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The Making of Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" -- Part 2

The Making of Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" -- Part 2

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In our previous installment, Hayao Miyazaki and his staff had decided to take "Spirited Away" on the road, with amazing results. The film tied for Best Picture at the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival, and won top awards at the Japanese Academy Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards. With a strong performance in France, some hoped that Disney would allow "Spirited Away" to play to audiences in the US.

Today, I am pulling a "Jim Hill." What is a "Jim Hill," you ask? Well, apart from being a very informative person, Websters Dictionary defines "Jim Hill" as "The ability to add information to a topic at hand, thereby giving the viewer a chance to learn a few extra items in the process of the article." Don't worry, we will return to our story soon. In the meantime, pour yourself a small bit of sake, pop open a box of Pocky sticks, and read on about the distribution deal that Disney has in place to distribute Hayao Miyazaki's and other Studio Ghibli films.

Hayao Miyazaki has been a bit over-protective of his film's works. According to some people, he does not like to see his film's vistas reduced to a small screen, or to have his film's cut up. It was such a case of the latter than caused him great dismay in the 1980s.

In 1984, Miyazaki released the film "Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind," based on the manga that he wrote and illustrated. The film chronicled a future where a young princess named Nausicaa tries to find a balance between man and nature, in a future where both seem bent on destruction. An American company called New World Pictures took the film and cut out some of the "slower" moments. Adding a dubbed cast, the movie was retitled "Warriors of the Wind," and Princess Nausicaa was now Princess Zandra.

When Miyazaki found out about this, he was horrified. His advice to many was to forget that "Warriors of the Wind" ever existed. The US company's rights to the cut expired in 1995, but still, there are some anime fans out there that can recall having experienced Warriors, and consider it one of the films that steered them in the direction of looking into anime.

Other Ghibli productions were soon released onto the marketplace, but were not subjected to the editing torture of "Naisucaa." In the mid 90s, Twentieth Century Fox gained rights to what is considered Miyazaki's most magical film: "My Neighbor Totoro." With a new dub and redubbed songs, the film chronicles the story of sisters Mei and Satsuke, who move to the country to be near their sick mother. While looking around the untouched countryside, the little girls soon encounter little dust sprites, and the legendary Totoro: a giant creature with tiny ears and an enormous grin, who many consider to be the king of the forest. They also encounter the Catbus, a multi-legged bus shaped like a cat that can go anywhere across the countryside, unseen by the eyes of adults. Fox's distribution of the film was fairly mediocre, but they had succeeded in giving the film it's dignity better than New World did for "Nausicaa."

There was also the film "Grave of the Fireflies," by Miyazaki's friend Isao Takahata. The film dealt with a young boy who has to care for his young sister during the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. Many have considered it to be one of the most important animated films ever made, in that it pulls no punches and is a somber drama. (Stranger still was the fact that the rather somber film played as part of a double feature with "My Neighbor Totoro" when they were released in Japan in 1988.)

In 1996, Walt Disney Studios decided to stretch outside of their marketplace and find other items or films that they could bring to a larger audience. When it came to Japan, they looked at Miyazaki's track record. At the time, Ghibli had several offers for film distribution, but there were some areas that the studio was not willing to compromise on. However, Disney was promising to treat the films with respect. After careful consideration, Disney entered into negotiations with Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, and Tokuma Publishing. The contract gave Disney worldwide distribution rights for theatrical and home video releases of several of Studio Ghibli titles (with the exception of US distribution of "My Neighbor Totoro," which will default to Disney come 2004), as well as those of Tokuma Publishing. The deal stipulates that Disney can only distribute the films outside Japan and Asia.

One major sigh of relief is that Disney cannot cut or change any of the films without permission. When Disney announced the plans to release "Princess Mononoke," the producers presented Disney's representatives with a Japanese sword that had a note saying "no cuts." Certain items, however, can be changed around for different markets. For example, "Kiki's Delivery Service" dub contained an English-translated credits listing, as well as English-language opening/closing themes and sequences, and additional music at certain silent points in the film.

Disney also co-financed several recent films from Studio Ghibli. This will allow them to gain rights to the movie and video markets. Disney contributed 10% to the costs of the 1999 animated film "My Neighbors the Yamadas" (based on the Japanese manga by Hisaichi ISHII), and "Spirited Away."

As for merchandising, Disney has decided not to forego this alternative, but to leave the window open to such oppurtunities. It was also said that such outlets like The Disney Stores would not be carrying any of the Miyazaki films on DVD.

(Note: I recently went to a Disney Store in downtown Chicago. The store showed no signs of promotion for the 2-disc Miyazaki DVDs, but a store employee assured me that they would have "Spirited Away" for sale on April 15. He couldn't confirm the availability of the other Miyazaki films being released that day: "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Castle in the Sky.")

With the deal having been in place since 1996, the release of Miyazaki's films from Buena Vista is coming at quite a late time. The company released "Kiki's Delivery Service" in 1998, and then promised a video release of "Castle in the Sky" in 1999. However, it took almost 4 years for the company to finally consider it for VHS/DVD release.

When Disney was planning the release of "Princess Mononoke" on DVD and VHS in 2000, many of the film's fans were shocked when Disney's press release said that the film would contain an English and French-language track, but no trace of the original Japanese dialogue. This was soon followed by a poll from the Miyazaki fansite Nausicaa.net and a petition at DVDTalk. Fans wrote in with shock and awe, and DVDTalk's petition garnered over 6000 signatures. Within a few months, the release date of "Princess Mononoke" was delayed, and when it was finally released, it did contain the original Japanese language track.

For more information on the Disney/Tokuma deal, visit Nausicaa.net.

Do you want to buy this great DVD as well as help support JimHillMedia.com? Then order your copy of "Spirited Away" from Amazon.com by clicking the link to the right.

Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same (though it is currently 25% off!) But - if you go there through us - we get a tiny cut of what you spend. So if you're planning on picking up the DVD, help keep Jim Hill behind the computer where he belongs and order a copy of "Spirited Away" or the three-pack featuring "Spirited Away," "Castle in the Sky," and "Kiki's Delivery Service" (at 29% off!) through the link to the right.

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