28 April 2010

Iida City Kawamoto Kihachirō Puppet Museum  飯田市川本喜八郎人形美術館


 High on my list of places to visit the next time I’m in Japan is the Iida City Kawamoto Kihachirō Puppet Museum (飯田市川本喜八郎人形美術館) in southern Nagano Prefecture. 

The ningyō jōruri ( aka bunraku) puppetry has been performed in Iida City for over 300 years. During the Edo period, the town became famous for its two main schools of ningyō jōruri performance: the Kuroda Puppet Troupe (黒田人形座) and the Imada Puppet Troupe (今田人形座).

In honour of the International Year of the Child in 1979, Iida City inaugurated its first Puppetry Carnival Iida which assembled top puppetry performers from all over Japan. Now known as the Iida Puppet Festa, this annual festival attracts performers and audiences from all over the world and boasts up to 250 performances held in the span of just a few days.

In 1990, Kihachirō Kawamoto presented his animation films at the festival and received a very warm reception. This led Kawamoto to donate 200 of his puppets to the Puppet Museum and they now make up the core of the museum’s extensive puppet collection.

Most of the puppets on display are from the two elaborate historical dramas that Kawamoto did for the NHK: Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1982-84) and Historical Doll Spectacular: The Story of Heike (1993-94). Romance of the Three Kingdoms (人形劇三国志/Ningyō-geki Sangokushi) was a co-production with CCTV in China and was an adaptation of the epic Chinese tale of the same name. To get an idea of just how epic this puppet drama is, consider that each episode runs for 45 minutes and there are a total of sixty-eight episodes. The story was written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century and takes place during the turbulent final years of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of China (169-230A.D.)

Historical Doll Spectacular: The Story of Heike (人形歴史スペクタル平家物語/Ningyō Rekishi Supekutakuru: Heike Monogatari) was a similarly ambitious project but consists of a more modest forty-eight 20-minute episodes. This is also an adaptation of an epic tale. The Story of Heike centers on the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans for control of Japan during the Genpei War (1180-1185).

The collection is dominated by the puppets of these two epics because of the sheer number of puppets needed for the productions. However, the collection also includes the puppets used in his acclaimed short films. International audiences will be more familiar with the puppets from films such as House of Flames (1979), Briar Rose or The Sleeping Beauty (1990), and Dōjōji Temple (1976) and To Shoot Without Shooting (1988). Less familiar to audiences, but of equal interest are the puppets Kawamoto created early in his career making animated commercials and puppet storybooks for Shiba Productions. Unlike the dolls used in his film and television productions, these early puppets were not designed by Kawamoto himself. Shigeru Hijikata designed the puppets, Tadasu Iizawa was responsible for story writing, and Kawamoto crafted and animated them.

For those of us unable to get to this museum in the near future, the next best thing is Heibonsha’s publication, Kawamoto Kihachirō: kono inochi-aru mono (川本喜八郎 この命あるもの / Kawamoto Kihachirō: Puppets full of life, 2007). My copy came in the post yesterday and it is full of simply stunning photographs.

The book gives a complete history of Kawamoto’s career, starting with behind the scenes photographs from the making of The Book of the Dead (Shisha no sho, 2005) and moving backwards to his start as an assistant art director at Tōhō Studios in the late 1940s. The book features a complete filmography including the production credits for all of his films. There is also a photographic index of all the dolls on display at the Iida museum. The book is full of a wealth of information and a must-have for any Kawamoto fan.

Iida City, Nagano Prefecture
Motomachi 1-2
Tel: 0265 23 3594


Shisha no Sho / Puppet Show
Puppet Show
Ningyougeki Sangokushi Zenshu / Puppet Show
Puppet Show

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

25 April 2010

Subs vs. Dubs: Part Six



The discussion then moved towards the topic of Super-dubbing / Chōyaku aimed at young audiences. (read more on Super-dubbing at wildgrounds)

Domenig asked Asakawa if she [as a subtitle specialist] felt threatened by the advent of Super-dubbing. Asakawa gave the impression that she didn’t have a strong personal preference. Domenig noted that in Japan there was a new trend towards dubbed prints in cinemas [the common practice up until this current trend was for cinematic releases to be subtitled, television dubbed, and DVDs have both options available in the menu].

