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EXCLUSIVE: Behind the Scenes at Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki's Oscar-Contender 'The Wind Rises' (TRAILER)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 12, 2013 at 11:39AM

A contender for the animated feature Oscar, the subtitled "The Wind Rises" (Disney) is now playing a one-week Oscar qualifying run in Los Angeles and New York in its Japanese subtitled version. Possibly the last film from Hayao Miyazaki, the Walt Disney of Japan, who won the animated Oscar for "Spirited Away," "The Wind Rises" is not aimed at young kids. Gorgeously drawn, it's an historical true story of the brilliant designer behind the Zero fighter plane that wrecked havoc in World War II. I interview Geoffrey Wexler, a high-ranking Studio Ghibli executive who was in town to start dubbing the English version that Disney will release on February 21.

How would you characterize the innovations in the animation?

Wexler: As someone who has spent a lot of time with these films and hearing some of the troubles they went through, I can talk about two things: one is the incredible level of detail. Today I was noticing things I had not noticed before, really wonderful small details. Secondly, the sound. The airplanes, trains, all the cars, the earthquakes were voiced by a human, one guy, our lead sound mixer and sound coordinator. Miyazaki wanted to do it himself, but his staff said no. Upwards of half the sound effects are vocalized sounds. The sound is mono, one speaker, one channel. Miyazaki wanted a cleaner, simpler sound.

What's the balance between Miyazaki films and films by other directors? How many a year does Studio Ghibli put out?

Wexler: We usually do a film every year for 2 or 3 years and then we take a year off. But it's been almost every year. There has not been a Miyazaki film every year. He's not supervising all of our films. Most, but not all. We have several directors he wrote part of the story but it was not directed by him, his son directed "Up On Poppy Hill," we have the Takahata films and other films by other directors. Half of our portfolio is Miyazaki films.

Miyazaki likes to go back in time to portray other periods in Japan, and he likes to focus on the beauty of rural Japan before industrialization.

Wexler: A lot of his films take place in a fantasized Europe. Think of "Howl's Moving Castle." It doesn't really seem like China. He does have a view of how things are, or were, or should have been, or could have been. A lot of the behaviors of the characters are how he would view how people should be. Many characters don’t speak in slang, you don't have a lot of heys and ums and ahs. This is a big challenge in dubbing because it's really easy to put a "so" or "um" or "ah" in there to make it match, and one of my jobs is to say no. For example in "My Neighbor Totoro," the kids' clothes are folded up next to their bed for the next morning because that's what kids should do before they go to bed. In "Poppy Hill," we had high schoolers, no slang, not one bit of slang, they spoke properly. It's hard to express in English but there are many levels of formality and informality in Japanese and the characters tend to speak how people should talk.

Give us a sense of the biggest hits of Studio Ghibli within Japan and outside of Japan.

Wexler: If I think about them by the numbers at the box office, they won't match what you think of as our hits. "Totoro" was a smash hit that evolved over time. "Spirited Away" is by far out biggest success. I hate to do any film any injustice -- there are only 20, so they are all greatest hits -- but I would say the Miyazaki films "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle." If I meet men, maybe 40 or older, who don't think animation is for them, I encourage them to watch "Porco Rosso." People guessed this film would be a "Porco Rosso 2" which it is not. But there are lots of airplanes. "Kiki's Delivery Service" is an absolute delight, "Castle in the Sky." I'm a huge fan of "My Neighbor the Yamadas," which uses a whole new style of animation. It's breathtakingly clever and witty, and just way out there.

Will this truly be Miyazaki's last film?

Wexler: From everything I've heard, this will be his last full length animation. It has been a huge hit in Japan. We have a very long theatrical run before we go to home video. We're doing an awards run in November in New York and Los Angeles, that will be subtitled, and in February we'll have our dubbed version. 

This article is related to: Animation, Thompson on Hollywood, Studio Ghibli, Studio Canal, Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures, John Lasseter, Hayao Miyazaki, Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises, Oscars, Awards, Awards, Awards Season Roundup

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.