The Dumbing Down of the American Moviegoer, Ctd.

Sumitted without comment.  This review of Princess Mononoke was written in 1999, at the time of its theatrical release in the United States:

A film like this difficult to import, thanks to the cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. Lots of work was done to make the script understandable to American audiences; what's not necessary to explain in Japan might be necessary to explain in the U.S. This means the dialogue is not a direct translation. Sometimes this can work against the movie, like the bad dubbing script for Akira (the subtitled tape I have is much better). But Mononoke's script is good, and if ever there was dubbing that was top-notch, it's in this movie. (Kiki is also very well dubbed.) But dubbing is dubbing. Hearing a character say, "Forest God! We give you back your head!" is just funny no matter how it's said. If I'd just been reading it in subtitles while the original voices spoke on-screen, the cultural gap might not have been so silly—reading a translation like that is different from hearing a character come right out and say it. The audience laughed several times at things that were not meant to be funny. Sometimes, I understood why, like the head line, while other times I was cringing at what seemed to be a lack of openness to another culture's visions, like the strange human face of the Forest God. (Or maybe I was cringing to fight back my own smirking reaction to that face.) Either way, it's distracting and takes you out of the movie.

4 comments:

Just8 said...

I'd like to make 2 observations:
Re: "Lots of work was done to make the script understandable to American audiences; what's not necessary to explain in Japan might be necessary to explain in the U.S. This means the dialogue is not a direct translation.":
I recall having read somewhere that there was one small, but significant change in the english translation: in the english dub, Ashitaka says goodbye to his sister as he leaves his village; in the original she's his fiancee. I can not verify this at the moment, as my brother has borrowed my DVD. However, if this is true, it would seem to fall beyond the scope of extra explanation for a U.S. audience. Hm...

Re: "...difficult to import, thanks to the cultural differences between Japan and the U.S."
I do not think it is necessary to know and/or understand all cultural differences from a movie from, say, Japan.
One movie of which it is often said that it can't be fully understood by westerners is Pom Poko. I'm going to digress now, so if you only want to read about Mononoke, stop reading now.
Now, to a certain extent, it's true that there are a lot of typical cultural things in that movie that I don;s know about; but the movie resonated with me: the building of new suburbs to a city reminded me of when I was about 10 years old,and a new suburb was built in my city. My uncle and aunt went to live there, and for a couple of years each school holiday I would spend a couple of days there and play with my cousin near the construction sites. And as I grew older, rows and rows of houses appeared, and some years later the work was done, there was not much room to play anymore (every free space had been built on), and i felt sorry for kids who were a few years younger than I was: they couldn't spend their holidays playing in a suburb that was being built.
Pom Poko has, that nostalgic feeling. To me, it's partly a film about growing up. The tanuki who don't want to disappear change into humans, have children, and jobs, and sometimes yearn for the times when they could just play, carefree, in the forest.
And all over the world people know places that used to be forest, or farmland, and are now cities.
Pom Poko doesn't have a clear cut ending; the end is wonderfully bittersweet. And also sad. And. as Daniel said in his review, "Repeated viewings are absolutely required."

J.R.D.S. said...

I've seen and heard the film several times but not very recently, but I remember the former point on Mononoke being a case of the opposite: something translated quite directly that could have done with adapting to make it clearer that the epithets used for younger/older siblings and grandparents etc. can also be used for people old enough to be that relative to oneself, or holding an analogous position in a "barbarian" tribe, as they were used in a mixture of in this case. The delivery of the American dubbing suggests to me that they understood this but the intonation alone fails to make it clear without further explanation – though, saying this, I've no better idea as to how such explanation could be worked into the lip-flaps without breaking the drama. Translation notes as some publishers of manga in translation include in their books would do much to lift this responsibility off the script.

Cory Gross said...

Given the option, I also prefer to watch the subtitled version of an anime to the dubbed version. That's a fairly well-known phenomenon amongst anime fans. Does that make us dumb, or what? Or is it the desire to have cultural differences explained? What are you even getting at in this post?

ZM said...

They were laughing at Princess Mononoke? God, americans don`t deserve to live in this world.

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