Selecting the right "I"


Foreign films are popular among Japanese people. A long line of people waiting in front of the cinema can be seen when big movies have their premieres. When talking about film translation, it’s so hard to make short, easily understandable subtitles from long spoken lines. It’s better to have no more than 4 words for every 1 second of line, and no more that 20 words in one scene. I really respect translators. When we look at Japanese subtitles, they are not always translated literally. For example,

–“I” in English is not always translated as “watashi” in Japanese even if “watashi” is the most typical translation for “I”. It can be translated in over 10 different ways according to age, sex and occupation. For example in “The Lion King“, both Simba and his father Mufasa are using “I“when they speak. However in Japanese subtitles, Simba is using “boku” instead of “watashi”. “boku” means “I” when used by young boys. It’s possible for the Japanese to understand that Simba is a young boy without actually seeing him.

In “Harry Potter”, whenever Dumbledore says “I”, it’s translated as “washi”. This demonstrates the “I” used for older men. When it comes to the case of Hagrid, his “I” is “ore” in Japanese. Ore is generally used by men.

–Sometimes lines are changed by translators according to situations.
In “The Terminator”, Arnold Schwarzenegger says “Hasta la vista, baby” (He uses Spanish in only this line). When the line was put into Japanese, it become “地獄で会おうぜ、baby” means “See you in the hell”.
Incidentally, he says “sayonara, baby” in the Spanish version. “Sayonara” means goodbye in Japanese!

Other examples can be found in “Titanic”. After the Titanic sank, Rose says “I’ll never let go”on a raft. It was changed to “I will never give up” when it was translated. In another scene, someone says “Three years I thought of nothing except of the Titanic”. After translation, it became “My mind has been filled by the Titanic for 3 years”. The latter takes less time to understand its meaning and enables people to spend more time looking at the images, not the subtitles.

We can easily see how difficult it is to translate movie lines… it takes skill to select words carefully.
By the way, it seems strange to hear the westerners in movies talking in Japanese…
This is “The Terminator3” dubbed into Japanese.

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