it, he immediately
resolved to never again allow foreign companies access to his body of
However, by 1994, this view of
"unscrupulous" American production companies began to lighten. In that
year, Troma Pictures-famous for horror and B-movie schlock like the
"Toxic Avenger" series-did an English-dubbed version of 1988's My
Neighbor Totoro ("Tonari no Totoro") that stuck
largely to the
original intent of the film. This English dub would be released on video
cassette (and later DVD) by 20th Century Fox.
Then, on July 23rd, 1996,
The Walt Disney Company would announce an historic agreement with the
Tokuma Group. Under the deal, Disney would assume the duties of North
American distributor of eight of the nine Studio Ghibli films that were
then in existence: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,
Laputa: Castle in the Sky ("Tenkū no shiro: Rapyuta"),
My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service,
Only Yesterday ("Omohide Poro Poro," lit. "Memories Like
Falling Rain Drops"), Porco Rosso ("Kurenai no Buta,"
lit. "The Crimson Pig"), Pom Poko ("Heisei Tanuki Gassen
Pompoko," lit. "Heisei-Era Raccoon Dog War Pom Poko"), and Whisper
of the Heart ("Mimi wo Sumaseba," lit. "If You Listen Closely").
A little-recognized provision of the
deal said that in addition to the eight Ghibli titles listed above,
Disney would also assume the duties of global distributor of at least
three films produced by another then-Tokuma subsidiary, Daiei Co. Ltd.
(now known as Kadokawa Herald Pictures): Opium Wars,
Gamera 2: Attack of Legion and Shall We Dance?
(The latter of the three was eventually remade for the US by Disney
subsidiary Touchstone, starring Richard Gere.)
In addition to their distribution
duties, Disney would provide 10% financial support to the production of
all subsequent Studio Ghibli films in exchange for the global
theatrical, television broadcast and home video rights to those films.
The following is a English translation
of the original announcement from Studio Ghibli that used to reside on
Ghibli's now-defunct English language web page (It has been edited here
due to grammar and spelling considerations):
On the alliance of Disney and Tokuma Group
As reported in the
media, the Tokuma Group, consisting of Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co.,
Ltd., STUDIO GHIBLI Co., Ltd. and DAIEI Co., Ltd., will form an alliance
with The Walt Disney Studios for the international distribution of its
motion pictures and video games. They have also agreed to expand their
cooperation in the development of multimedia in the future.
As the first step in this direction, The Walt Disney Studios
will distribute worldwide the motion pictures and video games of the
Tokuma Group. The titles to be distributed are:
"MONONOKE-HIME" (Princess Mononoke), directed by Hayao Miyazaki, a
new animation feature to be released in the summer of 1997.
from STUDIO GHIBLI:
"Shall We Dance?" produced by DAIEI Co., Ltd.
With Disney's commitment to maintaining the
quality of the original titles, there will be no changes to music and
sequences in foreign language versions. It is our great pleasure to be
able to offer superior standards while making available for the
enjoyment of audiences outside Japan these very high quality works.
One of the key provisions of the deal
was that Disney could not edit content from the films. Here's an excerpt
from a Team Ghiblink (owners of Nausicaa.net, a leading Ghibli fan
site)presentation flyer distributed at the 2001 "SakuraCon" anime
convention on that subject:
Will Disney change these films in any way?
Not without Studio Ghibli's consent.
Disney can not cut even one second from the films, according to the
contract. In the English dubbed "Kiki," the opening and ending songs
were changed to appeal to a young, English-speaking audience, and there
were some other changes in music, but nothing was cut or drastically
changed from the original. As mentioned above, the soundtrack to
"Castle in the Sky" will be completely re-scored by the original
composer for greater appeal to an audience spoiled by surround sound.
Allegedly, a highly-placed Ghibli
employee (possibly even then-chief producer Toshio Suzuki) sent an
authentic katana sword to Miramax Films co-founder Harvey
Weinstein, who was helping to oversee the English dubbing of
Princess Mononoke ("Mononoke-hime"). Supposedly included with
the katana was a simple two-word message: "No cuts."
Whether true or not, this story shows
how serious Studio Ghibli was in wanting to avoid a repeat of the
Warriors of the Wind incident.
Act Two: The "Hot Wind"
Blows To America
Almost directly upon the announcement
of what would become known as the D-T (or Disney-Tokuma)
Deal, work began on the first film to be released to the United States
under the deal: Kiki's Delivery Service.
Kiki would feature an
"A-list" voice cast including Kirsten Dunst (fresh off the hit fantasy
film Jumanji) as Kiki, Phil Hartman (an alumni of
Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons)-as Jiji,
Janene Garofalo (from the romantic comedy The Truth About Cats and
Dogs) as Ursula, and other talent such as Hollywood legend
Debbie Reynolds (Singin' In The Rain) and Matthew Lawrence
(who had just joined the cast of the ABC sitcom Boy Meets World
at the time).
Unfortunately, just four months before
the US release of Kiki, Phil Hartman was killed in a
murder-suicide at the age of 50. The US dub of Kiki's Delivery
Service (and the Dreamworks action comedy Small Soldiers,
which also co-starred Hartman and Kirsten Dunst) both featured
dedications to Phil Hartman.
Interestingly, like Castle in the
Sky would later be renamed for DVD release, Spanish-dubbed
versions of Kiki's Delivery Service would be renamed due
to a word's negative connotations in Spanish. In this case, Kiki
was renamed "Nicky la aprendiz de bruja" (Nicky the Apprentice
Witch) in Spanish-speaking territories due to a phonetically-similar
word to "Kiki" having sexual connotations in Castilian Spanish.
trailer on the VHS of Kiki's Delivery Service revealed
that the next film which was to be released by Disney in America would
be Castle in the Sky
("Laputa" was removed from the title in America due to the word's
negative connotations in Spanish, the most spoken non-English language
in America. The word remained in the film's dialog.) . The film was
intended to be released to theaters in late 1999 or early 2000, but was
canceled due to the underwhelming box office gross for Princess
One of the most recognized facets of
the plans for Castle's American release was a
top-to-bottom re-recording of the film's score. Original composer Joe
Hisaishi traveled to Seattle, Washington in 1999 to record the enhanced
score with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
According to Hisaishi's official
website, this was done to make the film more accessible to North
American audiences that were "spoiled by surround sound," in the words
of the afore-mentioned SakuraCon presentation.
Various mitigating factors pushed
Castle's release from the planned 1999 date to 2003.
At about this same time, Disney
contributed financial support to Ghibli's latest film: My
Neighbors, The Yamadas ("Hōhokekyo
Tonari no Yamada-kun"), directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata.
But, in 2001, Ghibli's most profitable
film to date would take the world by storm.
Act Three: Getting "Spirited Away"-Ghibli
Takes Over the World
Upon its release in Japan on July 20,
2001, Spirited Away ("Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi," lit.
"The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro") became a force to be reckoned
with, becoming the highest-grossing film in the history of the Japanese
motion picture industry.
When Disney began to make an
English-language version, the Mouse House had everything going for it.
For example, the dubbing would be
supervised by executive producer John Lassiter of CGI production house PIXAR Animation Studios, the creators of Toy Story and
A Bug's Life. Lassiter had actually been a friend of Hayao
Miyazaki for nearly 20 years by this point.
Another example was the high quality of
behind-the scenes talent. Kirk Wise, the director of the English dub,
was a writer-director of several animated films made during the
so-called "Disney Renaissance" of the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s.
Donald W. Ernst, the producer of the English dub, had also produced
Aladdin, one of the most famous films of the Disney
This high quality would extend to the
people who would voice the characters:
Daveigh Chase, who at the time was
also voicing the heroine in Disney's Lilo & Stitch, would
Jason Marsden, who had voiced Max
Goof-the son of classic Disney character Goofy-since 1995, would play
Suzanne Pleshette, who was famous for
her role in the 1970s Bob Newhart Show, would play the
dual role of Yubaba and her twin sister, Zeniba.
Susan Egan, known for her roles as the
voice of Megara in Disney's 1997 film Hercules and as the
first actress to play Belle in the Broadway version of Beauty and
the Beast, would play Rin.
David Odgen Stiers, not only well-known
for his role as "Charles Emerson Winchester III" on the TV series
M*A*S*H but for his Disney roles as Cogsworth in Beauty
and the Beast, Radcliffe and his manservant Wiggins in
Pocahontas, the Archdeacon in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
and Dr. Jumba Jookiba in Lilo & Stitch, would play Kamaji,
the boiler man.
In order to remain true to the spirit
of the film, as was John Lassiter's promise to his friend Miyazaki,
Disney maintained a close dialog with Studio Ghibli. This dialog would
get Disney out of many a tight spot.
