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Neil Gaiman
"They're going to love the flying heads and the donkey piss."
Emru Townsend: So has working on Princess Mononoke changed any of your views on anime in general? You mentioned how you're a vague Miyazaki fan, but at the same time, I know when I first saw a Miyazaki movie, my thought was, wow, that means there's probably more stuff out there that's different from what I thought anime was like.

Neil Gaiman: Yes, I suppose, I do think that. On the other hand, one of the things about this that is most important is [realizing that] watching things on video and watching them on the big screen are two so completely--Miyazaki himself, talking about the videos, said he thinks of them as noise. The actual work is up there on the big screen. I'm definitely at the point where I'm going, okay, I'll keep an eye out for film festivals with that kind of stuff.

I do have a newfound love and respect for anime. But also, the biggest thing that I've wound up with is really feeling like... you know, I spent the day today talking to TV journalists about animation. And I wound up saying a lot of the same things about comics, about animation. Which is, why do you come into this with the point of view that it's for kids, anyway? They say, "Well, what age group is this aimed at?" and I say, "Filmgoers." And they say, "Well, you're dodging the question. Who is this film for?" and I say, "Bipeds."

[laughs] You're right, it's the usual bias. And most of the reviews of Mononoke reflect that, as well.

Well, what is interesting is that you got some really stupid ones in the beginning, like Entertainment Weekly gave us that capsule review of, you know, keep your kids away from this one, they talk about donkey piss and it's all decapitations. And anybody going to see it under the impression that this was sort of South Park II would have been astoundingly disappointed. You're talking one line that's in there to try and keep things in context and to establish a character--who you're then not going to see for an hour--very, very fast. And you're talking, grand total, I think, of forty seconds out of two hours and thirteen minutes, of violence. People say, "Oh, shouldn't we keep kids away from the violence?" and I say, no no no, the kids will love the flying heads and the donkey piss line. Though they might get bored with the length of time it goes on, and the subtleties and the politics of the thing, but they're going to love the flying heads and the donkey piss.

In a previous interview, you said you'd never do anything like this again. Have you changed your mind yet?

Somebody actually directly asked me at one of these after-screening Q&As, they said, okay, what if Miyazaki made another film and asked you to do work on it? And I said, then I'd do it. [laughs] Of course I would! But on the other hand, there are a number of requests coming in from Japan right now, basically going, oh, we've heard that the Mononoke script is really, really good, and we want the guy who did that to do our movie. Well, no, sorry, I'm busy with my stuff.

Of course, there are some things out there that would benefit from the Neil Gaiman touch, like Wings of Honneamise, I don't know if you've seen that--

No.

--which is a brilliant film, and judging from your work, you would probably love it. The English translation is very good, but if something along those lines came along, I'm pretty sure that that's something you'd enjoy doing.

Part of the thing on this is just [that] I tend to look at Mononoke and go, if I do something, give me something that's bigger, cooler, and better than Princess Mononoke and I'm interested. Until that comes along, I'm perfectly happy to have done Mononoke. [laughs] And to be very proud, I think, between us, Jack and I have, I hope, set a new standard for what you can expect from a dub. And I think one of the things that I think probably needs to be said explicity to the fans is we weren't trying to recreate the Japanese experience on the screen. If we were, we wouldn't have gotten Gillian Anderson to play Moro. We would have gotten an American transvestite actor.

Our way of looking at it was, we will get the best actors that we can, we will cast appropriately, and then we will let them act. People who complain about Billy Bob [Thornton]--people do not complain about Billy Bob who have not seen the film in Japanese.

That's a very standard anime fan thing, where you compare against the original.

The ones who [complain about] it tend to go, oh, the [Jigo] performance in Japanese was very different. Or the Moro was different. It's like, yeah they were. Get used to it. I tend to think of it more like Shakespeare. This is somebody's Othello, this is somebody else's Othello. They are valid. If you want the Laurence Olivier Richard III, then don't go and see the Ian McKellan one. They are both valid. I think some of the interpretations--Minnie Driver has delivered the performance of her career. It's astonishing.

Did you ever meet Miyazaki in all of this?

Yes. Right at the end. At the Lincoln Center. And he came over and he thanked me, and he said that his distributors in Japan told him to say no to the Americans, and to insist that Mononoke only went out in a subtitled version. He said he was really pleased that he'd said no [and went with] what we'd done. That was cool.

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Eight people - eight lives - one universal groove