English dubbing is often a thankless job. For years kaiju eiga has been synonymous with bad dubbing and shouldered a vast gulf of poor English speaking presentations. Granted, much of the Godzilla series' English dubbing is deserving of scorn—Anyone who has suffered through Omni Productions' limited range knows this well. On the flip side Sony, American International Pictures (AIP) and others enlisted actors and directors with a real sense of quality and passion; as a result, their fervor translated to more satisfying performances. The massive quality gap isn't merely heard, it's felt.
Not often do we get the perspective of an English voice talent in the Godzilla series. Do they believe in the film they're voicing for? Do they try to make the part their own? Do they care about the project at all? In this case, very much yes.
Animator, director and writer Christopher Niosi is a voice-over powerhouse that believes anime/live action dubbing has come a long way. He approaches his roles with a sense of duty to the character and dignity for the story. Chris was kind enough to give us a glimpse into the world of modern voice-over, how his peers have worked tirelessly to enhance the quality of anime dubs and how he approached the lead role of Captain Haruo Sakaki in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.
G: I'd like to start with talking a little about yourself. Voice acting is only one of your talents, you graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York and you have an exceedingly successful Youtube channel. So how did that sort of snowball into writing, directing, voice acting, etc?
CHRIS NIOSI: Yeah, animation is my primary career. As I was going to school, this was the start of an era where there really wasn't a whole lot of animation voice-over left in New York. The heyday of that time kind of passed. But one of the few shows that was available there was Pokemon, which has been running for over 20 years now. That was my very first gig. I was given the opportunity by the voice director to audition for a character that was in a few episodes. [Khoury]
I didn't have any real tried and true acting experience, I still have never done any theater or radio and I hadn't taken any classes yet. But I had enough instincts—I was always really interested in the voice-over part of creative stuff—Cartoons, video games, dubbing anime, that sort of thing. So I developed a skill ahead of time. I don't proclaim to be amazing back then, or even now really, but it was enough to be prepared [for] when my first audition came up.
After that I continued to be given opportunities by people—Particularly when I moved out to Los Angeles where there's a lot more work. That was when I started pursuing that a lot harder and I had a lot of friends in the business who were kind enough to help get my name out there. So I've been very fortunate, particularly in the last year. I've booked a lot of stuff! I've been getting a lot bigger characters and leads in movies, shows and games. It's been wonderful.
Godzilla was kind of the nice cherry on top to my year! We did that at the very end of 2017 and then it came out very shortly after that because that seems to be the case with a lot of these Netflix anime. So yeah, it was great!
Going back to your animation, I've seen some of your work, what are some influences you find yourself inspired by?
Oh God! I don't even know. It's literally this hodgepodge, amalgamation of everything I loved growing up. In terms of all the stuff that inspired me: American cartoons, Japanese animation, a lot of video games from both territories. Also just life—My friends, the people in my life are a big inspiration. I've kind of just cobbled together whatever it is my art turns out to be now. [laughs] It works for what it is. I'm efficient enough at it that I can do what I need for my own productions.
It's odd because I moved out here to pursue a career in the animation business, but ended up ultimately not getting a job in that business – I've mostly focused on my own creations – But as far as paying the bills go my voice-over stuff just took off! That ended up supplementing how I can keep the lights on. [laughs] So I'm able to do my own thing while maintaining myself. To me it's all one thing. It's all creative. All of these things I get to do is in tandem with each other. I'm just very fortunate I get to do all of them.
Is your inspiration the same for your voice acting? Many actors find themselves inspired by other talents, so does your inspiration come from the same places you just mentioned? Or is there ever a time you find yourself inspired by other actors?
It's strange I got real interested in voice-over at a young age. There were a lot of anime shows that were airing on Toonami, [Cartoon Network's action block] and Funimation was doing behind-the-scenes clips of their shows--That got me really intrigued about the process. It began with me having my own dream cast of what my own characters might sound like.
As far as inspiration goes, yeah, there's a lot of people. Guys like Roger Craig Smith [Sonic the Hedgehog], James Arnold Taylor [Ratchet, Ratchet & Clank], Yuri Lowenthal [Sasuke Uchiha, Naruto] guys like that are particularly big inspirations. Some of which I've had the pleasure of getting to meet and they're all very kind people. Generally everybody in the voice-over business are very, very kind and I'm very happy to know a lot of them.