Two of the most known problems
encountered by Disney in translating Spirited Away were
related to a lack of understanding Japanese culture. For example, a set
of hand motions called "Engacho" between Chihiro and Kamaji confused the
staff at Disney. But, as English version co-writer Cindy Hewitt remarked
in an interview for the Spirited Away DVD, Ghibli
explained that "Engacho" was the Japanese equivalent to giving someone a
cootie shot in the West.
Another example is the "Golden Seal."
In the film, Chihiro is asked to return a golden seal to its owner after
it was stolen by Haku under orders of Yubaba. As the original Ghibli-created
translation of the script omitted the word "golden," the team at Disney
evidentially believed that "seal," in this case, referred to the animal.
If you'll remember, Haku spits out a
black glob after being given the medicine Chihiro got from a river
spirit earlier in the film. The blob melted to reveal a golden device
with the head of a frog designed into it and a creature resembling a
seal. The Disney staff thought that Chihiro was supposed to retrieve the
But, as scholars of Japanese culture
know, a seal (the golden, frog-headed device) is how people in medieval
times signed their names to important documents-dip the device into ink
or wax, press the device to the document and eureka! As a result of
this new knowledge, the writers added "golden" to the dialog about the
seal to avoid any further confusion.
The completed English-dubbed version of
Spirited Away made its debut at the Toronto International
Film Festival in 2002. It then was released to various countries around
the world, winning awards from many prestigious film festivals. One of
these was its historic tie for the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear
Then, in 2003, came another historic
awards win: Spirited Away became the first film of
non-American origin to win a major Academy Award by winning the
second-ever-awarded Best Animated Feature Film Oscar. To commemorate the
Oscar win, Ghibli created an advertisement in which Chihiro is depicted
as holding an Oscar statuette made to look like No-Face (Kao-nashi), one
of the other main characters from the film.
Another commemoration of the Oscar win
was a "thank-you card" by Ghibli to John Lassiter in the form of
Thank You, Mr. Lassiter ("Lassiter-san, Arigato"), a
Japanese-only documentary on the reinterpretation of Spirited Away
for non-Japanese audiences.
In the aftermath of Spirited Away's
Oscar win, Disney released three Ghibli films to DVD: Kiki's
Delivery Service, the long-delayed Castle in the Sky...
and Spirited Away.
Meanwhile, Disney continued to support Ghibli's latest works: 2002's The Cat Returns ("Neko no
ongaeshi," lit. "The Cat Returns a Favor"), a semi-sequel to
Whisper of the Heart, and 2004's Howl's Moving
Castle ("Hauru no ungoku shiro"), based on the book by British
author Diana Wynne Jones.
When Howl's was released
in America, Ghibli came very close to becoming a two-time Oscar-winner,
but lost out this time to the Dreamworks-distributed claymation film
Wallace and Gromit in "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."
Act Four: Controversies and Delays
The D-T deal, however, does have
exceptions. Not covered in the original D-T deal or subsequent
amendments are some of Ghibli's highest-profile projects.
Grave of the Fireflies ("Hotaru
no Haka"), released on a double bill with My Neighbor Totoro
in 1988, was produced not by Tokuma, but in conjunction with Shinchosha,
a Tokuma rival, who published the book on which the film was based.
Furthermore, Grave's US rights were already owned by
Central Park Media, who released a multi-regions DVD.
I Can Hear the Sea ("Umi
ga Kikoeru," also known by the literal translation of its Japanese
title, Ocean Waves), was also excluded from the deal, as
the film was produced for Japanese television.
Also not covered under the D-T deal are
the many short films released by Ghibli over the years including the
"Ghiblies" series (a pair of shorts about a fictional version of Studio
Ghibli and its employees' trials and tribulations), and the shorts
produced for the Ghibli Museum ("Mitaka no Mori Jiburi Bijutsukan,"
lit. "Mitaka Forest Ghibli Museum"), which opened in 2004.
Films listed in the D-T deal or
produced under it are not exempt from problems blocking their releases
in the U.S. either.
