The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, December 8, 1999 -11
Th Baltimore Sun
When Disney acquired the
American distribution rights to
Hayao Miyazaki's animated film,
incess Mononoke," it seemed the
studio had a guaranteed hit on its
hands. An epic adventure set in feu-
dal Japan, "Mononoke" (pronounced
moh-nob-noh-keh) was a huge hit in
its home market.
Viewers would line up around the
block to see the film and then get
back in line to see it again. "Princess
Mononoke" spent eight months in
Japanese theaters, earning more than
W0 million at the box office - an
astonishing feat for a country with
half the population of America and
only one-tenth the movie screens.
"Princess Mononoke" was the
most successful Japanese film ever
made and, until the release of
'Titanic," the overall box office
hamp in Japan. Even better, it had
een written and directed by Japan's
ost gifted animator, a visionary
se work had become familiar to
ericans in the 1990s through the
ear.twarming and breathtakingly
eautiful children's films "My
eighbor Totoro" and "Kiki's
Trouble was, translating "Princess
onongke" into an American suc-
ess story wouldn't prove as easy as
t fiast seemed.
Set in the Muromachi era (1336-
W), the film depicts a Japan on
he verge of modernity, whose peo-
le are just beginning to realize that
hey :may exert their will on the
world around them. The action starts
when Ashitaka, the prince of a
emote eastern village, incurs a curse
whie protecting his village from a
ampaging boar god.
Hoping to learn what caused the
toar to go mad, he heads west, where
atumbles into a war between Lady
hii, leader of the Tatara "Iron
rown" and its metal works, and the
ods of the forest. In particular,
boshi is bedeviled by the wolf-god
oloro and her human "daughter,"
an. San is a fearsome warrior for
he wolf gods, and the people of iron
fown, believing her possessed, dub
er "Princess Mononoke." (In
apanese, "mononoke" means "an
shitaka, seeking answers,
efriends Eboshi and the people of
ron Town and falls in love with San.
le seeks both peace with the forest
ods and happiness for the people of
ron Town. But the forest gods want
stop Eboshi's townsfolk from min-
sg iron ore for their foundry, while a1
eighboring lord named Asano wantsI
steal Eboshi's ironworks for him-
elf. Worst of all, the Emperor of
s has commanded Eboshi toI
u down the great deer god of the
CBS hacks Kathie
The Wash"ngton Post
CBS has put the torch to one of its
most eagerly anticipated traditions of the
holiday season, the Kathie Lee Gifford
For the past five years, Kathie Lee has
brightened our humdrum little lives with
her treacly confections, "Kathie Lee :..
Looking for Christmas,"' "Kathie Lee:
Home for Christmas,""'Kathie Lee: Just
in Time for Christmas,"' "Kathie Lee:
We Need a Little Christmas"' and -
who can forget? - "Kathie Lee:
Christmas Every Day."'
They made us laugh, they made us
cry, they made us think our own singing
voices weren't so bad after all. They
made us truly thankful for the other 364
days of the year when there were no
Kathie Lee Gifford Christmas specials
And now, it's over.
CBS was trying its best Friday not to
look like the Grinch. "We have the high-
est possible regard for Kathie Lee. It just
didn't work out because of schedules
this year-there's always the possibility
we will do it again,"' said a CBS rep.
Oh sure - give us false hope, you
cruel, cruel network. We know you've
replaced Kathie Lee with Amy Grant.
Her first CBS Christmas special is airing
Saturday night. It's called "A Christmas
to Remember."' Is that a total Kathie Lee
rip-off or what?!
Grant has got that Christian music
thing going, too, but unlike Kathie Lee,
Grant actually dumped her husband,
which is more today, more happening,
more now, more wow - all the things
CBS would like to be - than that
lump thing that Kathie Lee had going.
You think I'm making this up? CBS
so liked the fact that Grant dumped her
hubby that they dumped him, too.
Grant's ex, musician Gary Chapman,
had his show, "Prime Time Country,"'
canceled this year by the CBS-owned
Yup, we should have seen this com:
ing. We should have picked up on the
telltale signs. Last year, for instance,
CBS moved Kathie Lee's special to
Friday at 10 p.m., which is that network's
version of time-slot Siberia and certain-
ly no place for a warm and fuzzy family
hour like Kathie Lee's. And, not surpris-
ingly, into this time-slot hell man')of
Kathie Lee's followers feared to tread,
and the special rendered its smallest
audience in five years.
But it's too late now.
There'll be no glimpses of Kathie
Lee's fabulous home in Vail, Colo., this
Christmas. No home movies of Kathie
Lee as a toddler. No more heavily
coiffed Kathie Lee in an off-the-shoul-
der lame number quizzing her children
on lessons from the Bible.
That's right, no more Cassidy. No
more Cody. No more philandering hus-
band Frank. No more blistering review
the next day by Washington PostTV crit-
ic Tom Shales.
"I do feel sorry for all the little chil-
dren who look forward each year to hav-
ing their parents read my review to them
as they snuggle in their beds on
Christmas Eve,"' said a devastated
Shales, who has gone into seclusion.
