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Like Cocoa for Coffee: How To Save Us Stupid Americans
By Roman Martel
March 25, 1999
I was so blissfully ignorant. I believed that I was safe in my knowledge that I had watched the complete and total version of Kiki's Delivery Service. I enjoyed it immensely and wondered at the great job Disney did in presenting this anime classic for me. Then I began to her discouraging rumors. Kiki had been edited. Kiki's songs had been cut. Kiki's score had been cut. Kiki's dialogue had been altered. I began to wonder if my usual fear of Disney should have been listened to.
Then I ran into a little article on the net that revealed some shocking information. Not only had the score been edited but the opening and ending songs had been rewritten and redone completely (so they hardly matched the originals). Then to top it all off, the dub's dialogue had been altered to make the less desirable parts of it clean.
Here's an example. When Kiki first meets the baker and his wife she is offered coffee. Well, it seems that Disney felt that young people should not be encouraged to drink coffee (have they been to a local Starbucks or Java City lately?). So they changed the script. Instead of coffee our heroine is offered hot chocolate. Well, that's kinda silly, isn't it? I mean if Japanese kids drink coffee, than fine, I've got no problem with that. Why should they change it?
Now some of you are saying to yourself...what's the big deal? Who cares if something that small is changed? Well, that isn't he only change, there were evidently several others that were deemed unacceptable. These slight changes, reflect on the story itself and its overall feel. This is a Japanese movie. I know that, and I think any child watching it can be told that. If something happens that's a bit different from the American norm, I'm sure we can figure out it's a cultural difference.
It's nice to know that Disney thinks so much of me that they need to save me from my own impressionable mind. Who knows what I could interpret if left without the protective edits? Horrors! I might do something...un-American!
Yes I'm exaggerating. But this is a major issue. If Disney gets away with this, then so can any company that brings anime over. "So what." You might say. "Who cares if a few minor changes are made?" Well, lets explore this a little more.
I've seen the mess that can be made when someone other than the director uses the tool of editing to make the movie "more acceptable". How many of us have seen both versions of Blade Runner? With the subtle unicorn sequence added the whole movie takes on a new and more dangerous meaning. Without it the movie is still good, but it's a whole different animal. Ever seen the Abyss? This film had the same problem. With some vital scenes cut from the film (because of length this time), the movie is great up till the end when it leaves you with a great build up with no pay off. With the director's cut you get the build up and the pay off, and one of the director's best films.
Anime is the same way. Change something, even slightly, and you could affect the entire entity. It doesn't matter if you do it for the public's own good, or because you don't think they'll get it, or because it's too long. You will be doing more harm than good. Let the director pick the final version of the film. I can't imagine Empire Strikes Back, Ran, Seven Samurai, Ghost in the Shell, or Manhunter edited in any other way without some major repercussions.
The Dubbing Issue
Ah ha! What about dubs? They normally take liberties with the original script. How can you support them and yet declare editing a film bad? Good question. A dub is a necessary tool to anime. Most dubs do change language and style of the subbed version. However most of these changes do add to the film. They are in character. Many times the sub may be too formal (and even informal) to the character we are given. Plus the dub actors are just that...actors. They are given the script and someone else's performance and must make the best of it. They take these tools and give their interpretation of the work. It is more art added to the previous. Can you imagine Darth Vader without James Earl Jones doing it? He had to work with a script and a previous actor's performance. He added to the whole and did not detract. Many dubs do this, like El Hazard.
The problem comes when certain cultural references and more importantly the story elements are sacrificed. This is where dubbing can be a danger. It's a thin and precarious line that the dub actors tread. They can add or they can injure the art they work on. Sometimes the damage is unintentional and that can be forgiven, but when it is calculated, then I have a problem.
The DVD solution
What are we to do? There is a solution and DVD can play a large part in it. Ideally we could continue with what we are doing. Keep the dub, and for us who want to see the original on your second audio track have the original music, and language with as pure and close a translation to the original as possible. It's easy and can be done with minimal harm to both versions.
Now, what to do with the Kiki problem. Simple. DVD enables you to have two versions of one movie on one disc. For example, both Kalifornia and Crash have Unrated and R-rated version on one DVD. This is known as seamless branching. The DVD is programmed to skip certain parts and hit others. Well, let's do the same with Kiki. You can have your dub with the edited songs, score and script, and then your intact sub. That means a nice accurate translation, not the dub script in subtitled form. That's just plain silly.
The whole thing can be avoided if American anime companies can trust the public to have a brain and some decision-making skills, and present the anime as it was presented in Japan. I think we can handle it. And here's a radical thought, those that can't, don't have to watch it. But editing the material or putting tight reigns on your dub actors are not solutions.
This is art and entertainment. Let's not forget that. Art deserves to be shown as the creator intended it to be. And entertainment deserves to be enjoyed to the fullest. I think that will make everyone happy.