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[Comments] (7) Gained In Translation: I should have mentioned earlier that my seeing Kiki's Delivery Service earlier with Riana was actually the second time I saw it; I'd also seen it the day before with Sumana. Also we had watched Elf, which Sumana really likes but which I wasn't crazy about.

Anyway, when I watched it with Sumana we watched it in Japanese with subtitles, just because that's how we saw Spirited Away in the theater and we liked the voice work for that movie. About halfway through the second viewing, the disc started acting up and we tried various things to fix it, including switching the audio track to English. And gaah! but the English track was a mess.

There was already a perfectly servicable and (as far as I could tell) pretty faithful English translation, which was used as the subtitles for the Japanese audio track. But in the dubbed version, this translation had been jettisoned in favor of what was clearly a much looser and greatly inferior translation, complete with entirely new lines of dialogue that didn't even work. It was like someone's bad fan fiction had been dubbed onto the movie. So I guess I am going to have to be a subtitle snob, if that's what they do when they dub movies. I never really compared the subtitled versions of a particular movie to the dubbed before, because I assumed they used the same translation for each. Does this always happen?

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Posted by Andy H. at Tue Jun 07 2005 18:15

It's true that the subtitled scripts of things and the dubbed tend to differ, striving respectively to be a little more faithful and a little more, hm, English. It's not always that bad; I think that Disney has probably started to treat Miyazaki with more respect in the intervening years (I've never seen the Kiki's dub myself, but I've heard that it takes bizarre liberties with the story like making the cat talk again at the end). I saw both versions of Spirited Away, and the dub was pretty good - I still preferred the subtitled, myself, which is a little more graceful and a little less patronizing (Miyazaki lets some stuff dawn on you which the dubbed script seemed to be compelled to spell out explicitly), but the plot and the characters and the feel of the thing were pretty much properly intact in each.

Posted by Nick Moffitt at Tue Jun 07 2005 18:28

The dub for Princess Mononoke was well-done, and professionally handled. It's a good example of how a proper dub should be done.

But yeah, most subtitle-snobbery comes from the fact that most dubs are done really cheaply, and care more about lip-synch than the actual script!

Historically, many foreign films dubbed into English often lacked any sort of incidental soundtrack effects (footfalls, paper rustling, traffic noise) and were just flat studio dialogue over the scenes (making odd discrepancies in vocal echo during outdoor scenes). Many tried to make up for the lack of background noise by playing a constant soundtrack under the vocals.

So things got better by the 1990s, and you started to see remastered dubs, where voice actors would actually record in appropriately echoy rooms and the original incidental tracks would be re-mixed back into the final product. But for something like a cartoon, this was often too much expense for a low-revenue film.

So subtitle snobbery has its basis, but dubbing can be done properly. All the same, E and I got really pissed off when we realized that when we selected "Cantonese" on a Wong Kar Wai DVD, it actually dubbed over the characters who were speaking Mandarin! We got the full many-language film soundtrack going, and the whole thing was much smoother.

Posted by John at Tue Jun 07 2005 19:22

I'm with you, Leonard, on Elf. I found the attempts at humor to be ill-timed, immature, obvious, trite, and way overplayed. But that was a movie I saw at the request of many family members, who assured me it would be the funniest movie I ever did see. People ruin movies when they hype it up too much.

Was Kiki's Deliery Service any good? I've always wanted to see it, as it came out many years ago. Susie and I both really enjoyed Spirited Away.

Posted by Sumana at Tue Jun 07 2005 22:16

a) Leonard exaggerated and misread my enjoyment of "Elf." "Kiki's Delivery Service" is a slow, thoughtful film and "Elf" is a comedy/tearjerker. The night we saw KDS and "Elf", I now realize, I was more in the mood for the latter.

b) Man, the philosophical argument in "Elf" is messed up. The magic in the ending makes no sense. More on that in my blog soonish.

c) John, I feel bad for you that hype ruined "Elf" for you. The same thing happened with me and "Phantom Menace." I could have enjoyed it ok if I had treated it like just another action movie. Actually, then I just wouldn't have gone. L and I saw "Elf" because he thought I wanted to and I thought he wanted to. One of those O. Henry stories.

Posted by anonymous at Wed Jun 08 2005 09:47

I remember there was a scene in the film "elf" where the giant elf man ate a baby, with chocolate syrup. You'd think they'd frown upon that kind of thing in a movie, but i guess not.

Posted by Kristen at Thu Jun 09 2005 19:21

I remember watching Spirited Away with you guys, leonard and sumana, while in San Fran. I can't believe you guys have to pay $10 per movie ticket.

Posted by Sumana at Thu Jun 09 2005 20:41

I seek out matinees and only see a movie in a theater about once every three months. $10 is indeed ridiculous.

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