August 29, 2003 9:59 PM   Subscribe

Japanese Tolkien fans angered over translation issues. Relatively old news, but I believe not that well known. Do the technical difficulties involved excuse the loss of important meaning in dialogue? Film translation seems to suffer from much less prestige than literary translation, though that too has its controversies. In the US, anime fans replay the loose vs strict translation debate daily, also protesting cuts and edits. Is it really impossible in the rush to make money off the geeks and off the masses to stay relatively true to the original material?
posted by e^2 (21 comments total)
Japanese and English are very different languages. This and the need for brevity therefore means subtitles translation is sometimes neccessarily loose. This goes for all films.

Somehow I'm not surprised that Japanese Lord of the Rings fans are anally retentive.
posted by dydecker at 10:08 PM on August 29, 2003

I think the problem highlighted in the main link is separate from the common problem in translation highlighted in the rest of your post. You end up with tons of malidioms and poor concept mapping when the two languages are steeped in totally different cultures and history. With Harry Potter, even J K Rowling's individuocabulary was translated to local 'equivalents' (generally as nonsenical). Perhaps the same could happen with animé and Tolkien? Or, then again, why should it? A hobbit in English is a hobbit in any other language, no?

In your first link, however, it's simply POOR translation. A poor French-English translator could make similar mistakes, and it's not anything to do with idioms or cultural differences in the languages. Any good translator should be able to convert basic verbs and adjectives properly without changing the intonation.
posted by wackybrit at 10:15 PM on August 29, 2003

Bring your pussy face to my ass!
posted by homunculus at 10:19 PM on August 29, 2003

wackybrit: I think there are similarities in the fan criticisms both here and in Japan, though, in the reasons for poor translation -- that being capitalization and money-making at the expense of the fans and the work itself. There's an attempt to include them just enough to ensure they buy whatever's being put out, but even reasonable standards (which, to be fair, not all fans have) are not being met.

I probably should have cut the middle section, which is only tangentially related. (Unless you start talking about the sub vs dub debate... that'll get flames going in certain forums, I'll tell ya.) Too late now, unfortunately.
posted by e^2 at 10:35 PM on August 29, 2003

The first link is comparing English and English, not Japanese, which means that this geek has translated Toda Natsuko's subtitles once more to English to make his point? Reductio ad absurdiolicious.

That said, Toda, the Queen of Japanese subtitles, admits that she is not that good at SciFi (I went to her lecture a few months ago), but the blame for any major mistakes should go to Tanaka Akiko, who translated the novel and supposedly supervised the movie subtitles.

but I'm with e2. down with capitalization! ;-)
posted by planetkyoto at 11:37 PM on August 29, 2003

Most TV programs have Japanese subtitles (even when they speak Japanese - probably there to get people used to reading.....then again they translate laughter too as "Hahahahahahahaha" - as if you need to read laughter). Anyway, when English is being translated, they go for brevity. Often you think "jeez, that's not quite right" but it's they way they use their language.

Contrary, translating Japanese back to English has it's pitfalls. Example, if someone is unsure of how to judge something (was the ball in or out), they might say "bimyou desu ne". They mean "it's uncertain" but if you go to your dictionary and look up "bimyou" you will see it means "subtle, delicate, ticklish". You plump for subtle, so you translate it literally (and wrongly) back as "subtle isn't it". It should be translated as "It's uncertain". They use their language in specific ways. English is quite a malleable, flexible language, whereas Japanese is quite strict and they have vast amounts of stock phrases that you can't translate literally (if you do, you'll get strange results like the above example).
posted by SpaceCadet at 1:49 AM on August 30, 2003

Most Japanese TV programs have Japanese subtitles.....

...I should have said...
posted by SpaceCadet at 1:50 AM on August 30, 2003

Super Karate Monkey Death Car
posted by PenDevil at 2:41 AM on August 30, 2003

English is quite a malleable, flexible language, whereas Japanese is quite strict

I dunno about that. For instance, no English native speaker would say "it's uncertain" as in your example. Maybe "I'm not sure about that one" or "That's pretty hard to judge." Far from being mallable, English has set phrases -- it's called usage.

the reasons for poor translation -- that being capitalization and money-making at the expense of the fans and the work itself.

Toda gets paid 2 million yen a film. That's twenty thousand bucks! And she gets through one film a week. Thus she is paid to get it right. Shame on her.

