Emru Townsend: So what was it about Princess Mononoke that grabbed you when you were first
presented with it?
Neil Gaiman: First of all, I was intrigued because they wouldn't let me see a video. I thought that was genuinely interesting. No, you can't see a video, we're not showing videos, we're doing screenings. If you want to see it, we'll put on a screening for you. And I thought, I wonder if this will live up to that kind of promise. And so I went to the screening. And I went to the screening not expecting to say yes. It was the last thing that I would particularly want to do, to rewrite somebody else's story or whatever... it was not something that was anywhere on my list of things that I'm planning to do this week, or even this lifetime. But I went to see it, any my jaw dropped. It was astonishing. I'd never seen anything like it. You know, you're talking an epic movie, with a breadth and scale that I thought was quite unbelievable. And having seen it, I came out blinking into the night two hours and thirteen minutes later, and I thought, I've got to do this. And I've got to do this because I think it's wonderful, and if I try and do it, I will do it with love and respect and care. And if I say no, then Harvey [Weinstein] will phone somebody else up. And somebody else may wind up doing it for money. They may wind up doing it as a job, and it won't be done with love or respect or care, it'll be done... you know. And they may fuck it up. I'm just as likely to fuck it up as they are, but if I fuck it up, I'll fuck it up with love. And I will do the best job I can, fucking it up.
It's sort of like the idea of not having the want to do it, but the need.
It's actually similar to what Miyazaki himself said about making the movie in the first place.
As far as I'm concerned, once I'd seen it, there wasn't any question. Yes, I want to do this, and yes, it's going to be a thankless task. I didn't quite realize how thankless.
[laughs] Why would you say it's thankless? What with the hordes of comic book and animation fans who are now quite thankful, actually.
Actually, people now are being very, very thankful, they're being very nice. I'm very pleased they are. I remember my jaw dropping--three weeks after I'd agreed to do it, I went online and did a DejaNews search on Mononoke just to see what people were saying, and what the rumors were, and discovered that people were already accusing me of holding it up. You know, "It's April, where's Princess Mononoke? How can Gaiman be taking so long? How long does it take to write a script?" What? What is going on in these people's heads?
One of the questions I was going to ask you about was about the Internet. One was going to be that aspect of it, Internet gossip, but the other was going to be [about] Nausicaa.net, who indirectly supplied you with some research answers.
Which were tremendously helpful at the beginning as well. I tended to use Nausicaa.net right in the very beginning. After a while I wound up getting to know Steve Alpert and using Steve much more as a resource, which was useful because Steve could actually go and check things with Miyazaki.
Always a bonus.
But initially, it was, okay, look, we have this line, something like "His head is mine." And I would be wondering, hang on, does "His head is mine" translate in this context as "He's mine to kill", or do they literally mean, "I'm going to be keeping his head as a trophy"?
So a lot of that was running a few of those early ones past the Nausicaa guys, who were tremendously helpful. I think overall, on something like Mononoke, the Internet has been tremendously useful. Before the San Diego screening, there wasn't any kind of real buzz, there wasn't any kind of real impression. You had a couple of people that posted things on Ain't It Cool News, saying, oh, Claire Danes is a Valley girl, and [it'll be] terrible, and how will anybody watch this? And I'm not even sure what some of them had seen, or for that matter, if any of them actually had seen it, which is the other problem with the Internet, you never know what kind of quality your information actually is. But after that San Diego screening, it all turned around. People came to it and they went, wow, we've never seen a dub like this. Even people who'd seen it subtitled, and seen fansubs and stuff, were going around completely revising their opinions of what you could do in a dub, and what was possible, and why you'd do it.
I have to admit, I've been watching subtitled, and untranslated, and dubbed Japanese animation for a long time, but this was by far the best I've seen.
With any luck we've set a new standard. Steve Alpert was just telling me, five minutes before you called--if you had been listening, you would have heard me going, "No I don't believe it, oh my God, that's so funny." They're going to be releasing the dubbed Princess Mononoke in Japan, and they're going to be subtitling it.
[laughs] Yeah, that is funny.
I just think that's so hilarious. It's so cool, the idea that they're actually going to be subtitling Princess Mononoke in Japan. [laughs] And they're going to be retranslating it. They're going to retranslating in the sense [that] they'll translate my translation into the subtitles. So my dialogue is going to become the Japanese sub.
There is a bit of a precedent for that, that's happened with some of the classic Japanese animation from the mid-80's; one of which, the only one I know for a fact was because it was being used for teaching English. The other one I have no idea why, but it was the same basic idea, they took the English translation and then subtitled it again in Japanese. I wonder why they're doing it with Mononoke.
I think there's an awful level of curiosity involved. You know, what have the Americans done to their cultural icon, to their artifact. I just hope they like what we did, or understand why we did what we did.