Studio Ghibli is home to some of the biggest names in anime. You have heard of director Hayao Miyazaki, director Isao Takahata, and (if you watch the Studio Ghibli credits closely) producer Toshio Suzuki. But you probably never heard of Steve Alpert, a studio executive for Studio Ghibli’s parents company, Takuma Shoten, a key figure in getting Studio Ghibli films released internationally, and the only gaijin (foreigner) in the company. This leaves him with experiences that could only be told by him. As the back cover states, “No one else could have written this book.” Even better, it’s an entertaining and insightful read.
For a quick synopsis, Alpert discusses his time when he was first hired by Toshi Suzuki to run Studio Ghibli’s international branch in the mid-1990s to the Academy Awards in 2003, when Spirited Away won Best Animated Feature. With this book being titled Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man, Hayao Miyazaki is a huge part of this book. Alpert recounts the trips he made with Miyazaki to various film festivals, something that Miyazaki despised because all his time was stuck in interviews and press conferences. When he was not answering the same questions for hours on end, Miyazaki toured the area’s architecture and bought antiques. His taste buds only longed for Japanese food, though Miyazaki admitted the homemade Christmas feasts of France were very good.
But what makes this book so insightful for a film lover like me is Alpert going into detail about Tokuma Shoten, Disney, and Miramax. Tokuma Shoten’s CEO Yasuyoshi Tokmua is a huge figure in the book, and Alpert uses him to tell stories about Japanese corporate life. Alpert having to overcome a language and cultural barrier gives these stories an extra wrinkle you wouldn’t find in a business textbook. I should also give a shout out to Studio Ghibli’s unsung hero, Toshio Suzuki, whose incredible marketing knowledge made Ghibli’s films such commercial successes in Japan. This book shows you how much the side of business influences a film’s success (Fans of Sayaka from Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! would know this very well). As for the Disney and Miramax side of things, I’ll let you read the book. I will say that it's a miracle that Princess Mononoke’s dub is any good. Having the film released uncut in the States is practically an act of god.
All this insight wouldn’t be nearly as memorable without Alpert’s witty narration. Turns out he’s a master of English and is able to give the facts and his opinions in equal measure. He’s also not afraid of being self-deprecating. Alpert recounts the time he lost Spirited Away’s Golden Bear statue and his embarrassing moments on TV. The author often goes into deep detail, giving you an itinerary of events that makes it feel like you’re there and give his accounts credibility.
I liked reading this so much I wish we learned more about what happened post-2003. He talks about how hard the art of voice acting for anime is, but doesn’t mention his appearance in The Wind Rises as Castorp. I guess it is a sign of a good book when you want more.
Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man provides a unique view into Studio Ghibli, Japanese business, and the process of bringing anime to international audiences. I’m glad Steve Alpert shared his story, and wrote it with such insight and wit to boot.
This highly entertaining business memoir describes what it was like to work for Japan’s premiere animation studio, Studio Ghibli, and its reigning genius Hayao Miyazaki. Steve Alpert, a Japanese-speaking American, was the “resident foreigner” in the offices of Ghibli and its parent Tokuma Shoten and played a central role when Miyazaki’s films were starting to take off in international markets. Alpert describes hauling heavy film canisters of Princess Mononoke to Russia and California, experiencing a screaming Harvey Weinstein, dealing with Disney marketers, and then triumphantly attending glittering galas celebrating the Oscar-winning Spirited Away.
His one-of-a-kind portraits of Miyazaki and long-time producer Toshio Suzuki, and of sly, gruff, and brilliant businessman Yasuyoshi Tokuma, capture the hard work and artistry that have made Ghibli films synonymous with cinematic excellence. And as the lone gaijin in a demanding company run by some of the most famous and influential people in modern Japan, Steve Alpert tackles his own challenges of language and culture. No one else could have written this book.Add to CartLearn More