Domenig opened up the floor to questions from the audience. 

Crispin Freeman was asked about whether or not he improvises his dialogue during dubbing sessions. He replied that it depends upon his relationship with the voice acting director. There have been many instances in which the director hires him as a script adapter when it is apparent that the translator has missed the gist of the dialogue and themes of the piece. 

Throughout the Podium Discussion, Freeman always had an amusing anecdote at the ready to help him make his points, and here he talks about his conflicts with directors whom he feels don’t understand the original Japanese story. Such as one voice director who wanted to change a rather philosophical film into an action film, rendering delicate haiku into action dialogue like “Come on guys, let’s go get ‘em!” In such cases, Freeman says that he usually tries to remind the director that it isn’t his film – that it’s like trying to turn Hamlet into Die Hard. Freeman claims that he always tries to keep his dialogue as close to the original director’s intentions as possible, but he admits that there have been many directors where he was unable to negotiate on such issues.

Domenig mentions the contrast between the American and Japanese systems in that translators in Japan have a fan base and are known.

Nami Asakawa is questioned further about her contention that 70% of information is lost during the process of subtitling foreign features in Japanese. She explains that the standard rate of subtitles is 3-4 words per second. Any more than this and the spectator is overwhelmed by the text.

Tom Mes, of Midnight Eye (who has written a book on Shinya Tsukamoto) asked Tomorowo Taguchi his opinion about the American version of Tetsuo. [Tetsuo the Bullet Man.  Taguchi starred in the original and in the sequel Tetsuo II : Body Hammer]. Taguchi seemed to be amused by the concept of a “self-remake” [Shinya Tsukamoto re-making his own films].

I asked Taguchi and Asakawa about their own personal preferences (subs or dubs?) when it came to watching foreign films in Japan.

Asakawa on the whole preferred subtitles as a spectator, but added that subtitles on 3D films such as Avatar are simply awful. The human eye simply cannot absorb the 3D special effects and the subtitles at the same time. In such cases super-dubbing is preferable to subtitles.

Taguchi said that for him it depended on what he was watching, but on the whole he prefers his television dubbed and movies in the cinema to be subbed.

I asked the entire panel what their thoughts were on the way in which comedy shows and reality shows on Japanese television superimpose what the people are saying on the screen in colour written text (sample screenshot above, where the Japanese text just repeats what the comic character is saying).

Michael Arias says that he sees this trend as having the similar function as the laugh track did on early American TV shows

Taguchi first joked that he at first thought that it’s for people who are hearing impaired. His serious answer was that it adds stress to what the people are saying.

Arakawa sees it as a technique to emphasize the comedy. She said that she had also seen this technique used in other Asian countries.

Crispin Freeman said that it reminded him of the Ka-Pow! cartoon-like visual special effects added to the original Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. 

End of my handwritten notes from the event.

Heaven's Door (English Subtitles) / Japanese Movie
Japanese Movie

Shikisoku Zeneration / Japanese Movie
Japanese Movie

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

Subs vs. Dubs: Part Five



Drawing on his extensive knowledge of anime history, Crispin Freeman talked a bit about the Americanization of anime in the early days. In the 1970s and 1980s it was commonplace for dubs to anglicize character and place names. For example, Tetsuwan Atomu became Astro Boy. The internet changed everything. For example, in the dub of Naruto [Freeman does the voice of Itachi Uchiha], they preserve certain Japanese terms such as jutsu (method/technique), because the fans demand it. Freeman spoke of how fascinating it has been for him to bear witness to the change in the reception of Japanese animation in the past 10 to 15 years.

