This is a very unusual experience for me. When I watch anime, I normally watch it in English first and Japanese second. Very rarely do I watch it in reverse. The first time was with the film Paprika
, and to this day, I like the Japanese version over the horrible English dub. With Ponyo
, I'm stuck between a rock and a very hard place.
So let's start at the core of this otaku debate: Which does the better voice acting? As far the actual acting goes, the casts of both sides of the Pacific do a good job in each of their roles. That said, I did notice several flaws.
The first offender was, much to my disappointment, from Liam Neeson. Yes, the man can act, and he does it so very well in this film. However, in the opening scene when he's suppose to sound upset and shocked, he doesn't. He says his line rather matter-of-fact. As a result, the entire emotional motivation of the Fujimoto character doesn't have enough punch. In a similar but minor offense, Cate Blanchett failed to also emote the passion and love The Sea Goddess has for Fujimoto when she proposes to turn Ponyo completely human through an old spell. The rest of the time, you feel the love and warmth in her voice, but for some reason, that scene just failed to capture the emotion that was in the Japanese version.
The second offender was Frankie Jonas himself. The kid can't cry. In the scene where he loses Ponyo and in the scene later on where he becomes a lost child, he can't cry. In fact, he's so bad at crying that they kept the original Japanese audio when Sosuke is balling his eyes out on his mom's shoulder! The rest of the time he was great and not as annoying as I would have though! But getting a Jonas to cry must be an impossibility.
Now, I know some of you reading this wants to know about Noah Cyrus. What you will be very surprised to learn is that John Lasseter actually casted a girl that has the same charm and appeal as the original Japanese voice. And given the material of the film, she can act just as good if not better than her older sister. Either way, Billy Ray just needs to retire and live off of his kids.
The second big red button that otaku's love to press: What changes were made to the dialogue? And to those that like their translations pure, you will be happy to know that the film does retain 99% of the original Japanese script. But that doesn't mean there weren't changes.
The worse offender was that they took out a really funny if cynical joke that Lisa has about Ponyo liking ham. In the scene, Sosuke declares, "Mom, Ponyo likes ham!" Lisa replies back in the Japanese version "That makes two of us." In the English version, her reply is "So she thinks she's human?" This is a big change due to the fact that it causes the scene to lose its humor. On top of that, the change brings an element of foreshadow into the story that wasn't there and, to be perfectly blunt, wasn't needed.
Lasseter does like to put in the extra dialogue in the movie to help explain to the American audience what is going on or to help them understand a cultural quirk unique to Japan. This film doesn't really have any, but there are two moments where his extra dialogue actually made a few things make more sense.
Sosuke's father, who is voiced by Matt Damon, actually points out to both the audience and his First Mate that what they looking at is a wall of water caused by the moon being unusually close to the horizon for that time of night. This is something I feel the average viewer wouldn't get unless it was explained.
In the scene later on that I was worried about upon my review of the Japanese version
, Lasseter kept the breast feeding line while changing that the fact that the baby was dehydrated to that the baby caught a cold as a result of the storm. Again, this was a much needed change because it isn't directly explained in the Japanese film why the baby is upset.
But what about the one change that made my excitement drop
? Well, I was thankfully surprised to learn that Lasseter was able to keep at least one verse from the original arrangement of the Ponyo theme in the film. They lyrics are cute though poorly composed, but at least the innocent sound of the original version is in the film for a good minute and a half before the Radio Disney version takes over.
So which one is the better one? In my opinion, ever since Lasseter has taken over dubbing all of Miyazaki's films, it's very difficult to choose. In this particular case and situation that I've found myself in, I would have to say that both languages of this film are on par with each other. Neither one is perfect, but at the same time neither one is better than the other.
Though if I was someone like Jalford, I'd probably favor the Japanese cut, as that is how the film is meant to be seen. Thankfully, I'm not.