A lot of work goes into making animated films, but what is it that really makes a particular film stand out? Of course the animation itself is important, as is the storyline, but you can’t forget about the voices that give the characters their unique personalities and help bring them to life.

If you’re a fan of anime, you probably have a favorite voice actor or two, be they English-speaking or the original Japanese seiyuu. But how many of you are familiar with the Japanese people behind Hayao Miyazaki’s animated characters? As it turns out, professional voice actors are seldom used in the making of Miyazaki’s films. In fact, some of the voices behind the father characters aren’t even actors at all, with the likes of journalists and copywriters even being used to fill key roles.

Some Japanese netizens have wondered about the voices of the fathers who appear in Miyazaki’s movies, with one Twitterer in particular pondering, “Why are all the voices for the Ghibli dads so dull?” Even so, there are those who are fond of the plain, down-to-earth tones of the “Ghibli dads.”

▼”The voice actors for the dads in Ghibli movies, such as those in Totoro and Whisper of the Heart, might not be the best performers, but they have a charm that starts to grow on you. Same with Ponyo. George Tokoro is great. This is definitely the magic of Ghibli.”


So just who are voices behind the charming, laid-back dads?

Tatsuo Kasukabe, father of Satsuki and Mei in My Neighbor Totoro, is played by Shigesato Isoi, who, according to his entry on Wikipedia, is a “Japanese copywriter, essayist, lyricist, [and] game designer… best known outside of Japan for his work on Nintendo’s EarthBound series…”. The father of Whisper of the Heart‘s Shizuku, meanwhile, is played by independent journalist Takashi Tachibana, a man who is known for his articles on Japan’s social problems.

It might seem odd to use someone with little to no acting experience to play a major role in films with a fandom as large as Studio Ghibli’s, but there is of course a reason for why these men were chosen. For My Neighbor Totoro, it turns out the initial plan was to have a professional voice actor. Auditions were even held, but after listening to the tapes, Miyazaki stated he wanted just an “ordinary father” after all. The famed director prefers his characters to have the “natural carelessness” of normal human conversation, so opted for someone who would read less in the “anime” style.

▼”If I dare say it, I like the Ghibli films that use professional voice actors. However, I love the quality and kindness of Shigesato Isoi. For that kind of father, Itoi is better than having a skilled voice actor.”


Not all of the voice actors are amateurs, of course. Okino, the father in Kiki’s Delivery Service, was played by actor Kouichi Miura, who is mostly known for his appearances in Japanese TV dramas. He may not of had any experience with voice acting, but his tone-of-voice was just the match for Kiki’s gentle, loving dad.

From a personal prospective, I can appreciate the decision to use people with little to no voice acting experience. Sometimes, using professionals can make the voices sound over-acted, or simply leave audiences trying to put a familiar voice to the name rather than concentrating on the film, but an amateur is more likely to read the lines naturally, making the character feel more real and believable.

If you’ve watched these films in the original Japanese, what did you think of the voices? How do you rate them compared to the English dubs?

Sources: NAVER Matome, Wikipedia (1, 2, 3), Ghibli no Sekai
Feature image: NAVER Matome