Here Domenig interjected by mentioning the impact of globalization on Japanese film and animation. There is a lot less ‘iwakan’ (違和感/ feeling of discomfort, unease, or awkwardness), or ‘resistance to foreigners’. 

Freeman continued that if they were to change the text too much in the adaptation to English then fans will prefer to share fansubs and not buy the official English version. 

Domenig then asked Asakawa if there were examples of fan bases being dissatisfied with the final product when films went from English to Japanese. Asakawa related the infamous case of the subtitling of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The book, of course, had a well established fan base in Japan, but unfortunately, renowned translator Natsuko Toda did not research this fan base when doing the subtitles for the first film. The Tolkien fan base was outraged and it almost landed before the courts. [in Toda’s defense, she had never read the books and the producers foolishly only gave her a week to do the subtitles, read more here. On the other hand, she or the producers should have done a bit more research about the fan base before deciding to render the names in katakana]. A number of websites sprang up in the wake of the film’s release with names such as “Boromir is not a liar” and Down with Toda Natsuko” which critiqued the subtitles and provided alternate translations.



[
Shikisoku Zeneration / Japanese Movie
Japanese Movie

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

Subs vs. Dubs: Part Four


Domenig then asked Michael Arias if Tekkon Kinkreet is a Japanese film. Arias claimed that he doesn’t really think about the Japaneseness of his films. With regards to the discussion that proceded this question, he says that he doesn’t feel comfortable addressing the issue of historical Japanese films as it’s not his area of knowledge. On the subject of subs vs. dubs, however, he does make a number of interesting points.
First, he describes his experience watching Steam Boy (Katsuhiro Otomo, 2004). This he found difficult to watch in Japanese because of its ‘tortured katakana’ because of all the foreign words and place names. The dub, which used ‘the Queen’s English’ was a much more pleasant viewing experience.
Arias also tells the story of Stanley Kubrick firing the Japanese subtitler for Full Metal Jacket (1987) because her language wasn’t ‘dirty’ enough. Domenig and Asakawa are familiar with this story and say that it was the renowned Japanese translator Natsuko Toda. (The chapter “Loving Dubbing” in Abé Mark Nornes’ Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema describes what happened).
With regards to Tekkon Kinkreet, Arias describes the translation process that they had with their scripts. They started with the Japanese manga, which was adapted into an English screenplay, then translated back into Japanese for the production staff, and so on. At each phase of filmmaking the screenplay had to be retranslated. A lot of tweaking was done on the dub in the studio.

[Here my notes become a bit scattered – Arias made some kind of a point about the number of syllables (related to lip movement in animation) and meaning (what can be matched to the lip movement?) There was also a reference to a film that was literally translated by Natsuko Toda that Arias was watching, where the expression “to drop acid” was rendered in Japanese as if the person had literally dropped acid on the floor rather than taking LSD. Someone also mentioned the fact that Coppola always insisted on using Toda for the Japanese subtitles on his films. For my blog readers, I should mention here that people who do subtitles have a very different relationship with the public than they do in English speaking countries. Most people I know do not stay to the very end of the credits and make a mental note of who the subititler was. In Japan, subitilers like Toda are celebrities themselves with fan clubs]

Returning to the topic of Tekkon Kinkreet, Michael Arias admitted that the translator and producer may have been a bit frustrated by his imput into the English version. As a native speaker of English he was concerned that the nuance of the piece would survive the translation process.

Taguchi mentioned that his next project will be a collaboration with Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy, Straight to Hell, Mike Hama Private Detective) will apparently be the main actor in the film. [Listening to what Taguchi said and how the translator interpreted it, I was confused as to who was starring and who was directing – especially seeing as both men act and director. I haven’t been able to find out any more information on this film. Alex Cox’s website lists a screenplay written in 2003 called Kawasaki karas to gaki which will star Tomorowo Taguchi, but it isn’t listed on imdb – let me know in the comments section if you know more about this Taguchi-Cox project. Taguchi did of course star In Mike Hama Must Die! in 2002 which Cox directed.] Taguchi spoke of his desire to understand the relationship between the different releases of his films and to know what works well. He also voiced a desire to speak English better.

