I am Steve Alpert, former Senior Vice President at Studio Ghibli. I helped bring Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and other Ghibli films to the international stage. I traveled with, accepted awards on behalf of, and worked closely with Hayao Miyazaki for about 15 years.

I also voiced the character, Castorp in the Japanese version of The Wind Rises.

In addition, I was yelled at by Harvey Weinstein and was present for the infamous "NO CUT(https://kotaku.com/the-time-studio-ghibli-stood-up-to-harvey-weinstein-wit-1823223914)" story, was privileged to help record the voices of some of the world’s most talented actors in the foreign language versions of Ghibli’s films, and learned how it feels to be a foreigner in a Japanese company.

My new book, ‘Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man: 15 Years at Studio Ghibli’ details this and more. It’s out now from Stone Bridge Press.

You can pick up a copy here: https://www.stonebridge.com/catalog-2020/Sharing-a-House-with-the-Never-Ending-Man.

I'll be here from 1pm - 3pm EST answering questions. EDIT: This is fun, I'll stick around for a while longer. Still answering questions, thanks!

Proof: https://twitter.com/StoneBridgePub/status/1275468377654472704

EDIT:

Hey everyone, thanks for all the questions. Really. Sorry I couldn't answer them all.

Some of the questions posted here can be answered in my new memoir. Please pick up a copy if you're interested. Thanks!

Comments: 691 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

Sprachspielerin1749 karma

How does Joe Hisaishi always make the perfect soundtrack for each Ghibli film? What does the studio tell him?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli3202 karma

To me it's like jazz musicians communicating with each other non-verbally. Miyazaki shows him images and writes some poetry. Hisaishi feels it and comes up with music. Yes it's that mysterious. He's a soundtrack genius. Really.

Tyraels_Might716 karma

In your mind, What did Studio Ghibli do differently? Were you proud to work there and why?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli2315 karma

Studio Ghibli is probably all about differently. But the main thing that Studio Ghibli did/does differently is that the studio is run by the filmmakers. Filmmakers have the final say on everything. So whenever art and commerce are in conflict, art wins.

creich1591 karma

Fav studio Ghibli movie?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli1764 karma

In my position you're not supposed to have a favorite. But...Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Partly because I know what it took to make it. I think when something is harder to do, the effort it takes to succeed shows in the finished product. Miyazaki took at least 7 years for the story to gestate and then be distilled into a feature film. It speaks of a specific time in the history of animation in Japan. And it's a great film with a worthy theme that's in so many ways ahead of its time.

Morazan51556 karma

Was there any difficulties in terms of work culture in being a foreigner in Japan?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli937 karma

Enough difficulties that I felt the urge to write a book about them and how they were or were not overcome. Some interesting and amusing. Some less so.

The-Mandalorian495 karma

Can you shed some light on the fallout between Ghibli and Disney? I was someone hoping to see Ghibli on Disney+ considering the decades long relationship with the studio but Disney stopped being a distributor of the films in favor it Gkids it seems.

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli798 karma

This is something that happened after I left the studio and I'm not privy to the decision that was made either by Disney or by Ghibli. What I can say is that I don't think there was a fallout, exactly. GKIDS in North America is a better fit for Ghibli in many ways, because they can dedicate more time and resources to the film. I think it's no secret that in some ways Disney in the US has not been an ideal fit for the Ghibli films. Disney is a big company. Bob Chapek who just became CEO of Disney was one of Ghibli's early supporters, but not everyone at Disney was as big a fan of Ghibli's films as the people at GKIDS are. From what I can see as someone who is no longer an insider, GKIDS is doing a great job.

wray_nerely457 karma

Since you say you were a foreigner working at Studio Ghibli, how did you come to your position there? Did you apply or were you recruited? What drove you to pursue the position and what did your role there entail?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli767 karma

