[gundam] Lost In The Translation

-Z- (Z@gundam.com)
Sun, 14 Mar 1999 18:31:49 -0800

There are, as I've noted in the past, translations and interpretations.

One can "decode" another language word by word or one can read the text of
another language and interpret it for an audience.

We've all had fun with the garbled English that often appears in
advertising or user manuals or even public signage written by someone who
doesn't really speak or read English that well: "Guests are invited to take
advantage of the maid!"

Subtitling and dubbing of anime really bring this home. Japanese stories
are often a "read between the lines" affair in which what's actually said
is only a small part of the story, with what's implied being the crux of
the matter.

Many of us on this list have wrestled with what's really meant by the
various things that are said and written about Gundam. Now that Anime
Village is putting forth the official line, we see that the English
translation often leaves much to be desired and actually confuses rather
than clarifies. The dubbed versions are even more problematic, because
they lose the original words entirely. With subtitling, the original
dialogue is still there, complete with its original delivery, but with
dubbing you only have the translator's take, filtered through the voice
director and actors.

Disney recently entered the fray with its recent acquisition of the works
of Hayao Miyazake. First up is Mononoke Hime. Neil Gaiman will be doing
the English script for this film, interpreting it for the Western audience
with the help of several consultants and translators. His job is to tell
the story in a way that will engage Western audiences and sensibilities and
explain cultural details (such as the hero cutting off his hair to
symbolize his exile from his village) that needed no explanation in the
original in a way that puts them in context in the English adaptation.

Ironically, Disney only got Gaiman because Leonardo DiCaprio was reading
for the part of the male lead and Gaiman's 13-year-old daughter was an avid
DiCaprio fan. The part eventually went to Billy Crudup, but by then Gaiman
had seen the Miyazaki animation and become enrapt in it. If anyone can do
justice to Miyazaki in English, it's Gaiman. But Gundam fans are not so lucky.

We're only going to get translations, not interpretations. We'll have
people who are competent at taking text in one language and making it
comprehensible in another, but we won't get gifted storytellers making
sense of the text.

This is a problem that I see everywhere in anime. We get Japanese in,
English out and maybe, if we're lucky, someone like Mark Simmons to supply
sidebars and notes to explain a few things, but we're missing that element
of interpretation where someone takes raw, crude verbiage and makes it sing.

You can't just translate Shakespeare into Japanese or Murasaki into
English. You have to interpret them. Something will always be lost, some
things will always have to be explained in lengthy annotations, but an
adaptation of the original that captures the essence of the original and
sings in the language to which it's interpreted is better than a verbatim
rendering of foreign words.

We've always been chronically short of good translators, but interpreters
and storytellers are rarer still....


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