Richard Epcar Talks GitS 2.0

Richard Epcar Talks GitS 2.0

Five years ago, animation master Mamoru Oshii released the sequel to his masterpiece Ghost in the Shell. Entitled Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the film never quite garnered the praise or luster of its predecessor. This was especially so for the English sub-titled and dubbed versions.

If you need confirmation, just ask voice actor Richard Epcar.

“I heard they were going to do another film, and Batou was basically the star of the film,” Epcar recalls. “Innocence is basically about Batou. So I was really excited about it.”

Epcar had reason to be. He was the voice of the super cyborg cop Batou in the first movie. Then he heard something that gave him pause.

“I found out Dreamworks got the distribution rights for the North American continent,” says Epcar. “I was kind of not happy about that. There are a lot of times where Disney and the other big studios grab these titles and cock them all up. It’s really not their forte. They turn them over to these post-production supervisor people who really don’t have the expertise, background, or experience to do these kinds of films.”

For the record, Epcar is one of those people who should know a lot about these things. He has a long, long record in the world of dubbing, not only for anime, but for international films in general. His work has ranged from everything like the original Robotech series to international award winning films such as Cinema Paradiso, Woman On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and La Belle Epoch.

“For someone like me, who has been doing this for 30 years, it’s a whole different kind of deal,” says Epcar. “They are not really aware of synch or any of that. I’m very aware. I’ve done the adaptation of a number of award-winning films both animated and live action. If there’s anything I do know, it’s writing, synch, and how to handle these things overall.

“So basically, I found out Dreamworks had it. So I tried to get in touch with them to tell them that a.) I was the original voice of Batou in English, and b.) If they were going to cast in English, a star like Johnny Depp would cock it all up. I would like to be involved in it. Also, I would like to be involved in the directing and writing of it. That way, if they did get stars to do it, it would sound good.”

Then again, hiring anime pros truly never is Dreamworks M.O. As company founder and animation savant Jeffrey Katzenberg would tell you, he hires big name stars and usually not pros whose reputations are sterling inside the industry but unknown to the general public.

Actually, what did happen is the Dreamworks subsidiary, Go Fish, that did release Innocence didn’t have a dub at all. Like other films they released (check out Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress for further proof), they put out a sub-titled version only. You would think that would please the hardcore anime otaku, who suffer from the delusion anime should never be dubbed (mainly because of poor dubs of the early translations). Even Epcar admits they didn’t do a good job.

“The reason for this is Dreamworks subbed it for the hearing impaired,” he noted, “and that film is hard enough to understand without all the additional stuff that throws in there. Really, it was a nightmare. Anyway, I was getting pretty crestfallen about the whole thing. I couldn’t get to anyone. Even though I had been an international dubbing supervisor for several Dreamworks projects. I had done ET: The 20th Anniversary Edition, Gladiator, Galaxy Quest and some other big films they did. So I finally forgot about it. I felt that was the end of that deal.”

Then fate would intervene in Epcar’s attempt to do the English dub once again.

“I went to Otakon in Boston,” he recalls. “There were some people from Dreamworks. So at one time I got on this bus to go to dinner and wound up sitting next to this lovely Asian woman. It turns out she was one of the main producers of Ghost in the Shell. I told her who I was and what I wanted to do. She told me that basically Dreamworks owned the rights in North America but she gave me the names of the right people to contact. So I went back, but I couldn’t get to her either. So I gave up again.

“Then I got invited to go to a convention in London. In fact, it was an anime/Star Trek convention. The big guest was Leonard Nimoy. While I was there, I got approached by Manga UK. They said they wanted to do their own English dub of it. So Manga UK, knowing this, came to me and I bid on it. I figured the studios Z-Ro Limit and Magnitude 8, who really are the guys who do all the work on all the other Ghost in the Shell stuff, including the TV series, would get the job. Apparently they had bid on it, too.

“Still, my bid won. While I was thrilled, it turned into that old saying be careful what you wish for. I got to write, direct, and star in the film. So for me it was great because I don’t see eye to eye with what those other guys do. One thing they always do is pull the bass out of my voice. That really bothers me. I mean when you see how big Batou is, he’s a really big guy. It just doesn’t make sense to pull the bottom out of his voice. So that was one thing I kept in there. I also put some humor into Batou that was missing in their interpretation.”

As it stands, you can get Epcar’s translation of GitS2, but there’s a catch. You have to have access to a British distributor. Further, you better make sure your DVD player can handle Region 2, as it’s only compatible to that format.

Yet here’s the ultimate rub, Epcar and the fans weren't the only people unsatisfied with Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Oshii wasn’t either.

While one probably could say that Oshii was never too concerned about the English dubbing process, the tech used in this 2004 film apparently left him completely unsatisfied. There apparently were foul-ups in the film’s musical score. To top it, the state of computer generated imaging improved exponentially in the last five years. From what can be surmised, and it must be remembered that Oshii is not the most open of directors; he felt the film should be completely revamped.

So last year Oshii released a revamped version of Innocence last year. Actually, it’s being treated as if it’s almost a completely new film. Its title is now Ghost in the Shell: Innocence 2.0.