I believe, and when asked I always tell people that I've been fortunate to have a career that would be impossible to plan. I was in charge of distributing Ghibli's films everywhere outside of Japan and also translating them all into English and other foreign languages. I was an art major in college and attended graduate school in New York in Japanese literature and had always wanted to be a translator. Then I got an MBA in finance (please don't ask) and moved into the world of business.

princesskinomoto420 karma

How do you evaluate the works of contemporary directors like Makoto Shinkai ?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli634 karma

I have to admit I am not familiar with his films. I left Japan in 2012. I share Hayao Miyazaki's belief that an animated theatrical feature film should be seen in a theater, if possible. I've been wanting to see Your Name for a while now. Sorry.

CaffeinatedLiquid395 karma

Is Mr. Miyazaki as heartwarming as his movies?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli686 karma

Yes. Most of the time.

I would also say that many hours of documentary film have been devoted to him. These guys don't pull any punches or turn off the cameras in tough situations, so you get a good sample of what he's like. I think. The one on Princess Mononoke is 9 hours long!

okletssee341 karma

Are there any stories about how any Ghibli films affected the Studio employees or fans that you found especially impactful?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli792 karma

This is a very difficult question to answer. Yes in so many ways, but I'm struggling to think of a specific example. I can't remember if it was in the book or not, but when we screened Spirited Away in Japan, every single time when the lights came up in the theater at the end of the movie almost the entire audience was in tears. Every time.

MikiMice292 karma

What's one of the biggest challenges in adapting a Ghibli film for an American/western audience?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli830 karma

Trying hard not to adapt the film and harder to get the American distributors to recognize and feature the film's existing appeal. Western audience is a big umbrella. People in France for example seem to totally get Japanese films with little or no need to adapt.

roadtrip-ne283 karma

This might be more a comment than a question, but many everyday people just have no idea these films exist. When I suggest Totoro to a parent or give them a dvd as a gift/ the kids become instant Ghibli fans.

Do you think the deals with HBO will expand the audience? Disney had been distributing them for awhile and they remain under the radar.

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli375 karma

I do think streaming will expand the audience. I agree, to see them is to become a fan. One reason I think they may go under the radar is that one Ghibli film is so different from another Ghibli film. I used to get surprised reactions when I told people that the same studio that made Totoro also made Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.

Goose-Bone180 karma

Thank you for the AMA, I have two questions!

  1. While at Ghibli, which part of the animation process impressed you the most?
  2. Additionally, who do you think are the most unsung heroes in animation?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli407 karma

What always most amazed me was the way the animators can communicate non-verbally with such incredibly limited information. I don't know why I keep saying this, but it reminds me of improvisational jazz. Essentially it's just here's where the scene takes place, here's how the character looks, in this scene he does this. Ghibli publishes the storyboards for all it's films. If you look at that, that's it. All the information animator gets.

All the animators are unsung heroes. The background artists do deservedly get a lot of credit. Probably Yasuda-san who was the person who decided/executed the color palate should get more singing.

blurry02170 karma

as a studio, i am curious if there were any specific films Miyazaki would have animators watch for research. do you have any films that have impacted your work? i am reading your book now, thank you, very interesting!

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli394 karma

I'm pretty certain Miyazaki never had animators watch other people's films for research. For research they watched live things mostly. When the animators were puzzled how to draw a dragon eating I think it was, they made a field trip to an animal shelter and fed dogs.

So if you're asking about films that influenced me personally...when I was in college (late '60s early '70s) I was fortunate to see almost all of the films of Akira Kurosawa and many of Yasujiro Ozu's films. I was blown away and from there my interest in Japan took off.

Thanks for reading my book.

Carefully_random134 karma

If you could have dinner with a character from one of the Ghibli films, who would you choose and why?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli320 karma

Gina from Porco Rosso. Why should be obvious.