And Kathie Lee? She's moving on.
She'll be hitting the Great White Way
starting Tuesday, subbing for Carol
Burnett one night a week in the Stephen
Sondheim revue "Putting It Together"
at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Atta
way, Kathie Lee! Whatta trouper!
San (Princess Mononoke) rides atop Moro the wolf toward battle in Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke."
forest, whose head is reputed to
grant immortality to its owner.
Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"
this isn't. Complex and convoluted,
"Princess Mononoke" offers no easy
answers for Ashitaka, San or Eboshi.
Moreover, much of the film's emo-
tional power derives from the way it
shifts the audience's sympathies
from one character to another with-
out telling the audience which one
has the "right" world view.
But the biggest stumbling block to
bringing "Princess Mononoke" to
America is that the film is so utterly
Japanese. From the intricacies of
samurai-era politics to the mytholo-
gy underlying the film's animal
gods, "Princess Mononoke" is built
on cultural references that may make
immediate sense to Japanese viewers
but are completely foreign to
The challenge for the team that
translated "Princess Mononoke" was
to retain the character and feel of the
original while making the story and
situations accessible to Americans. It
was hard work, make no mistake.
But as Neil Gaiman, who wrote the
English adaptation of the script,
points out, there was also a time
when nobody thought Americans
would like sushi, either.
Dubbing animation into English
involves more than merely finding
equivalents for foreign words. In
order to be convincing, the dialogue
must match the opening and shutting
of the characters' mouths - a factor
animators call the "flap count."
"It really is a problem," says
Gaiman. "In that, I was enormously
aided by the brilliant efforts of Mr.
Jack Fletcher, who was the voice
"I gave Jack a script, but Jack got
the flaps to fit. Jack would take a
line, work it over in the studio, and
all of a sudden, my line, on which the
flaps would almost have fit, had now
become a line on which the flaps fit
For Gaiman, the film's two songs
were particularly difficult. "I've said,
and not entirely in jest, that I proba-
bly spent as much time translating
the two songs in 'Mononoke' as I did
on the entire third draft of the
script," says Gaiman. "You're trans-
lating them with a set of problems
that you really don't have in the
Specifically, Gaiman was forbid-
den to alter or add to the words
Miyazaki had written. But because
of syllabic differences between the
two languages, there was no way a
literal translation of the lyrics would
fit the music.
Gaiman cites "The Tatara Women's
Song" as an example. This is a work
song, sung by the women who pump
the bellows in Iron Town In
Japanese, its eight-note opening
goes, "Hitotsu futatsu-u wa ''- a lyric
that, in English, translates simply as
"Unfortunately, if you try and
translate that literally, you have an
awful lot of syllables left over," says
Gaiman. "So to get the same effect
and to communicate the sense of the
thing, the translation I came up with
was, 'One step and two-oo steps and
push.' It gets across the idea that, yes,
they're working the bellows."
Getting to that version of the lyric
involved negotiation between
Gaiman and the representatives of
Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. "There was
a point where it got down to, 'OK, if
I lose this word that you really hate,
can I have this word that you didn't
like very much?"' recalls Gaiman,
Ultimately, Gaiman was able to
convince Studio Ghibli that some
changes in the dialogue would make
the film more understandable for
At other points, Gaiman slipped
additional information into the dia-
logue so English-speaking viewers
would have a better understanding of
the film's action and characters. One
example comes with the deer god
shishikami, who in the dubbed ver-
sion is called the Spirit of the Forest.
To a Japanese, raised on folk tales
of spirits who take on human form,
the notion that shishikami would
have a humanlike face seems fairly
unremarkable. But in America,
where the whole notion of animal
gods takes some effort to accept, the
first appearance of the Spirit of the
Forest evoked rather a different reac-
"What we were finding was that
when people would finally see this
great spirit, they'd laugh," says
Gaiman. "We'd get a very inappro-
priate laugh, because of the face.
"I did two things on that. The first
thing was to change the name from
'deer god' to 'spirit of the forest.'
Because if you expect a deer god,
you expect this giant deer, and what
you see is not a deer And the second
thing I did was sneak one piece of
information in early on, when (one
character) says, 'They say there's this
thing, and he has a human face.'
"At that point, when you actually
get to see him, you see this weird,
flat, beautiful face, and you know
what Miyazaki was doing. And it
doesn't get the laugh."
Perhaps the most telling difference
between Miyazaki's story-telling and
that of other animators has to do with
the way nature is depicted.
Miyazaki's verdant landscapes are
in many ways the axis on which the
film turns. There's a lush, untamed
beauty to the forest sequences that
makes it easy to sympathize with San
and the animal spirits, and there's an
ugliness to the deforested land
around Iron Town that leaves the
viewer wondering if Eboshi's way
really is the right path for mankind.
Miyazaki devotes far more of
"Princess Mononoke" to landscapes
than one would expect from an ani-
mated film. This focus almost makes
the natural world as much a character
in the film as the gods and people.
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