With the release of ANY Disney-produced Studio Ghibli dub, there are bound to be people who will love it unreservedly, or rip it to shreds, declaring it's no good and that it shouldn't be watched. For a long time I have been in the former category. Regardless of what anyone said about the past Disney Ghibli dubs, I have stood beside them and I always will, not even caring about how they compare to their Japanese counterparts. But with Miyazaki's supposedly final film, The Wind Rises, for the first time I found myself taking a less than favorable side. Of all the Ghibli-Disney dubs, this is my least favorite and the weakest.
Don't get me wrong, The Wind Rises is not a bad dub at all. It's mostly well cast and excellently written, and there are parts that truly do excel. Unfortunately, there are problems that do hamper the dub. First, poor lip synching. The previous Miyazaki Disney dubs have paid very close attention to the timing of the mouth movements so that it never felt like a Godzilla style dub. But here there are lines that are mistimed, resulting in some gaping mouths and bits where a character's mouth starts moving but we hear nothing. Very disappointing.
My second biggest problem is the voice cast, or rather, some aspects of it. While Disney's past dubs have made some eccentric casting choices, the voice acting in all of them was at most very good, with nary a weak one. Here, however, the results are mixed. Some voices are excellent and perform their roles with gusto and life. Others fare passably well. Unfortunately, there are also some very flat, emotionless performances in the dub, which is a surprising first as I've never heard a Ghibli dub from Disney have monotonous performances. I understand that the feel for this dub was to try to match the "naturalistic" tone of what is essentially a fictionalized account of a real-life airplane engineer, but I didn't particularly come away impressed with this one. Of course all of this is just my opinion and you may feel differently, so keep that in mind as you read this review.
JIRO (Zach Callison - Young; Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Adult) — There are two different versions of the main character in this docu-fantasy. When we first meet Jiro, he is a young, bespectacled boy who dreams (quite literally) of flying through the skies in an airplane. Callison does a very fine job as the young Jiro, sounding appropriately young and exuberant, but also restrained. (The casting of children for the child parts in the beginning is one of the strongest points of the dub.)
The grown-up Jiro, however, is unfortunately the performance that I liked the least in the dub. Now in all fairness, Joseph is not eccentrically cast; the voice he has is fine for the role. But I didn't find him compelling as Jiro; to me he sounded like he was giving a stiff, monotonous performance, which is disappointing considering that many of the leads in Disney's other dubs (eccentrically cast or not) have done well. However, Levitt may not be at fault for this less than stellar turn. Apparently in the Japanese version (which I haven't seen), Jiro's voice actor (ironically, former Miyazaki animator Hideaki Anno -- now well known for Nadia and Evangelion -- turned in a similarly ineffective performance. I don't know it's just me or if it's the style of the character, but either way, this is, I'm sorry to say, the dullest performance in any Disney dub I've ever listened to. Chances are you may think otherwise, but I just wasn't thrilled with him. (Some will argue that he's trying to emulate Anno's take, which, IMO, has the potential danger of coming across as a carbon copy instead of a genuine performance, especially if the original was apparently not as good as it could be.)
NAOKO (Emily Blunt) — By contrast, Blunt acquits herself fairly well as Jiro's beloved. The voice she uses is appropriate and her acting isn't too bad (she sounds especially good during her "sick" scenes with Jiro in the latter half of the movie). Good as she is, however, it unfortunately highlights the weakness of the love story in The Wind Rises, or at least the dubbing of it. When Levitt sounds as wooden as a hard rock, however much emotion she puts into the part nullifies any chemistry between the two. If not for that problem, Blunt would have ranked much higher. As it is, her performance is adequate at best.
HONJO (John Krasinski) — Jiro's best friend has an appropriate and well-suited voice that reminded me a bit of Brian Cranston's turn as Shiro's best friend in Wings of Honneamise. Very low key and down to earth, and he puts a bit more emotion into his part. Although I wouldn't say his performance is anything amazing, he at the very least is fitting and does fairly well.
KUROKAWA (Martin Short) — This is one of the three performances that I truly enjoyed from the dub. While the lead is bland and the previous two were fairly well, Short is awesome. Unrecognizable from the start, he provides the role of Jiro's cantankerous boss with gusto and humor, breathing a lot of much needed life into the dub. He effortlessly steals every scene he's in, which is arguably because he has been blessed with a fun character to begin with. Short is no stranger to voice acting, incidentally (although the past few animated films he did before this were mostly the likes of We're Back and The Pebble and the Penguin), but this is arguably one of his best roles ever. Period. This is a GREAT performance.
