Actress Diane Michelle talks with her fellow cohorts on ABC's Tokyo Pig and passes along their experiences and advice.
Ive just finished watching the Japanese anime TV show Tokyo Pig (ABC/Family, most Saturdays and Sundays at 11 am) and I feel like you do when you come off the Tilt OWhirl: dizzy and nauseous. In a good way. As my nine year-old describes the show, Its whacked, bent and frantic but I wouldnt miss it! Okay, maybe she says that partly because Im a regular on the show as the weather lady/narrator, but Tokyo Pig writer, director and actor Steve Kramer (best known for Robotech and Transformers) says, We were encouraged to keep the pace fast with lots of jokes, so she isn't making it all up.
Adapting A Show
Because the show was originally animated to Japanese voice actors, we have to re-dub which causes some interesting challenges. I asked Steve if he stuck pretty close to the original scripts and dialogue lines and he says, No, in Tokyo Pig we didnt because there are really two attitudes you run into from producers. The first is, they want it just like the Japanese they dont want to change anything, just want it to fit somehow. If they could, theyd take the translation, stick it on a page and record it. But the truth is, thats not going to work. You need to adapt it to fit the mouth movements and the pacing of whats happening on the screen. If you dont, it's Kung Fu theatre, where you have someone talking straight through when the mouth has stopped moving. When Steve started explaining about fricatives and bi-labials I blushed, but it turns out those are just the fancy names for consonants that require our lips to come together. Hmmm.
Finding the right balance between Japanese culture and American sensibility was a challenge in establishing the tone for Tokyo Pig. Author Diane Michelle serves as the weather lady/narrator on Tokyo Pig. Photo Credit: Michael Helms.
The second thought producers have is to rewrite the show completely, he continues. I actually agree somewhere in the middle. When you get a Japanese anime like Tokyo Pig, usually the translations are pretty literal and you just cant use them. I mean, to have someone look at the guy who just attacked him and say, `How dare you attack me in such a disrespectful and impertinent manner! you cant use that! It makes sense to them culturally but its not accessible to a Western audience. What theyre laughing at over there isnt what were laughing at over here. Part of it is our tradition of humor all the way from vaudeville on down. Its a little faster paced, its set up/pay off, set up/pay off.
That was the hardest thing to do on Tokyo Pig. We had to impose that pacing of humor on a show that maybe took more time or didnt have as many individual set up/pay off jokes. The writers were encouraged to find every humorous moment they could milk, and if they didnt then I was encouraged to try and do it in the studio [as the director].
Pratfalls, slurping food, homework and crushes hit the target audience of kids between six and 11. In the show eight year-old Spencer, played by Joshua Seth, sketches a pig and it comes to life. He then spends each episode getting into a predicament from which only Sunny Pig, voiced by Mona Marshall, with its magical powers, can save him.
Talking With My Peeps
Well, what about my partners in voice over crime? What do they have to say about Tokyo Pig? First, I talked to Wally Wingert, who plays Spencers dad, about how he created the voice: Well, when [producer/director] Jamie Simone asked me to come up with a voice that would be different from the average, dumb dad, I tried a raspy, back in the throat sound, suggestive of Christopher Lloyd.
What kind of advice would Wally give an up and coming voice actor? Work hard. Nothing comes quickly. Study, study, study. Drink in everything you hear accents, cadences of peoples voices, impersonations of people you know.
If you go to wallyontheweb.com youll be amazed at the self-marketing this guy does. (Oh yeah, thats the other really important part of this business called show!)
Another example of someone who promotes herself while performing, writing and directing full time is Wendee Lee, who voices Miss Spelt, the teacher on Tokyo Pig. Her voice is a little higher pitched and a little more conservative than mine, Wendee explains.
I wondered what she would do if she were booked into the recording studio and started feeling like she was catching a cold. First I stop talking and rest my voice until I need it for the show. Then I throat coat with tea and honey. She started rattling off a list that included grapefruit seed extract, goldenseal and other things but I couldnt write that fast so I rest assured she can handle a cold.
Other occupational hazards we talked about are more insidious and harder to get rid of, like ageism and sexism. Absolutely Im affected, says Wendee. Unfortunately, there are fewer roles for women, but Im starting to see a trend where more material is being supplied for girl viewers. Im glad Tokyo Pig is airing on TV.
Wendee is very active in the anime scene and she explained to me that it can become a very expensive habit when anime fans have to purchase from a store the titles they want to see. Thanks to the support and perseverance of devoted fans, anime is here to stay! she decrees.
For me, anime is just one of the many places I get to do voice over work. Beginning years ago with Scooby Doo I got cast as a Greek tavern owner on The Stoney Glare Scare. I frantically called all over San Pedro (my hometown) to ask restaurant owners who were Greek to read off the menu so I could imitate them the next day! Tomorrow Ill be doing the voice of Disneys Daisy Duck for a Christmas CD. Its never dull.
I think dubbing the English for anime shows like Tokyo Pig is one of the hardest jobs. Not only do you have to come up with original character voices, you have to sustain them while fitting whole paragraphs into the mouth of the cartoon on the monitor. But Im not complaining. Ive stayed pretty busy and knock on wood Ill continue.
In closing I thought it would be cool to share with you something my mentor and friend Daws Butler (the voice of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Elroy Jetson, Snagglepuss, Captain Crunch and a lot more characters) used to say: Dont forget. Words are the actors tools. They become truly meaningful when you get them off the paper and up into 'your computer, to be spilled out newborn as your thoughts.
Diane Michelle, a San Pedro, California native and UC Santa Barbara alumna, can often be heard in TV and radio commercials, and creating off-beat voices for cartoons, CD-ROMs and films. Since 1990 she's been the singing voice of Daisy Duck, among many other animated characters. Her credits include The Simpsons, The West Wing and Little Mermaid II. In '02 she launched a one-woman show in Los Angeles as the Annie Award-winning cartoon spaceship captain/diva Va Va LaVoom. Michelle is an expert in dialects and celebrity impersonations, and is also a painter, guitarist and vocal teacher.