Emru Townsend: How exactly did you approach working on rewriting it? I've always wondered how someone rewrites a script from another language.
Neil Gaiman: A lot of it was just taking it and trying to get it to flow as dialogue. You know that you've got a real cast coming up. Most anime dialogue that I've seen--most translated, and I'm not even talking a Japanese thing, I'm talking French and German cartoons as well--doesn't sound like dialogue that people would ever say. And what I wanted to do was try and (a) sneak information in, while (b) giving natural-sounding dialogue, that (c) kept as much as possible, of either what the Japanese said or what they meant. Occasionally, you'd wind up completely changing something in order to make it work. An example would be the women, when Lady Eboshi gets all the women round the fire, and she's giving them their instructions, and she's saying, "Okay, look, I'm going to be leading with the men, you ladies have to stay and guard Irontown." And Gonza says something like, "Don't you worry about Lady Eboshi, she'll be safe with me," and Toki looks at him and she just says "Useless, useless!" And everybody laughs, they kill themselves laughing. Only that's not funny, if you translate it.
If you translate it literally.
If you simply had it saying, "You're useless" and they all laugh, it would be much more jarring. So then you have to come up with a gag. I think the line that I wound up coming up with was something like, "Even if you were a woman, you'd still be an idiot." And they all kill themselves laughing, and at that point somebody's made a joke and it makes sense in English, and it flows.
Whereas in Japanese, sometimes you'll knock off a word like that, and the entire intent is hidden behind that word in its tone.
Sometimes that's part of what you do. And you're picking names for things, you're trying to pick things... It's like people going, "Why isn't it the Deer God?" And I thought, well, "Deer God" seems kind of small and limiting, whereas "Great Spirit of the forest" seems to be huge and inclusive.
Right. And also since our culture doesn't have much in the way of an animist mythology, that kind of makes sense.
So you were essentially handed a literal translated script.
I was handed, essentially, the subtitles--these were Steve Alpert's translation--and then told, okay, go take them and turn it into dialogue. And then, though a series of negotiations and a rather strange process, it became the film that we've got now.
As I understand, again from an earlier article, you basically looked at the movie at the same time to make sure that the rough timing of what was being said worked with what you wrote.
Yeah. It was a very weird and frustrating thing, because you're trying to make sure... Again, the rough timing worked. What I didn't do was a full-fledged ADR script. What I had produced was something that would pretty much work, and worked exactly when we were dealing with characters like the wolves, or anybody whose mouth you can't see moving. [But] the incredible ADR matchup, this is not me, this is Jack [Fletcher], our director. He did an astonishing job.
Incidentally, at the Toronto film festival screening, when his credit came up, there was plenty of applause.
Good. He deserved it. He is the genius on this. It really would be impossible for me to overstate what Jack Fletcher did on this film. It's interesting: there's still lines that--to this day, I don't know where some of the lines in that film came from. And checking with Jack, he's not necessarily sure either. Some may have come in from Miramax, some may have been alternates that kind of worked... it's all rather mysterious. But for most of it, it's either stuff that I wrote, or that I began writing, and Jack fiddled with to make it work.
You mentioned that some of it might have come from Miramax. Did they have approval on your script? I know that Ghibli had final approval on everything, but did it have to go through that other layer first?
Yes. Everything had to be negotiated. There was one very peculiar point last June or early July, '98, when I got a list of corrections from Studio Ghibli on one script, at the same time as I got the Miramax corrections on that script. And what they wanted were two totally different sets of things. Completely contradictory. And eventually I ended up sitting down and writing two drafts of the third draft, which were the Miramax draft and the Ghibli draft, and said, okay guys, you can pick which lines you like from this. Go fight it out amongst yourselves. [laughs] And they did.