CASTORP (Werner Herzog) — The primary role that this German-accented man provides is not only to be critical of Hitler (and predict Japan's downfall, rather darkly), but to promote the romance between Jiro and Naoko. Although Herzog didn't strike me as outstanding as Short or two other performances I'll come to in moments, I had no major problems with him. He sounds like he's enjoying himself in the role, especially when he gets to sing a drunken song with Jiro and Naoko's father. (On another note, the use of accents in this dub is another plus for Disney's dub; considering this is a film about a Japanese man going to different nations, Germany included, I have to commend the dubbing team for going the extra mile and pulling it off. That was something that I really enjoyed from Monster Island's dub of Nadia, especially since this is a story that asks for it.)
SATOMI (William H. Macy) — I'm neutral about Macy's turn as Naoko's father. On one hand he sounds fine, but acting-wise he didn't really stand out to me one way or another. I suppose he plays the part appropriately well, but to be honest, I couldn't remember anything worth talking about his performance after seeing the dub.
KAYO (Mae Whitman) — Jiro's spunky little sister is excellently voiced, both as a child and as an adult. After Short and Tucci, she is one of the very best performers in the dub. The energy she provides the character is terrific, whether she's scolding Jiro, talking normally, and, even at the end, lamenting the fate of Jiro's love affair. It helps that she's had voice acting experience prior to recording the part, hence why I liked her turn so much.
HATTORI (Mandy Patinkin) — When I learned that Inigo Montoya was returning to do another Ghibli dub, I was thrilled. He was terrific as Louie the pirate in Castle in the Sky (the most underrated IMO of the Disney dubs), but as Jiro's second boss, I didn't find him quite as entertaining or fun. As such, I'm much more neutral about his turn in this one. Vocally, he sounds fine and he more or less plays it fairly well, but he's not as memorable or lively here. Perhaps it's just me though.
CAPRONI (Stanley Tucci) — Looks like I've saved the best for last. Alongside Whitman and Short, Tucci is TERRIFIC as the legendary airplane designer that Jiro meets in his dreams. The Italian accent he provides the character works extremely well and he's very charismatic and charming. It is easily the sort of exuberant performance one would expect from an inspirational genius, and that Tucci pulls it off so beautifully makes any scene he is in a genuine delight. Excellent job all around.
The rest of the cast includes Darren Criss, Elijah Wood, and Dirty Dancing's Jennifer Grey. While I could easily pick out the performances I outlined above, the rest didn't really stand out to me one way or another. To be honest, I couldn't make out any of them... to the point I wondered why they were hyped as being in the film at all.
In spite of my quibbles with the lead actor and often negligible extras, I had no problems with the flow of the English script; there were hardly any lines that sounded out of place and it flows smoothly for the most part. Unfortunately, due to the sometimes iffy lip synching there are moments that can sound a tad robotic, but that's more a fault of the ADR direction than the scriptwriting. As mentioned, I also applaud the use of accents and the use of children for the opening scenes; it works well considering the nature of the movie.
However, the overall feel of the dub, despite the occasional lively bit from Tucci, Whitman and Short feels stoic and deadpan in places. Perhaps part of this problem can be on account of voice director Gary Rydstrom. He's a very talented sound designer, to be sure, but his previous dubs, which included Tales from Earthsea and The Secret World of Arrietty, although solid overall, sometimes treaded into monotonous territory, but even then, that issue was not as pronounced in those two dubs (maybe in Earthsea) than in here. I suppose that one can only do so much considering the melancholy nature of the story, but it's a disappointing that Disney couldn't bring Jack Fletcher back to direct this one. Considering the bang-up work Fletcher did for Kiki, Mononoke, and Laputa combined, it would have been gratifying to have him do Miyazaki's apparent swan song.
I stand behind the opinion that The Wind Rises is the weakest of the Disney dubs, but don't take this as a sign that it is a bad dub. It's not. The better term for it would be "average." Perhaps I was more thrown off by the nature of the film itself than anything else or maybe I just had high expectations, but I didn't enjoy this as much as I would have liked to.
That said, take my review with a grain of salt and go see The Wind Rises; even if it is by no means my favorite Miyazaki film, the man never ceases to amaze with his craft and there are bits of the movie that truly excel (the dream sequences, for instance, as well as a powerful earthquake scene that causes a train to crash and derail spectacularly). Chances are you may even enjoy the dub more than I did. After all, as with any of the Ghibli dubs, however much enjoyment one gets out of any of them depends on what you bring with you to it.