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.,,, 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 work.


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.


  • "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind"

  • "My Neighbor TOTORO"

  • "Only Yesterday"

  • "Pom Poko"

  • "Laputa : The Castle in the Sky"

  • "Kiki's Delivery Service"

  • "Porco Rosso"

  • "Whisper of the Heart"

"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, 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"[1] 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.



A 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 Mononoke.


 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[2] 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 Renaissance.


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 voice Chihiro.


Jason Marsden, who had voiced Max Goof-the son of classic Disney character Goofy-since 1995, would play Haku.


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 seal-like blob.


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 Award.


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 release.


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 version.


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 whole.



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' involvement.


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 (, 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 the people.


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 Away;


news articles printed on the " GhibliWiki" and GhibliWorld ( 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.


[1]    English translation of the Italian word from which Studio Ghibli got its name.

[2]    Phonetic Japanese pronounciation of the sound of a bird's call.