Saturday, March 13, 2004


It's time for anime-niacs!

So, when I was a lad, in those halcyon days of half-hour toy commercials, I used to watch GI Joe and the Transformers damn near religiously. But even then, one of my big complaints was that each episode would be slathered with the same few minutes of music from the studio library, just slapped in willy-nilly, apparently with the thought that if the music stopped--if, ghod forbid, it was just dialogue and SFX, even for a second, the kids would switch over to something--GAK!--educational.

I hadn't thought about that in years, but it occurred to me last night, as I was watching Disney's American DVD release of Hayao Miyazaki's legendary Japanese anime, Laputa, renamed Castle In The Sky.

Laputa has been one of my all time favorite movies--and that's all movies, not just anime--since I saw an untranslated copy on video in 1987. Even untranslated, I was able to pick up the basic plot, and what really hooked me was the artistry of the filmmaking. If you've never seen a Miyazaki film, you owe it to yourself. No one, on either side of the Pacific, is capable of such fluid animation and visual storytelling. Just exercise caution if you go for this one.

It's not the title change that turned me off; Laputa has an unsavory connotation in Spanish--literally translated, it means the whore, and let's face it, there would have been no end of false advertising lawsuits with that.

When Disney announced their deal to release Miyazaki's films over here, part of the deal was--and a lot of anime fans breathed a sigh of relief at this--that not one frame could be touched. Any blood or gore, or nudity (Not that I recall any of that in any of Miyazaki's films)--that had to stay.

Apparently that didn't extend to the soundtrack.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie takes place early on. Pazu, the young boy, wakes up in the morning and climbs up to the top of his small house. He releases his pet pigeons for some early morning exercise, then picks up his trumpet and plays a simple, happy tune, as the camera follows the pigeons flying around the vast green valley. That's all, just one trumpet, some wind, and flapping wings

In its original form, Laputa is notable for its effective use of silence; there are vast wodges with no music and only minimal dialogue. These sequences are surprisingly effective, helping give a sense of scale to the proceedings. Jo Hisaishi's music, by contrast, is low-key and intimate, helping ground us in reality, while taking care not to overwhelm the surprisingly naturalistic sound effects.

For the American release, Hisaishi was contracted to rerecord the score in a more "Western" style, which apparently means, "slather music all over everything." The spare, simple tunes, have been redone in a Jerry Goldsmith-style full orchestral arrangement. The scene I mentioned before, with the trumpet, now has a full horn section, backed up with strings and percussion. The effectiveness of the scene, its simplicity, is lost.

Now, one of the things that stops me from watching more anime is the utter hamhandedness with which the dubbing is handled. Think of the mouthfuls the voice actors would have to spit out on Speed Racer; "SpeedIthinkyouaregoingtowinthisracebecauseyouarethefastestandwillreachthefinishlinefirst!" I'm sorry to say that, with a few exceptions, it hasn't gotten any better. Too often, the dubbing studios rely on poorly-written translations provided by the Japanese producers, whose grasp of english is spotty at best. The translation may be technically accurate, but you end up with a lot of, "what is that? I think it is a robot? Should we touch it? No, we must not touch it. Let us go over here now. Yes, we are walking over here." Basically, the only thing separating them from "all your base are belong to us" is that the grammar is slightly more accurate.

Here, though, it's constant chatter. Especially from the Sky Pirates, the ostensibly wacky comic relief characters, whose inane banter grates through every scene they're in.

The leads are just as bad. James Van Der Beek--Dawson himself--isn't completely useless as the male protagonist Pazu, but as Sheeta, the female lead, Anna Paquin speaks in some kind of odd pseudo-British accent that's somewhere between Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala, and that fake British girl from the final season of Buffy.

The only bright spot, voice wise, is Cloris Leachman as Dola, mother and leader of the Sky Pirates. Dola is the one character who can go over-the-top, and Leachman tears into her part with unbridled glee. But this only works if everyone else plays it straight, and Leachman's performance is diluted by Dawson's Dawsoning, Anna's dialect problems, and the tourette's of the sky pirates.

So this version is loud, cartoony, and all but unwatchable. About halfway through I switched over to the original Japanese soundtrack, and never looked back. It's nice to have this movie on DVD, but I think I'll go back to my bootleg copy of the previous english dub, released by Streamline Studios in 1989.

Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?