Roland Domenig spoke briefly about how in contrast to European film releases which prefer to dub into their own language to prevent the creep of English into their native tongues, the Japanese have historically preferred subtitled cinematic released that preserve the “foreignness” of the films



Shikisoku Zeneration / Japanese Movie
Japanese Movie

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

Subs vs. Dubs: Part Three


For Part Two Click Here

Asakawa was then asked to share with us her three “No-Nos” when it comes to translation.

1. Don’t Create. You are not the director.
2. Essence vs. Re-Imagination. You need to understand the film, but the more you understand the film, the more your own flavour gets added to the translation and the original flavour is lost.
3. When pushed for a third point, she merely re-emphasized the importance in not turning into a director. The translator plays an important role in getting the director’s ideas across because other people involved in the promotion of the film (ie. publicists, marketing people) don’t speak enough English to understand the back and forth between the two languages

Asakawa teaches her translators to focus on the nucleus of the scene. Trying to fit everything into the subtitles will make them too cluttered and unreadable. She estimates that only 30% of the information can be shown on the screen. If the translator makes a mistake and misses what the real nucleus of the scene is it can ruin the whole film and cause the film to be misunderstood by the audience.

The choice of script (katakana, hiragana, kanji) can change how a film gets interpreted by an audience. For example, the word for medicine can be written in hiragana くすり(kusuri) or kanji 薬 (kusuri). If it’s written in hiragana, the audience will presume that it’s a bad or illegal drug, but if it’s written in kanji the audience will interpret it as a good drug. A television series like 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland is a particular challenge to subtitlers because there are so many different characters and themes. It becomes a totally different show when it’s dubbed as opposed to subbed.

Here Crispin Freeman interjected to say that the director of Cowboy Bebop actually said that he liked the English dub better than the Japanese version. The role of Spike had been good in the original, but in the English dub he came off sexier. It worked because it was a futuristic, American-influenced story. However, the dubbing of historical dramas gets complicated.

Domenig suggested that this was because historical dramas are “an imagined Japan of the past.” The old-fashioned sounded language used in historical dramas is a fake language used to express that time but it is historically inaccurate.

Click Here For Part Four

Shikisoku Zeneration / Japanese Movie
Japanese Movie

Subs vs. Dubs: Part Two


For Part One, Click Here

Taguchi was asked if he had ever done any voice acting work for Japanese film or television. It turns out that he was given the opportunity of dubbing the voice of the Jazz Teacher for the Japanese version of South Park. He found it an interesting experience because it was the first time that he as an actor was not physically engaging in a role. He found working on South Park a fun experience.

Crispin Freeman what skills one needed to succeed as a voice actor. He responded that one needs “really good chops.” That means that one needs not only to have a good voice, but good timing, technique and precision. Then, one has to forget all about those things and put emotion into the character one is performing. That means that you have to be a good actor first, and not just have a good voice. One also needs to understand where the character is coming from. For example, a good voice actor needs to know that a samurai in not a cowboy.

Here Freeman shared an anecdote from when he was brought in to play the role of Prince Turnip (Kakashi no Kabu) in the dub of Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004). The character is a boy who looks like a girl, yet is also a prince. As Freeman knew about bishōnen (美少年/beautiful youths) in Japanese culture, he was able to nail the role. It seems that Freeman often encounters dubbing producers who are ignorant of the cultural context of the anime they are dubbing. In the case of bishōnen, he was able to get a laugh out of the audience by explaining that the closest one comes to a bishōnen type in the States would be Orlando Bloom or Johnny Depp. One of the biggest challenges in playing bishōnen in English is not to make them too campy [he gave another example of a cross-dressing priest that he played, but I didn’t catch the reference apart from the fact that he had to avoid making it too much like “Mrs. Doubtfire”].




Howl's Moving Castle / Animation
Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

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