Second choice is Lady Eboshi from Mononoke Hime. And I have had dinner with her.

jp_taylor134 karma

Ghibli's next movie going CG is an interesting move. Do you see Ghibli pursuing more CG works down the road, or will we continue to see traditional works after Aya and the Witch?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli182 karma

If you watched The Never Ending Man you know as much about it as I do. In my opinion, Miyazaki's hand drawn sequence in that documentary says it all.

necropolis-76 karma

Thank you for your work! In a studio renowned for beautiful imagery, is there a particular scene that you particularly like, or is impactful to you?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli191 karma

I always tear up at the end of Nausicaa when it turns out she's not dead. And the scene in Totoro at the bus stop. AMAZING! Could be one of the most brilliantly conceived scenes in all of cinema.

corruptspectre874 karma

How do you pronounce Ghibli? A friend and I have been debating for a long time.

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli126 karma

Hard to answer since there's no audio. I know the two most often cited. You're going to be mad at me, but both are correct. One favors the original Italian. The other is...origin unclear.

Kolkaata63 karma

I've been reading your book for the past few days now, and it has been a real pleasure. Thank you for writing it.

Do you know what film Mr. Miyazaki considers to be his finest work? Or is there perhaps a film of his that he's not particularly fond of?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli138 karma

Thank you for reading it! Hayao Miyazaki says that his films are like his children. A parent can't have a favorite child. Or at least he can't admit to it. I think what I can say is that it's a complicated question for any artist. I would guess, with a fair amount of certainty, that he has favorite scenes within his films. I wouldn't feel right speculating about which ones because when you're talking about favorites it's not always just about the result, but what it took to do the thing. Or how much a person really loves scenes with flying in them.

gtwilliamswashu62 karma

Besides Ghibli, who is making compelling films in Japan in the same spirit as you and Ghibli?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli88 karma

I have to say I don't know. I've been living in the US now for about 8 years. Retired = out of it. For me anyway.

cowimpersonator53 karma

Steve,

Thank you for your hard work to make these films the masterpieces they are. They are a special part of some of my favorite memories with my family.

What is your favorite memory from your 15-year journey with Mr. Miyazaki himself?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli189 karma

I honestly don't have a favorite memory, but here are some of them: Visiting Ursula Le Guin to get permission to make Gedo Senki; doing a Q and A at Berkeley when Miyazaki's neice showed up as the date of a Pixar animator. She had been the model for Satsuki in Totoro and she was going to leave before talking to him because he was surrounded by fans with questions. I made her stay and brought her through the siege of fans surrounding him. He was so happy to see her. He hadn't seen her in years; visiting John Lasseter at Pixar with Miyazaki unannounced - John loves surprises and he treated us to the story of how he and Miyazaki first met; visiting Diana Wynn Jones in Bristol to screen Howl's Moving Castle for her; and others.

There must be others, but I've been doing this for 3 hours. I'm kind of tired. And not young. Though i really appreciate the interest. Thanks all for the questions!

Nihhrt43 karma

I can understand some localization to maybe help western audiences understand the content, but a lot of the dubs and subsequently dubtitles (subtitles that use the heavily localized dub) completely butcher what the characters are saying.

Is this a conscious decision to localize so much or is it that the translation department does not get paid enough/have enough talent or something else?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli162 karma

A point I think I belabored in my book is that translation is really, really hard. Translating a book is one thing, but a translation or dubbing script for a film has to be perfect AND it has to match the timing of what's on screen. As Toshio Suzuki the producer of most of Ghibli's films always told me, his preference would be not to dub the films and make all the audiences learn Japanese. So what do you do? In my experience whatever you do someone will criticize it, and they will not be wrong. Ideally you want to give the audience that doesn't speak Japanese the best possible experience. To do that you can't help but make compromises. Certainly having the budget to take the time to do the whole process right makes a big difference. But as I also say in my book, in the US we don't do a lot of dubbing. In Europe and in Japan everything is dubbed and they have a lot of people with tons of experience who do a fabulous job (I always tell people that I prefer Star Trek in Japanese to Star Trek in English for example. It's better!). Having access to talented and experienced dubbing actors, directors and technicians also makes a big difference.

brosbe4gnomes42 karma

Hi Mr. Alpert! Have you ever helped or thought about helping to bring other genres to the international stage, such as Arabian themes?

