Spirited Away is Japan’s most successful film (until recently, at least), and part of its international reach is thanks to American businessman Steve Alpert, the “resident foreigner” of Studio Ghibli. Alpert’s Ghibli memoir, Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man, is a fascinating, informative and often amusing book about his fifteen years at Ghibli.
The book mainly gives behind-the-scenes details on Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, though it also gets into the American adaptations of Kiki’s Delivery Service and others. We get to better know the personalities of the key Ghibli players, including Hayao Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki. We hear about Miyazaki’s taste in food, his need for stress to get things accomplished, and how Suzuki has to go find him sometimes because Miyazaki’s off chopping wood.
Some of the amusing anecdotes (though they may have not been amusing at the time), include The New York Times messing up pretty much all its information on Miyazaki while trying to get a scoop, Alpert accidentally losing Miyazaki’s Golden Bear award for a time, and various cultural misunderstandings going on between Disney and Ghibli. Alpert shows a knack for turning situations into the not-meant-to-be comedies that they were. He also does get into some more serious stuff that is treated somberly, like the death of Yasuyoshi Tokuma, who was Miyazaki and Suzuki’s boss. Tokuma is one of the most memorable and colorful people in the book.
The book also gives readers a better understanding not only of business mechanics, but the challenging process of both subtitling and dubbing anime. Alpert, who is fluent in both Japanese and Chinese, supplies examples on difficulties in translation and how they’ve worked around them.
Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man is highly recommended for fans of Studio Ghibli who want to be taken behind-the-scenes for a business (and sometimes personal) look at the esteemed company and the people in it.
Writer: Steve Alpert
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, and its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, with professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.