Tales from Earthsea
("Gedo Senki," lit. "Ged's War History"), based on the "Earthsea" series
by Ursula K. Le Guin, directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro, and
released in Japan in 2007, immediately faced a roadblock to its US
RHI Entertainment (at the time called
Hallmark Entertainment) and the American cable network Sci Fi Channel
purchased the US production rights to the Earthsea series and produced a
2-part miniseries entitled Legend of Earthsea in 2005. Due
to this, any US release of Ghibli's Tales of Earthsea
would be delayed until the RHI/Sci Fi rights expire in 2009.
However, information on the English
voice cast has surfaced, due to an English dub being exhibited in
European markets. Heading the English cast are Mariska Hargitay
(Detective Olivia Benson on the TV series Law & Order: Special
Victims Unit) as "Tenar," Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn/Green
Goblin in the Spider-man films) as "Cob" and Timothy
Dalton (James Bond in The Living Daylights and
Licence To Kill) as "Ged" (also known as "Sparrowhawk").
But, the most complicated situation
blocking a US release of a Ghibli film surrounds the 1991 Ghibli effort
Only Yesterday, directed by Isao Takahata, which was
actually included in the original 1996 version of the D-T deal.
Most Ghibli fans offer two possible
explanations for this.
One is an issue of music licensing. The
theme song for Only Yesterday is a Japanese translation of
the title song from the 1980 Bette Midler film The Rose.
So, as the theory goes, Ghibli and Disney would have to pay a fee to the
music publishers and writers of "The Rose" in order to use it for a US
The other theory is a question of
content. The majority of the film features a flashback to the elementary
school days of Taeko, the film's protagonist, at a time when Taeko
begins to undergo puberty, including her first period.
This theory is blasted by some, since
the topic of menstruation was covered in a late-60s or early-70s
educational film produced by none other than Disney itself.
However, hope was restored for a US
release (in any form) of Only Yesterday, as in January
2006, Disney granted permission for the American version of cable
network Turner Classic Movies to show a subtitled version of Only
Yesterday as part of TCM's salute to the works of Hayao Miyazaki
(in honor of Miyazaki's 65th birthday) and Studio Ghibli as a
Epilogue: The Future
The latest film released by Ghibli,
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea ("Gaku no ue no Ponyo"), was
released in Japan in July of 2008, and as of this writing, is one of the
most popular films in Japan.
Already, Disney has started the ball
rolling on a American version of Ponyo. In conjunction
with Studio Ghibli, Disney hired Oscar-winning producers Frank Marshall
and Kathleen Kennedy, known for producing films for Steven Spielberg,
George Lucas or both, to supervise the US release. In fact, it was
during an interview with George Lucas, who was in Japan to promote the
Japanese release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal
Skull, that producer Toshio Suzuki announced the Marshalls'
With three films yet to be released by
Disney in the United States-Tales from Earthsea,
Only Yesterday and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea,
as-yet-unproduced projects by both Miyazakis in the pipeline and
possible future releases of past Ghibli films on Blu-Ray hi-definition
discs and other high-tech forms of content delivery, the legacy of the
Disney-Tokuma Deal is sure to grow.
William C. Raymer
Yuma, Arizona USA
28 August 2008
The author wishes to thank the members of Team
Ghiblink, owners of Nausicaa.net (http://www.nausicaa.net),
a leading Studio Ghibli fan site, for keeping the original, pre-Wiki,
incarnation of the site open, so he could use the original resources on
the Disney-Tokuma Deal in researching this article. Special thanks to
Lawrence Lin from Team Ghiblink for all his hard work in bringing
knowledge of the works of Miyazaki-sensei and Studio Ghibli to
Additional resources used in the creation of
this article and other entities the author wishes to thank include:
"The Birth Story of Studio Ghibli," a
documentary created in honor of the Japanese release of Princess
Mononoke, which takes a look at the story of Studio Ghibli's
initial creation. This documentary can be found on the Walt Disney
Studios Home Entertainment release of
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind;
"The Art of Spirited Away," a
documentary on the process used in bringing Spirited Away
to the English-speaking world. This documentary can be found on the
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment release of Spirited Away;
"Nippon Television Special," the
behind-the-scenes television special created for the original Japanese
release of Spirited Away. This documentary can be found
on the Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment release of Spirited
news articles printed on the "Nausicaa.net
GhibliWiki" and GhibliWorld (http://www.ghibliworld.com).
Special thanks to the staffs and users of those sites;
and, of course, Paley Wu and the staff of Online
Ghibli for allowing me to add my own knowledge of Ghibli to your quest
for bringing love of these amazing films to the English world.