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Disappointment in translation

October 2, 2010

Last weekend Scott Pilgrim vs. The World came out in theaters in Israel, only I didn’t know it until I realized the new movie called האקסים של החברה שלי (Ha’Eksim shel Chavera Sheli, My Girlfriend’s Exes) was actually something completely different (and interesting) in English.

Movie titles — and titles of any kind, for that matter — are frequently and notoriously misrepresented in translation no matter what languages are involved. The reasons are probably solid, as the people making these decisions undoubtedly have to get approval from someone, so who knows what’s going on under the surface.

But things get even more confusing when it comes to characters’ names within a film. I’ve written about my childhood love for Unico before, which is evident at all times to anyone who recognizes the little picture that appears next to the URL for this site:

Katy the Kitty

This cat appeared in The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, which I remember watching as a very small child in the late ’80s. She made a huge impression on me because her name was translated as Katy the Kitty. Little me was like, hey, that’s MY name! Little did I know that the original character is actually called Chao in Japanese. There are several probable reasons the translators chose Katy — the alliteration sounds good, it fit into the songs the character sings, English-speaking kids would like it, whatever. But later on when I realized my beloved movie wasn’t originally in English and Katy wasn’t really Katy, I felt deceived. The same thing happened when I realized Princess Zandra in Warriors of the Wind was actually named Nausicaa, and the entire film had been renamed, recut, and redone for the market I happened to be living in at the time.

The same thing came up yet again the other day when an American friend mentioned David the Gnome in passing. My husband corrected her, saying that in Israel he’s called טובטוב הגמד (Tov Tov ha’Gamad, Good Good the Gnome). Why someone chose to translate a name like David — which is originally Hebrew itself and therefore exactly the same — to Tov Tov makes no sense to me, but again, I’m sure several people made a good case for it.

Unless living abroad, most people probably don’t encounter the confusion and disappointment that often accompanies the revelation of titles or characters being translated in a way that isn’t appreciated or that isn’t immediately clear. The only thing I can compare it to is a beloved book being made into a bad film — the characters you once loved so dearly who existed one way in your imagination turn out to be complete strangers.

On the other hand, an occasional less-than-literal translation is fantastic. Today I read that Jersey Shore is finally coming to Japan as マカロニ野郎 (Macaroni Yarou, translated in an article at CNN as Macaroni Rascals, though I would have gone with Macaroni Assholes due to context), which is just perfect.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Daria permalink
    October 6, 2010 7:25 pm

    Didn’t understand from your post whether you’ve already watched “Scott Pilgrim”, but if not, you’ll love to see how they translated Gideon’s name.

    • October 8, 2010 9:34 am

      I did watch it, and it was one of the few movies I’ve seen while in Israel that had enough action to keep me from reading the subtitles out of curiosity. Gideon wasn’t translated as גדעון?

  2. Yossi permalink
    October 9, 2010 5:27 am

    Oddly enough it was בידיים

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