Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Those not worthy of translation

They say film is the ultimate collaborative medium, but you wouldn't know it from the way the opening credits of Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring were translated -- or not translated, as the case may be.

Late Spring is my latest movie in my monthly Asian Audient series, and I'll discuss it at length in the coming days, but for now I must devote a separate post to getting a seemingly insignificant aspect of it off my chest. An aspect that's not so insignificant if you were one of the many people who toiled away on this movie -- anonymously, as it turns out, to English-speaking audiences.

As the screen grab above indicates, whole sections of the film's opening credits have gone untranslated. You are only left to assume which collaborators' contributions are getting the short shrift here, be it the costume designer, the boom operator or the casting director.

I should say that this is not something unique to Ozu or Late Spring. I believe the same was true of last month's entry in the series, High and Low, directed by Akira Kurosawa.

I didn't comment on it then. But I'm commenting on it now.

What gives? Why the dissing of all those "lower" on the list of contributors than the director, writer, cinematographer, producer and cast?

I suspect it has something to do with an excessive sense of politeness and modesty that would be very much in keeping with Japanese culture. "You don't need to know who all these people are; we know you just want to watch the film."

But then again, it seems at least somewhat unlikely that the original Japanese creators had anything to do with the subtitling. In fact, although Late Spring was of course screened in the U.S. and would have had subtitles, my guess is that the current subtitles were not those originally on screen at the time, but rather, a later insertion for some DVD release or other reappraisal of the film. So although Japanese people would have needed to be involved for the sake of, you know, actually determining what was being said, the choices on what to include or not include could have been in the hands of an American.

I guess I'd also understand excluding the translation of the names of many of the collaborators if their names were in danger of blocking any on-screen action. But as you can see, and as was the case in most cinema at the time, the credits had the screen all to themselves. And though there's certainly a basic stark beauty to seeing just the Japanese characters on their own, it's nothing that a few English subtitles would fatally disrupt.

Oh well. I can tell you I appreciated their contributions, even if I could not match their names to them.

But more on that in the coming days.

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