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Cinema Book Bucket: Cinema Babel

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    September 6 was last Saturday, and I thought of Kurosawa on the 10th anniversary of his death.

    In this forum a diverse group hovers around the electronic fireplace of Kurosawa’s films for warmth, understanding, and a whole multitude of reasons both simple and clear and amazingly complex and obscure.

    We’re from different backgrounds: ex-pats, folks from Europe and the U.S, travelers, wanderers, academicians, artists, film buffs, filmmakers, techno geeks, otaku, narcissists, pedants. We come to check out what’s being discussed, and what’s happening, and we are also a little curious about the others who are so drawn to Kurosawa’s films.

    Thus far, those who have spoken in the forum are not Japanese (of course there may be lurkers)…so, despite varying levels of Japanese language abilities, something we all share, is our enjoyment of Kurosawa’s films via subtitles.

    I know that Vili, for example, reads English language subtitles, speaks Japanese, and is Finnish. (He’s the U.N. in one body!) And, we’ve all laughed at bad subtitles, wondered over mistranslations, haven’t we? Yojimbo will, for me, forever be associated with the Chinese names that the Bo Ying subtitles christened all the characters with. And, I will always have “Yojimbo-the Homeless” in my mind when I see the film in whatever DVD, or cinematic version.

    Well, this entertaining book, Cinema Babel-Translating Global Cinema by Abel Mark Nornes reveals the marketing (trafficking) of film, and how the development of the “talkies” adversely affected cinema’s pre-talkie global appeal. There are good descriptions of the behind-the-scenes struggle over “Tora Tora Tora“, and many examples of translation drawn from Japanese cinema, as well as an interesting take on the role of the “benshi”. I think, with the special consideration given Japanese film, this book has special relevance to our group.

    A wonderful review at Midnight Eye breaks it down succintly but fully: http://www.midnighteye.com/books/cinema-babel.shtml

    Cinema Babel may need to find a place on your shelf.



    A very interesting subject – I would love to be able to improve my japanese to the point where I could follow the movies, but at current pace this is highly unlikely. A Japanese friend did recommend that I focus on Ozu movies as having the clearest and simplest Japanese for learners. But I always feel I’m loosing something with subtitles. I’m lucky enough to have a Venezuelan friend who gives me simultaneous translation whenever we watch Sth American movies together – her translation of Mexican or Argentinian slang into Dublin-ese is much better than any subtitles I’ve seen!

    Incidentally, i was reading up a little about a movie I felt was one of the very best I’ve seen in the last few years – the Romanian film ‘Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days’. In one crucial scene involving three characters – a pregant girl seeking an abortion, her unwilling helper, and a backstreet abortionist – they were negotiating ‘payment’ when it seemed the girl didn’t have enough money. In the scene, the abortionist settles for sexual payment from the girls friend. In the subtitled version, the abortionist is the one who pushes for this ‘solution’, coming out as an irredeemably repugnant character. But apparently in Romanian it is strongly implied that the pregnant girl effectively sets her friend up, having suggested this ‘solution’ to the abortionist earlier. This changes the whole dynamic of the film. It may have been just crude translation, but I heard it suggested by Romanian speaker that it was felt that an English speaking audience wouldn’t have been comfortable with this ambiguity, that it was felt that it was easier on them to portay the abortionist as the bad guy preying on the women. Its a sad reflection on whoever did the subtitles if this is true.

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