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Asakawa was then asked to share with us her three “No-Nos” when it comes to translation.
1. Don’t Create. You are not the director.
2. Essence vs. Re-Imagination. You need to understand the film, but the more you understand the film, the more your own flavour gets added to the translation and the original flavour is lost.
3. When pushed for a third point, she merely re-emphasized the importance in not turning into a director. The translator plays an important role in getting the director’s ideas across because other people involved in the promotion of the film (ie. publicists, marketing people) don’t speak enough English to understand the back and forth between the two languages
Asakawa teaches her translators to focus on the nucleus of the scene. Trying to fit everything into the subtitles will make them too cluttered and unreadable. She estimates that only 30% of the information can be shown on the screen. If the translator makes a mistake and misses what the real nucleus of the scene is it can ruin the whole film and cause the film to be misunderstood by the audience.
The choice of script (katakana, hiragana, kanji) can change how a film gets interpreted by an audience. For example, the word for medicine can be written in hiragana くすり(kusuri) or kanji 薬 (kusuri). If it’s written in hiragana, the audience will presume that it’s a bad or illegal drug, but if it’s written in kanji the audience will interpret it as a good drug. A television series like 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland is a particular challenge to subtitlers because there are so many different characters and themes. It becomes a totally different show when it’s dubbed as opposed to subbed.
Here Crispin Freeman interjected to say that the director of Cowboy Bebop actually said that he liked the English dub better than the Japanese version. The role of Spike had been good in the original, but in the English dub he came off sexier. It worked because it was a futuristic, American-influenced story. However, the dubbing of historical dramas gets complicated.
Domenig suggested that this was because historical dramas are “an imagined Japan of the past.” The old-fashioned sounded language used in historical dramas is a fake language used to express that time but it is historically inaccurate.
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© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010