Yeah I've met a few. I've always been taken by them and how genuinely excited they are to talk about their work. They tend to be more entertaining to talk to than some live action actors. [laughs]
Well I think film actors are so often, from what I've gathered, a lot of them are just so tired. And here's the thing too, this is the case with a lot of actors in general – both voice-over and on camera – you go in, do the thing, move on to the next gig and then you kind of forget about it. Not everyone dwells on their work.
I'm an egomaniac so I love to bask in the stuff I do—But it's also because I care. I really get in to it and want to know more about it. But yeah, I think often actors are like, “It's just a job for me.” They don't like to make a big deal about it. That's perfectly acceptable and I understand why.
You've played a lot of characters across a lot of really popular franchises including Pokemon and Mobile Suit Gundam – And I'm bonkers about Gundam – but do you have a particular role that's your favorite? A role where you read the part and was like, “Oh this is what I live for. This is what I want,” and really made something out of it?
A character that fits that perfect description is Reigen from Mob Psycho 100, which was a show I did about a year ago. It was by the creator of One Punch Man and I got to play this character which was essentially Jim Carrey as an anime character. That was just a joy. It was a 13 episode show that I went 110% on in terms of just the range of emotions.
And actually, speaking of Gundam, if anyone here reads this I highly suggest you check out Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. For those of you who haven't heard of it, or haven't seen it, it's a precursor to the original '70s, first Gundam series [Mobile Suit Gundam, 1979] with absolutely gorgeous animation. It's near-Disney quality of just beautiful kind of stuff. It shows how a lot of the villain characters came to be who they are. I got to voice Garma Zabi, who is a character who creates a very pivotal change in the story of the original '70s series.
That's a massive character!
Yeah! And particularly the third Gundam: The Origin film, Dawn of Rebellion, was basically his story. He had more lines than the main character in that one which was incredible to me.
He [Garma] was practically the main character—It almost felt like his story in that one.
Yeah! Dawn of Rebellion is definitely Garma's story and I got so much material. I'm very proud of that. I'm also proud to be part of a franchise like that, because Gundam is huge. I've gotten to do three different Gundam series by this point: Iron-Blooded Orphans, we're redoing Gundam SEED, then Gundam: The Origin was the big one. I think we're doing the 6th installment of that, Battle of Loum—Which may be the end of Gundam: The Origin, but I'm really hoping they might do a remake of the original series with that animation style, because that would be amazing!
I've heard rumors that it might take off. They haven't said no to it yet.
I would love that! I would love to recreate certain—You sound like you know, but recreate certain [pause] “iconic” scenes, particularly with Garma. [laughs] I would love to scream my lungs out doing that! So here's hoping.
[Anyway] Dawn of Rebellion is one. Garma's a great character. Reagen from Mob Psycho. Even my first gig, Khoury on Pokemon who had five episodes. He was a character I really connected with a lot and I could not have had a better first job. So that was awesome.
Lets jump into Planet of the Monsters here, how did you land the role of Captain Haruo Sakaki?
It was a total whirlwind! I got the audition on a Saturday, which is very rare, and I did the audition from home. The next day I got an email back saying, “Hey you've got a callback! Can you come in person to the studio on Monday?” And this was quite a drive away—So I came in and I did a little bit of extra stuff which was not in the initial audition. A couple of days later I got the call saying, “Hey, we want you for Haruo. Netflix and Toho have cast you.” Then we started going in to it.
It was a lot of work and a very short amount of time. A lot of these Netflix anime dubs have been very quick—You know, tight deadlines. So we had a lot of hours in a very short amount of time. But thankfully my two directors, Laura Post, Shannon Wilson, and our engineer, were very diligent and they did a great, great job on the whole thing. I had a great time working with them and I'm very proud of everything we did. I just watched it last night and I think it sounds fantastic. Everybody in the cast is amazing.
Haruo is a character that I also feel fits [me]. He's very up my ally in terms of the personality that I excel at. The whole time I felt like this was a good fit for me and going to turn out well. And I think it did! So far everybody who has checked the movie out seems to really enjoy the dub, which I'm glad about. So here's hoping we can do more of them!
The series has a long history of really miserable dubs. And unfortunately the worst ones came over the 1990s and 2000s [Omni Productions]. So recent memory hasn't been kind to Godzilla dubs, and there was a lot of pessimism for this one. But its been received well by fans overall. I dare hold the opinion it's the best since the 1960s when Titra dubbed some movies[for American International Pictures]. How does that reaction make you feel and why do you think it was well received?
Well I think that part of the reason is because it's an animated feature and not live action—Actually I had some friends that worked on the live action dub for Shin Godzilla at Funimation and, even as far as live action dubs, I think we've come a long way. I did an Italian series recently, that's on Netflix, it's called Suburra—I watched the whole show and was like, wow! It looks like we're saying these words coming out of these other Italian actors' mouths! It's incredible.
But I think the big advantage we had on Planet of the Monsters is the fact that it was animated. There's generally a lot more understanding when it comes to dubbing anime. It's been done for a long time and it has worked a little bit better. And dubs for anime alone have come such a long way too.
And again, [it was successful] because we had such a great cast and two great directors. Our writer, Shannon, was very familiar with Godzilla lore from what I understand. So it was a good set-up in terms of people involved. I'm happy that I was able to deliver on Haruo, because when you're the main character – or at the very least the character with the most amount of lines – there's a big expectation to carrying the story and not having the character be miserable. There's been shows and movies where the main character is insufferable and it makes you turned off from the experience. I think Haruo was intriguing enough of a character and had enough of—You know, obviously he's very, very angry a lot. [laughs] All the time in fact! But he had enough of an emotional range where you felt for him and the world he's placed in. I found him interesting even when I was just reading the copy. So I think he made for a good protagonist and thankfully the dub all fit well.
So you know what? Maybe this sounds kind of arrogant, but I'm not surprised the dub did so well! [laughs] I'm just very happy that people are watching it, enjoying the dub and enjoying the movie in.
You mentioned your writer knew some Godzilla lore. Were you ever a fan of the series? Had you seen any of the movies before?
Alright, well time for me to hand in my cred! [laughs] Unfortunately, I've only ever seen, as far as a real Godzilla movie, I've seen Shin Godzilla and... I've seen the American Matthew Broderick one... [laughs]
But as far as my fandom goes, I'm well versed in terms of the Godzilla monsters. I'm a fan of those in terms of collecting toys. I had a SpaceGodzilla, I had a MechaGodzilla, I had several regular Godzillas, I had a Ghidorah somewhere. And I loved the designs of the kaiju. I think that they're great, incredibly iconic monsters. It says something that I can be a fan of just them by themselves regardless of the movies they were in.
Godzilla's something that I've always kind of admired from afar. I would love to see, in particular, some really good Godzilla movies from Japan. I did not go to see the recent one that had Bryan Cranston in it. I wasn't really interested in seeing it. But Shin Godzilla was one I was interested in seeing and that's what made me confident in Planet of the Monsters doing good. Because we've had some American, animated Godzilla stuff many, many, many years ago, but never a Japanese produced one straight from Toho. So that was exciting for me too and I was much more confident in it being a solid movie.
A vocal minority of fans were upset about Godzilla's change in origin, but his origin isn't even mentioned in the film and he looks, acts and feels just as much like Godzilla as any of the most beloved incarnations. What did you think of how directors Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita handled Godzilla himself?
Here's the thing in terms of handling Godzilla, at the end of the day Godzilla is pure, raw, excitement and entertaining in the form of his destruction—Whether he's an anti-hero, or a straight up hero in terms of fighting other, more dangerous monsters, or sometimes he's the threat to the humans.
[laughs] You sound like you've seen more than one or two of these movies like you claimed.
Because Godzilla is such an iconic fixture in cinema that I know enough about that. It's like if you hadn't seen Star Wars, but you know who Luke Skywalker and all the key characters are. With Godzilla I think it comes down to the execution of that exciting factor and when it comes to the latter choice of making him the threat, then you have to make the human characters that are trying to stand up against him somewhat intriguing.
He represents this pure destruction of the planet, and not only the planet's destruction itself and taking it from the human race, but robbing the human race of their dignity. Haruo's anger embodies the disdain and bitterness of that—This pure, seething hatred that is unlike anybody. He's focusing on vengeance and taking back what Godzilla stole from them collectively. The others, Leland, Martin, Metphies, Yuko, and everybody else being on the careful and strategic side, made for an interesting dynamic. I really like the human characters in this a lot.
Certainly I have a level of bias because they're all voiced by friends of mine. [laughs] So they certainly make them more likeable to me than the average bear. But I really dug the characters of this movie and because I dug them, particularly during the big climatic battle with Godzilla, that whole sequence is incredibly raw and exciting. And I'm hoping, since they've established other monsters exist in this continuity, that perhaps we'll get to see the last remaining Earthlings fight back against some other familiar faces in subsequent films.
On Twitter you mentioned this is the first time you had voiced a Mamoru Miyano character. He's extremely popular, having voiced Setsuna F. Seiei on Gundam 00 and Ultraman Zero from the Ultraman series. The guy's impressive at what he does, did you feel any pressure taking over the role?
Oh yeah! Absolutely! Not only that, but the Japanese version has all of the biggest seiyu*! Yuki Kaji [Adam Bindewald, Godzilla; Eren Jaeger, Attack on Titan], Daisuke Ono [Shukuro Tsukishima, Bleach], Takahiro Sakurai [Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children], etc. It's an all-star cast! So yes! Absolutely, there was a lot to live up to.
I've never played a Mamoru Miyano character in another thing before. I actually have dubbed Daisuke Ono, who is Leland. I played a character that he voiced in Tales of Zestiria, which is one of the first video games that I did in California. Also Takahiro Sakurai, who plays Metphies, he did Reigen on Mob Psycho 100. [Metphies] was dubbed by my great friend Lucien Dodge [Amuro Rey, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin] who I actually owe quite a bit to, he's a fantastic actor--
His Metphies was outstanding.
Yeah! And our whole cast: Christina Vee [Yuko Tani, Godzilla], Rich Brown [Rilu-Elu Belu-Be, Godzilla], Taylor Henry [Mulu-Elu Galu-Gu, Godzilla], Robbie Daymond [Adam Bindewald, Godzilla]--Incredible actors, you know? [A] nice hardy mix of some veterans sprinkled in there. A lot of old school, first generation anime guys and a lot of newer folks like myself. There was a lot to live up to, but I think there was a lot of pressure taken off because Haruo, as a character, was so up my ally.
I did audition for Metphies and Martin—Martin was played by Edward Bosco, another friend of mine. I would not have been a good fit for either or them. They were way better than I would have been and Haruo was the one I was gunning for. I felt when I auditioned that this was the guy I would have the best shot at and, low and behold, I did! I actually didn't realize it was Mamoru Miyano until after I booked the part. Then I looked up the cast and I was like, “OH! Oh, God! I hope I don't screw this up!” [laughs] But it was a big honor and he's a great actor. I loved his work on Death Note as well, he was Light Yagami. He's amazing.
Did you take any direct inspiration from his performance for Haruo?
Well the way it works in dubbing anime these days is usually they will preview the Japanese line ahead of time so you can get a sense [of it]. We like to get a little inspiration in terms of the visuals and a bit of the original performances. On anything I work on in terms of dubbing, I definitely try to get some inspiration there and stay true to how they're fitting into the story.
But for the most part I also try to give my own spin on how the character is suppose to be and how they're reacting in that moment. Because the Japanese have a very different kind of inflection style I just try to make it work.
So what do you feel you brought to the character? What was unique to your Haruo?
Whenever he says “Godzilla” I tried to have a little bit of that seething hatred in the way he would say [it]. We had some jokes behind-the-scenes about how he has such an obsessive hate-boner for Godzilla, if you'll excuse the term. [laughs]
Also when he's interacting with Yuko, who he grew up with, I would try to channel some of the vulnerability and almost depression—But still have a sense of hope. Because he has the resolve to actually follow through and take back the things they have lost. I just tried to give him a sense of range. Like I was kind of teasing before, it's easy to have an obnoxious protagonist when they're always on the same level. So in the depths of his anger I tried to give him a fair amount of relatability.
Also, probably most importantly, a sense of being a leader! Ultimately he has to take up a mantle and lead the others to victory. Whether he's fit for that position or not has yet to be seen. [laughs] And [he] may either be the key to victory or the key to everybody dying horribly.
Yeah, the position was sort of thrust upon him, whether he wanted it or not. He had to accept this new role as a leader.
Yeah. There's this great moment where he's giving a mini-speech to the others and at first I was being very intense with everything: “Alright, I'm going to skip the pleasantries: We're pretty f----d guys!” [laughs] But when we did the second pass she [director Laura Post] was like, “He doesn't need to yell. He doesn't need to be super intense with this. There definitely needs to be a strong, commanding leadership, but not intensity.” So we played with that a lot. There was a lot of time spent on that scene in particular and I think it turned out really well.
I agree. So what was the most difficult scene to do? And alternatively, what was the most fun—What was your favorite?
They're one in the same! I got to scream at the top of my lungs, “You bastard.” I prepped myself heavily for when the time came. I had some herbal, Chinese cough syrup prepared. [laughs] Or rather our director, Laura, did. It was really kind of her to do that. But I really went full on, 110% Dragon Ball—Just pure screaming. Unfortunately, it's a little difficult to hear because it's over a bunch of noise—I won't spoil what it is. But yeah, I had a lot of fun doing that.
Would this... Be the climax of the battle?
A bunch of explosions are going off, I'll say that. And it ripped my throat in half, but thankfully I was okay. I'm used to that because in anime you do a lot of screaming. [laughs]
I'll give some shout-outs. My buddy Rich Brown, who fans of Skull Girls will know, played one of the spiky faced aliens, Belu-be. He had a lot of screaming throughout the big, climactic fight against Godzilla. Very underrated actor, I was happy he got to be in this film in particular. He does not get as many gigs as he deserves. He's fantastic.
Did you get a chance to bounce off these actors while recording at all?
Generally, we're always solo when recording anime—We always record one at a time. Thankfully, when a lot of other characters are recorded ahead of time we get to hear their takes. So I was able to hear all my friends and figure out who some of the cast was. I'm kind of walking, talking encyclopedia of voice-over, so when I hear a line I'm like, “Oh, it's Bosco! Oh, it's Rich! Oh, it's Lucien! Oh, it's Christina!” But it always helps having their voices recorded ahead of time.
So are we going to hear your Haruo in the next two Godzilla films?
I don't know yet, but I really hope so. I hope that we all get to come back. I know the next one is suppose to screen in Japan in May, so not too long of a wait. I don't know what their plan is, but hopefully we'll continue to do them. That would be great. So we'll see.
So how much do you know about the next movie—What have you read online and what not?
I've heard--I think MechaGodzilla may be making an appearance of some kind?
Do you think we might see Haruo pilot MechaGodzilla?
Oh dear God I hope so!
[laughs] Well what do you want to see happen with Haruo in the next couple of films?
That's a good question. I'd like to see him have a rematch with Godzilla. Perhaps a moment of bonding with some of the other guys who are around. I would love to see more of his relationship with Yuko, because they grew up together. She seems like one of the few people he really trusts on an intimate level—Not it in a romantic way necessarily, but in terms of a friendship. [By contrast] the others are more like colleagues.
And of course, from a fan perspective, I'd love to see more of the monsters. I love Mothra and Ghidorah's fantastic. I don't know how many of them we'll get to see, but I know that from the introduction they're all in there! [laughs]
Outside of hopefully more Godzilla what other projects do you have coming up?
A whole bunch of stuff actually! There's another Netflix anime that I'm on, Fate/Apocrypha. I voice Karna, the Red Lancer. It's long standing anime and video game series, it was great to be part of that. An anime that just came out today [the day of this interview], Terra Formars—I play a very Haruo-esque character actually, Akari Hizamaru. He has more of a sense of humor and a touch of a pervy side compared to Haruo, but he's also a very kickass, angry individual. That was my first lead in an anime, it very much prepared me for Haruo actually. I was in a beautiful looking anime called Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress which is also out on Blu-Ray. Great dub! It's got a few Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters cast members in it actually.
And I've got a few shows coming out and a couple of video games I've been working on, [but] none I can talk about just yet. As far as myself goes, I'm in the middle of making a video game called The Terrain of Magical Expertise—It's an RPG. It also features a few alumni, perhaps, of Godzilla. We'll see. So a whole lot of things down the pipe and a lot of stuff coming out this year that I will be excited to talk about very soon.
So you're staying busy!
That's all any artist can ask to be, is busy working! [laughs]
Well Chris I want to thank you for your time. I appreciate you spending a little bit of it to speak with me. Do you have any message for your fans and Godzilla fans you'd like to get out in the open?
Just that I really hope you guys like the movie. I know that we're already set to have more. If you liked [it] and gave it a shot I hope you will continue to watch the other two when they come out. I hope you give the dub a shot and hopefully you enjoyed it. And here's hoping that we can continue to do the rest of them.
I'm a big advocate that dubs for anime, and Japanese productions in general, have come such a long way. The people I work with work very, very hard to make them really good, entertaining experiences and true to the original source material. There's so many great actors that do these things now. I'm happy to be among them and continue to do my best.
Make sure you check out Chris Niosi's website: ChrisNiosi.com.
You can also follow Chris on social media: Twitter and check out Chris's Youtube Channel!
*seiyu is a term used for Japanese voice actors.
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