The title isn’t the only thing that’s been worked on. While the story itself is still basically the same, there are a lot of other interesting changes. The movie’s base color palette has shifted from cyber retro green to a deep red orange. The musical score now dominates the film. Also, a number of scenes, such as a key parade scene, have been completely “upgraded,” now sporting some of the most incredible blending of CGI and traditional pen-and-ink animation to ever grace the big screen. Visually, it must be said that 2.0 is both some serious eye and mind candy.

Oshii didn’t stop there, either. He had his Japanese voice actors completely redo their lines. From there, it was then put out that Oshii’s production company in Japan, Production IG, and it’s new American counterpart, Bandai and Manga US, wanted the same thing with what would now be the new English dub. They also wanted to release the DVD in both standard and Blu-ray formats.

As one can imagine, Epcar isn’t happy about this turn of events. He much prefers the job he himself did.

“It’s a weird story,” he admits. “Bandai wanted to do a Blu-ray version of this movie. It was also decided they would go back and do the voices over, which was really bizarre. It was fortunate Bandai wanted me back as Batou. Only now I was doing their script. It was a little strange. In fact, they did use all of the Stand-Alone Complex actors; Mary Elizabeth [McGlynn, The Major], Crispin [Freeman, Togusa] and Bill [William Knight, Aramaki] and the guy who did Ishikawa. They then recast all of the supernary characters.”

What this means is Epcar’s wife, Ellyn Stern, who voiced the character of Dr. Harroway in his version of GitS2, is no longer in the new version…at all. The same for any other side character, including the key villains. According to Epcar, they didn’t even ask for Stern. They also aren’t sending him a final copy of the project, which is usually a common professional courtesy.

However you look at it, it’s a strange coda marring another superlative film from a true film master. As for Epcar, he’s keeping himself extremely busy, both as an actor and as a director.

“I just finished directing a little game that I can’t quite talk about,” he acknowledged. “I also just did some voice over for Disney based on a game I worked on. All I can say it’s based on a huge game title. Star Ocean 1 and Star Ocean 2 have just come out. I directed and did lead voices on both of those. In anime I’m working on a title called Monster, where I play a detective. It’s akin to the old Fugitive series, and I’m the dogged inspector who ruins his entire life hunting down this man. It’s got all kinds of twists and turns in it. It’s coming out through Viz. I’m very happy to be part of that. I’m also still on Bleach.

If you look around, you might also see him in the flesh on a new Coke Zero commercial. “I was flown to Buenos Aires where I did the lead in a Coke Zero commercial. I got to stay five days there. I played the father of this girl. She has a boyfriend I don’t like, but they are spending the night together. Guess who shows up unexpectedly? That’s when the Coke Zero SWAT team drops out of helicopters and saves the day. It's very cute. I don’t think it’ll show in the U.S. It’s a little too sexy.”

The rest of his family are also going on high gear. His son is in the band Carney, where they recently sold out L.A.’s famous club The Troubadour. His daughter is an up and coming Jazz singer. As for his wife Ellyn? She’s starring as Katherine Hepburn in an upcoming one-person play. So Epcar has lots of things to keep him preoccupied.

As for Oshii? He’s in the midst of another major period of releases. Last year, his name was attached to three different movies. The first, of course, is the revamping of Ghost. IG has signed a deal with Sony Classic Pictures to release another animated feature of his, The Sky Crawlers, in the U.S. this spring. If that isn’t enough, he has a third film out in Japan already.

As for the final fate of Innocence, the fans will finally decide which version of the movie will be the definitive edition. One can guess where Epcar’s sentiments lie, although it must be said that each version has their merits.

ASIFA DOING ‘ACTING’ SEMINAR

As it turns out, the international animation collective ASIFA, is doing a seminar on, of all things, acting.

Burbank, California’s Woodbury University graciously invited ASIFA-Hollywood to host events at their newly opened Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium. For the next several months, the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive will be hosting Animation Salons on the third Saturday evening of every month. These events are free and open to the animation community.

In the first of these “salons,” ASIFA will compare the acting chops of legendary actor John Barrymore to another legendary character, Bugs Bunny. They will also ask such critical questions as just what is "acting"? What constitutes a well acted performance? What are the differences between acting for animation and acting in live action? Are there things that can be easily done in live action that can't be done as effectively in animation? Are there are other ways to convey mood, emotion and personality besides acting? Most important, they will ask what sort of inspiration did golden age animators look to for creating an animated performance and what do these models of pantomime acting have to inform modern animation?

Leading this discussion will be animator Eddie Fitzgerald, best known for making his pencils truly act for such shows as Ren & Stimpy. The first of these salons will be held on Saturday, February 21. If you want to learn more, go to ASIFA’s web site, www.asifa.org.

NYICFF DEBUTING NEW WALLACE & GROMIT

The New York International Children’s Film Festival announced it will be hosting the U.S. debut of the latest Wallace and Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death. This latest innovative Aardman odyssey will make its debut on Sunday, March 1, at 3:00 p.m.

But that ain’t all. If it isn’t enough that W&G creator Nick Park himself is hosting this event, the NYICFF will follow it all with an international feast, with fabulous food from around the world, activities and gifts for kids, and drinks for everyone.

NEXT COLUMN: We look at the latest, and maybe last, Futurama D2D release ‘Into the Wild Green Yonder.’ To quote Bender, “Into the breach, meatbags!”.

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