Having said that, I sympathize. I'm a J/E translator. On a shitty job, when it comes down to spending half an hour checking something or go out clubbing, fuck it, the club invariably wins out. Sadly, I couldn't give a toss about fans and the work. But then I'm not getting paid enough to.
posted by dydecker at 3:12 AM on August 30, 2003

They were particularly irked when Sauron uttered, "Ihre ganze Lager sind gehören uns."
posted by mischief at 5:12 AM on August 30, 2003

well, they will just have to Re-issue a better translation, at a lower price of course.
posted by clavdivs at 8:26 AM on August 30, 2003

Could this be some kind of perverse revenge for badly translated anime?

posted by ilsa at 9:03 AM on August 30, 2003

The only thing I know is that more can be represented by one Japanese syllable than an English syllable. This is why Japanese haiku was more strict about syllable count, whereas in English, syllable counts in Haiku make no sense.

PlanetKyoto: As someone who is guilty of making up words to boost his individuocabulary on a basis de regular, I absolove your word.. 'absurdiolicious'.
posted by wackybrit at 9:09 AM on August 30, 2003

I'm just curious: I'm familiar with Chinese - although not a speaker of it and what I was working with is fairly archaic Chinese - but not at all with Japanese. The hardest thing for me to grok at first was that the characters are not "letters" or "words" (in the sense of Romance languages) so much as they are "concepts." Written Chinese leaves out or assumes at least some sense of the subject, to be supplied by the reader, including things like gender and quantity of things. Is Japanese the same? If so, what's with those line comparisons - that's a very precise comparison between two English sentences, wouldn't there be at least some room for interpretation that would align the lines closer? Some of those seem awfully... nit-picky...
posted by JollyWanker at 9:44 AM on August 30, 2003

I can sympathize: the way that Fox dubs Os Simpsons into Portuguese for airing in Brazil makes my blood boil, and the English subtitles to the Brazilian film Cidade de Deus ("City of God") were pretty awful, too, in the other direction. Likewise, the English are up in arms about the Americanization of dialogue in the latest Harry Potter.

Somehow I'm not surprised that Japanese Lord of the Rings fans are anally retentive.

posted by hairyeyeball at 12:03 PM on August 30, 2003

Jolly Wanker: Japanese does it both ways. It has TWO phonetic alphabets with completely different-looking characters to go along with the Kanji (borrowed chinese symbols). The word order's subject-object-verb. It's possible to write entirely in phonetic Japanese but it's really hard to read - most nouns and such are represented by kanji, italicized words and foreign words are written in katakana, and everything else is in Hirigana. You do NOT sound literate if you write entirely in Hirigana with no Kanji. Japanese is also easy to speak at a low level of proficiency, but it's pretty much impossible to speak Japanese like a native - there's so much going on culture-wise that you have to think really quick to not sound like a 5-year old girl. At least it's easy to pronounce.
posted by Veritron at 12:57 PM on August 30, 2003

I have to say - I am always in awe of a good translation. I can't imagine creating one. The nuances of language and culture, rhythm and imagery are so subtle and so easily un-interpreted. I am most confounded by amazing translations of poetry, which require so much. I honestly don't know how a translator takes poetry in one language and makes - not just words and sense of, but - poetry in another language. That is genius.

And yet - we'd like to trust that the translations we read/watch/hear are accurate. Connotation creates the content in these instances. I can't speak Japanese. If I watch a film from Japan, I trust that what I am hearing/reading is in line with the filmmaker's intent - given the pitfalls of translation.

In this case, it seems the translation has fallen short. The meanings don't come through. I feel for the disgruntled movie-goers.

Down with shoddy translation!
posted by gai at 4:04 PM on August 30, 2003

at rast, they know how we feer.
posted by quonsar at 6:51 PM on August 30, 2003

You mean it's like "engrish" only in reverse?

Slightly OT, but if you want to see uproariously bad subtitles get the whole-series DVD set of Excel Saga ("Hyatt Box")... an alarming number of the subs have glaring typos in them, some of them are hardly comprehensible, and they are often out of sync with the dialogue they're supposed to translate. Then again Excel Saga being what it is it tends to reinforce the humor of the show.
posted by clevershark at 8:23 PM on August 30, 2003

there's so much going on culture-wise that you have to think really quick to not sound like a 5-year old girl.

Teenage girl actually... if you try and learn Japanese using methods bought abroad (even at Japanese specialty bookstores) "teenage girl" seems to be the default starter level, for some reason.
posted by clevershark at 8:26 PM on August 30, 2003

I'm actually with quonsar on this one. It's about time that after years of keeping the best video games and animation to themselves that the Japanese get to feel ripped off by a shoddy translation of a movie filmed in English. I hope more movies fail to meet their required level of translation.
posted by ringmaster at 9:56 AM on September 2, 2003

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