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.