One of the biggest challenges in taking and creating the English-language versions of Miyazaki-san’s films… This is the third, no, the fourth one I’ve really worked on: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Tales from Earthsea and now Ponyo. I don’t ever want the English version to change anything in Miyazaki-san’s story. The goal is to make the film for American audiences and just for the language to be very natural. You don’t think of this as being a dubbed Japanese film. That’s not what we want. We want everyone to just get swept away with the story.
However, there are sometimes things that Japanese audiences will understand visually that American audiences won’t. In those cases, what I always strive to do is to make sure the American audiences will be at the exact same level of understanding at that one time in the movie as a Japanese audience would be. An obvious example of that is back on Spirited Away, when the main character is walking and when she’s exploring the village, she looks at this building. All Japanese members of the audience would look at it and know right away it’s a bathhouse, but no one in this country would know that’s a bathhouse. So you just add a little line of “Oh, it’s a bathhouse.” It’s little tricks like that. That’s not changing anything. It’s just keeping them understanding.
One of the things to understand is in Japan, especially with Hayao Miyazaki, he always records the original dialogue after he’s finished the animation, which is different from what we do in this country. We always record the dialogue before we do the animation. So the lip-sync is somewhat on the rough side anyway. It helps us fit the words in there. But we try very hard working with the actors to get the lines of dialogue to fit with the right mouth movement, because you don’t want to have someone sit there talking and nothing’s coming out or saying a whole bunch of words, but there’s no mouth movement. You want to try and fit it in there.
The goal is the lights dim, the audience in America is taken away, is swept away by this beautiful story and visuals and the characterizations. So we work really hard to make it seem as natural as possible.
John Lasseter - Translating Ponyo into English
During Saturday's Los Angelos press conference for Ponyo, John Lasseter and Hayao Miyazaki discussed numerous subjects in detail. Twitch covered the event, and provided a combined transcript of Saturday's press conference and Friday's Comic Con. In this excerpt, Lasseter describes his approach in handling the American dubs of Ghibli's films: