When I started my employment at Streamline Pictures, I found myself working mostly with Carl on the translations for dubbing than with Jerry and his distribution duties (which, for the record, included booking and shipping of Streamline’s 35mm theatrical prints, creating trailers, writing press kits and preparing advertising materials with Svea Macek).
Carl insisted that all of Streamline’s videos would be dubbed, not subtitled, because the general public he wished to attract (he ignored the anime fans) would care not read subtitles for an animated feature. Sales – compared with the sales of other companies’ subtitled anime videos – proved that he was right. Since our video anime did not come from Japan already dubbed, it was Carl who worked with the American voice actors in dubbing sessions. Carl also insisted on working only with voice actors who were Screen Actors Guild (union) members and, since that did not include me, I was never involved in the dubbing sessions themselves. What I thought of as “Carl’s dubbing staff” (Kramer, Chamberlin, etc.) must have worked with Carl only in the dubbing sound studios that Carl rented, since they never came around the Streamline offices.
My earliest main duty at Streamline was to compare the translated scripts that we got from Japan when we licensed a title, with the Japanese video of the same title that some L.A.-area fan had, and make sure that they matched. The problem was that, after thirty years of Japanese movies being licensed for America, nobody in Japan believed any more that the Americans were interested in accurate translations, especially in “cartoons for children”. Astro Boy and Kimba were typical examples. Characters regularly got new American names (Mighty Atom = Astro Boy, Leo = Kimba, Hamegg = both Ringmaster Cacciatore and hunter Viper Snakely); Japanese foods became hamburgers or milkshakes; etc. So Streamline would tell the Japanese that we were going to produce English-language adaptations that were as accurate as possible, and that we needed accurate translations to do that; and we still got translated scripts where three minor characters might be named Man #1, Man #2, and Man #3, or given arbitrary English names like Charlie, Biff, and Joe, since the Japanese assumed that we would rename them anyway. My job was to watch the Japanese-language videos, or to scan the articles in Animage, Anime V, My Anime, Newtype, The Anime, and the other anime-fan magazines, to find out the original character names, what foods they were really ordering in Japanese restaurants, etc.
Carl made no secret of the fact that one reason that Streamline was so glad to get me was that I had a complete collection of all the Japanese anime magazines. So even if Streamline was licensing a minor video that was almost ten years old, I could find an article about it somewhere. Also, I knew all the local fans, so I could borrow a video tape of a title that Streamline had just licensed to make sure that our translation would be accurate.
One of my other duties was to check Streamline’s post office box; P. O. Box 691418, West Hollywood, CA 90069-1418. This was at the large West Hollywood Post Office, very near the La Cienega office, but not so near where we moved to later in Santa Monica. I checked it about once a week in the La Cienega days, and about once a month thereafter. Streamline kept this address until 2002, but it became less important after about 1993, when Streamline’s Video Comics became regularly available in video stores and comics shops, and mail orders fell off.
Streamline often found out three things the hard way, sometimes not until after we had licensed a title. (1) The Japanese studio had not kept most of its publicity material for an old title. A five- or ten-year-old title that might have had a dozen publicity stills when it was released had only one or two file copies today. A couple of times Streamline was reduced to photocopying a particularly good image from an old anime magazine. (2) The same went for their features’ title sequence. Movies like Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, Robot Carnival, or Golgo 13 that may have had important artwork amidst their Japanese-language credits no longer existed except in the finished film. When Streamline had to replace the Japanese credits with new English-language credits, the studio had long since discarded its textless title footage. It would have been too expensive &/or technically impractical to try to separate those images from the Japanese credits footage and blend them into the English-language credits, so the Streamline credits went unillustrated – and the fans always complained. (3) The Japanese studio sometimes never had the rights to a title’s music. It had just licensed the music for the Japanese theatrical or TV release. Fist of the North Star was one that we had to have new American music written for because the Japanese music was not legally available – and the fans complained loudly about the inaccuracy of Streamline’s “Americanization”.Streamline was devoted from its inception to Japanese animation, but that didn’t keep small-time salesmen from trying to sell us whatever they had. These were usually not theatrical releases, so Jerry never got involved with them. Carl generally brushed them off, but there were two non-Japanese items that he was interested in, brought to us around 1991 or 1992. One was all of the animation from Studio Dauka in Riga, Latvia. (Latvia had separated from the dying USSR in August 1991, and its animation was no longer controlled by Soyuzmultfilm in Moscow.) The other was a live-action Chinese-language children’s horror-comedy fantasy TV series about three kids versus a string of adult jiangshi corpses plus one cute 5- or 6-year-old little-boy jiangshi. We called the series informally “The Little Rascals vs. the Hopping Zombies”.
Both sales failed when Carl found out they were dubiously legal or definitely illegal. The Chinese series was tied up with one of the Triad gangs, which Carl refused to get involved with. (All three of us had witnessed TMS trying to become an American TV cartoon producer during the 1980s, with unofficial Yakuza money. The Yakuza even sent “representatives” to Hollywood to loom around TMS’ offices.) The man peddling Dauka’s cartoons did not have any rights to them; he simply had obtained a set of video prints. Presumably he planned to be long gone with Streamline’s money before we discovered that we were not getting any negatives from Studio Dauka, which had never heard of us or of its supposed representative.
Most of the Studio Dauka animation that we were shown is on YouTube today; especially its Fantadroms seven-minute cartoons starring “the sneezing alien cat” – three at the time we saw them; thirteen today. Here are two of them: “Uguns” (Fire) and “Piens” (Milk). These were made in pantomime so they could be shown throughout the Soviet Union, or after 1991 marketed throughout the former Soviet republics, without the need for translation. The yellow cat galactic troubleshooter, the female rat on a unicycle who is in love with him (which he does not reciprocate), the purple cat-octopus who helps him (whom the rat is insanely jealous of), and the fat pink cloud who is always getting into trouble, are regular characters. You can see them all on YouTube.
Most of Dauka’s animation was so surrealistic that neither Carl nor I could figure out what it was about, like Skatāmpanti (Looking-Rhymes) and Kabata included here (examples embed below). We called Skatāmpanti “the evil Parcheesi pieces that kidnap the rat lovers, and the heroic green rabbit who rescues them”. If you can guess their plots, please tell me.
Dauka’s only theatrical feature, Ness un Nesija (Ness and Nessie), about the Loch Ness monster and her husband, was “different” enough to be unsuitable for American theatrical release. These were all much weirder than anything in Japanese anime. An American audience would say, “What planet is this from!?” But Carl and I thought that they probably had enough “cult” appeal to be profitable on home video; Ness and Nessie as a feature, and a collection of the shorts as a half-hour or hour home video. One very short TV cartoon was really just an advertisement for Dauka’s commercial animation services. “Let us increase your sales by making a cartoon commercial for your product.” A Latvian manufacturer or store might be interested; an American audience would probably be scared off.
I have no idea what the real title of the Chinese-language TV series was, or whether it was from Hong Kong or Taiwan – certainly not from the Peoples’ Republic, if it had a Triad connection. It was a comedy-fantasy about a modern gang of three small-town children about ten years old, a tomboyish girl leader and two boy sidekicks, who find out that a string of “hopping zombies” is being led to their neighborhood for nefarious purposes. In Chinese history, people seldom left their own village or city during their entire lives, so the belief grew up, especially in the Taoist religion, that a dead person had to be buried in the soil of his or her home village, or he/she became a jiangshi, a hopping (it couldn’t walk because of rigor mortis) zombie or vampire that prowled by night to suck the life force (not blood) of the living. (This is why 19th-century Chinese laborers who came to America to work on the railroads often wanted their bodies shipped back to their home villages if they died.) Jiangshi were always depicted as pale blue, dressed in old-fashioned royal court fashions, and hopping with their arms outstretched. They could be, and were in most Chinese adventure and horror tales, “killed” or controlled by a sutra (a paper prayer) pasted to their foreheads by a brave hero, but they could also be controlled by the prayers of a Buddhist or Taoist priest or the magic of a powerful wizard. In this TV series, an evil wizard had collected about a dozen hopping zombies that he had brought, hopping in a string after him, to the children’s town for whatever plot he had. All were adults except one, who was the cutest five- or six-year-old boy you can imagine; sort of like a pale blue Casper the Friendly Ghost dressed like an Imperial noble, hopping with outstretched arms. I didn’t see enough from the sample episodes that we were shown to determine whether he was good or bad, but I assume that he was taken control of by “The Little Rascals” to help them fight the magician and the other zombies. The three children, whom nobody believed so they had to fight the wizard and zombies themselves, were known only by their nicknames, which roughly meant “Spunky Girl”, “Short, Dark & Handsome”, and “Fat Pig” (the chubby, comic-relief boy). If this TV series has ever been shown on American TV or home video, or posted to YouTube, I can’t find it.
Next week: Streamline Pictures, 1991 to 1993.