I have a team that’s trying to get our film 🎞 done and into the mainstream.

Do you also have any advice for how we can get in touch with studios on average to seek help? Any advice and tips from someone so deep in the industry would be incredibly helpful, and we’d be very grateful for it.

Thank you for doing the AMA!

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli110 karma

I have the most sincere and heartfelt appreciation for the task that you're facing.

My answer depends in part on the nature of the problems you face.

That is to say, is it cultural or linguistic or both? If that's the issue, and let's just say your film, independent of such concerns is a fabulous film, what you probably need is a translation that's not just getting the words literally right, but conveying things in your film that resonate differently with the people in the culture you're trying to convince. Someone who speaks your language well has to be able to explain why the film works so well in your culture and and why it will in the culture you're trying to penetrate.

Superb translation is the key. To begin with. You find people who get it and let them help you.

JTurner8232 karma

Apparently according to your book, Miyazaki "vetoed" Hisaishi's new score for Castle in the Sky. However, this seems to contradict an interview that Joe Hisaishi made in Keyboard in 1999. In his words Miyazaki was apparently pleased with the rescore. (See link for proof). Are you sure about your claim? http://www.nausicaa.net/wiki/Laputa:_Castle_in_the_Sky_(Rescoring)

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli160 karma

So "vetoed" the score doesn't mean he didn't like it. When we proposed to Miyazaki that Disney let Hisaishi Joe re-do the score everyone expected Miyazaki to just say no. What he said was that Hisaishi-san had always wanted more music in the score and that at the time he had said no, but he was curious what Joe would do if given free reign (almost free reign). Disney was paying for it.

We recorded the new music for the soundtrack in Seattle and brought it back for Miyazaki to hear. He listened to it and said "Naruhodo. Omoshiroi. Jya, dame desu ne." By that he didn't mean that the score was "dame" (not good). He meant that it wasn't approved for the about to be released English version of the film. His reason as he later explained was that any film is a product of the time in which it was created and carries with it a hint of the atmosphere of the time, including what would have been technologically possible or economically viable. He thought it would be wrong to change the ambiance of the original film by adding enhanced music. In other words, Hisaishi's new version was just another possible take on the music. Miyazaki was curious to hear what that take would be.

There is no question that he said no to including it in the version we were about to release. But he never said he didn't like the music. I genuinely have a deep respect for Hisaishi Joe and his immense talent. I am 100% sure about my claim which must be verifiable by looking at whatever version of the film that was released at the time. I can't remember if Hisaishi was actually present when we played the music for Miyazaki to get his permission. But probably Mikiko Takeda was, and Nonaka-san at Ghibli might or probably would remember if you want to fact-check me.

sippycuppacofear17 karma

Did you have to learn to speak Japanese?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli96 karma

I was already fluent in Japanese before working at Studio Ghibli. It would be impossible to work at Studio Ghibli without being able to speak Japanese.

zyggythorn-13 karma

Is anime a mistake, and if so, in what ways?

More accurately, how has the rise of Fandom changed the way you interact with consumers, both as a creator and a consumer yourself?

Steve_Alpert_Ghibli11 karma

Is anime a mistake? I'm afraid i don't understand the question.

It must be my age, but the term fandom has no specific meaning for me. It implies that someone is liking or appreciating what you do. So good. But I suppose playing to your fans or being overly concerned how your art will be received counts as commercial. And doing what you think is best for the work itself I guess counts as artistic. Ghibli has always been mainly/primarily about the art. Even as the guy who was supposed to be commercial at Ghibli, I was always on the side of art. A luxury when that's also how your bosses roll.