The screenwriters discuss American and Japanese animation, working with Dakota Fanning and the Oscars

In this second installment of our teleconference with Studio Ghibli Translator's Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt, in promotion of Buena Vista Home Entertainment's and Studio Ghibli's upcoming three DVD release on March 7th of Howl's Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro and Whisper of the Heart, the Hewitt's continued to discuss screenwriting, working with Dakota Fanning and what they think of their chances for taking home the gold statue for Howl's Moving Castle on Oscar Night.

What do you think is the biggest difference between American and Japanese Animation?

Cindy Davis Hewitt: The thing that we've noticed recently is that a lot of American films are frenetic. It seems like they're just trying to throw out as many jokes as possible, and it doesn't matter what it is, just to keep people entertained. The Japanese anime, we're mostly familiar with Miyazaki's work, his is much more subtle.

Donald H. Hewitt: It's lyrical and really focuses on the story and the beautiful images. It takes time to tell the story and it has a pacing to it. The only pacing on a lot of American films now is faster, faster, faster.

Cindy Davis Hewitt: It's kind of a nice change. We're both really big fans of Pixar's movies and we think that they're doing great work, and there is a big difference between how much American's need to be spoon-fed. All of the movies that come out of America, if the plot doesn't add up 100%, if you have to do any work at all then I think people think it's failed. Whereas in Japan they're as subtle as can be. You have to watch their movies three or four times before you start to really recognize what's going on.

When you're adapting do you make a conscious effort to try and appeal to both children and adults?

Cindy Davis Hewitt: I felt like we were just trying to make it what we would want to see.

Donald H. Hewitt: We always try to be true to the film and I think Miyazaki films and Studio Ghibli Films, are very broad in their own way. They're for adults as well as children. This actually came up in My Neighbor Totoro, in how sophisticated the girl would be. It was funny because Studio Ghibli started making us take down their language a little bit, and we were like, "No, we think the girl would talk pretty sophisticated."

And when Dakota Fanning and her little sister Elle came in, they actually could speak as sophisticated or more so than what we had written. We ended up putting back...

Cindy Davis Hewitt: The more sophisticated dialogue. We made sure not to dumb down the kids. That was a big thing.

Do you bounce things off kids to see if they'll get what you're putting in the scripts?

Cindy Davis Hewitt: We only did when we were doing Totoro. We would ask Dakota or Elle... there was one line that we were discussing in the studio, and so we asked Dakota which one she wanted and she was really opinionated. She was like, "Well, this one's stupid and this one makes sense."

Donald H. Hewitt: She's an amazing cross between this great little kid and this completely mature adult. It's really, really interesting.

Cindy Davis Hewitt: Yeah, she was the biggest workhorse I think we've ever worked with the whole time we've been there; she never got tired.

So what do you think your Oscar chances are going up against Tim Burton's Corpse Bride and Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit for Best Animated film?

Cindy Davis Hewitt: You sorta get the feeling that Wallace & Gromit have been around for so long and they're so loved, I feel like if they don't win it's gonna be a miracle.

Donald H. Hewitt: I think it's very exciting and it's an honor to be nominated, it's a great group of films. I think it would certainly be exciting if Howl won, but I kind of have the feeling Wallace & Gromit is gonna win. Especially, after the Annie Awards, it was pretty clear.

Cindy Davis Hewitt: They won every category they were in. It will be tough. If Howl wins we'll kind of pass out over here, but...

Can you talk a bit about the new project you're working on for New Line?

Donald H. Hewitt: Yeah, it's called None of Her Business. It's about a woman executive who gets fired and dresses up as a man and gets her old job back. It's kind of a Working Girl story. We've been having a lot of fun.

What kind of projects interest you more animation or live action?

Donald H. Hewitt: The story is what interests us. If the story is what would be better in animation, that's fine with us. Or, if it would be better in live action that's fine with us. We come up with a story, or if someone pitches a story to us, or a studio wants us, then... whatever... the medium is like the last thought. It's like whatever the story is is first.

Cindy Davis Hewitt: We have a couple of ideas that we don't even know, "Should it be animated or if it could be live action?" So, I guess we're open to it. As long as it's fun stuff... we like the things that get both adults and children....

Do you know what Studio Ghibli is doing next?

Donald H. Hewitt:Tales from the Earthsea, that's what I heard. Miyazaki's son is directing it.

Are you doing the adaptation?

Donald H. Hewitt: I don't know? We haven't been contacted about it. We've kept up our relationship with Studio Ghibli and Disney. They know we're here. We'd love to do it. It's been so much fun working on these projects.

Have you met Miyazaki? Have you visited Japan?

Cindy Davis Hewitt: We've met Miyazaki but we haven't visited Japan. We're thinking about it but...

Donald H. Hewitt: We've just been too busy working to visit. We're trying still to establish our careers in a lot of ways. We haven't had that gigantic hit film here in the US. Fortunately, our films are gigantic hits in Japan....

Pixar does really well with broad based, slapstick, family animation. Why do you think more serious animation hasn't been attempted in the US?

Cindy Davis Hewitt: It's weird because they didn't even get that much of a chance. We were looking at the difference for the advertising for Howl's Moving Castle and Bambi II coming out at the same time, and saw Bambi II billboards on every corner in our hometown and we saw nothing for Howl. So, there's a real big lack of awareness. I don't think people even know about it.

Donald H. Hewitt: It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In that nobody tries to make sophisticated animation and if it does get made, and shown here, it really doesn't get the support. Not compared to the major releases, the Pixar or the big Disney films.

Howl's Moving Castle cis on DVD shelves now through Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

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Evan Jacobs