Sunday, July 01, 2007

More on anime, Japan and language

At the end of Paprika my husband whispered, "Well, that's Tokyo destroyed again." It is certainly a common occurrence in anime (and in Japanese film if one considers Godzilla and others). Do we consider these part of the "special" status that Japan holds as the only country to be attacked with a nuclear bomb? A few years ago there was an exhibit on whether that peculiar distinction has led to what is popular culture in Japan, from Godzilla to Gundam (giant robots) to Hello Kitty. There are actually Hello Kitty vibrators and feminine products for sale (don't ask me how I know)--not just cute and cuddly. The giant crater of Paprika, the blinding flash of Otomo's Akira, many others I can't recall at the moment--is this an attempt to deal with the aftermath? Too, is Satoshi Kon's obsession with what is repressed an effort to acknowledge what is publicly avoided by the Japanese--namely their own part in the atrocities of WWII?
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4792324
I would recommend Ishiguru's "Artist of the Floating World" in the same vein.

I've mentioned Basilisk as something I was going to write about. It's a basic Ninja/Samurai anime, set in the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate. As an IMDB reviewer writes of Shinobi, the live-action version of the same story--it's like X-Men with Ninja (Shinobi, I learn is another word for Ninja because of the reading of the kanjii, rather like the recent upset regarding Iwo Jima/Iwo To). The story of the Koga Ninja Scrolls (the source) is of two warring factions of Ninja, the Koga and the Iga and how 10 from each side are set upon one another to determine the new Shogun (each clan backing a different contender). My husband lost interest because of the "super" powers. Ninja who could distort their bodies, draw the blood out of their enemies and become slugs did not interest him as much as ninja with possible (albeit improbable) skills of balance, accuracy and silence. He was even willing to go so far as mind control, but Basilisk (and I must assume the Koga Ninja Scrolls) goes much farther. This is not an analysis of Basilisk. While beautifully drawn, it is not an amazing anime. The ending is known at the beginning--the two thwarted lovers, the Romeo and Juliet, will ultimately face each other when no one else is left as their grandparents killed each other in the first episode. The tag line for the show is "My Beloved, please die." In some ways it is this inevitability which drives the show--you know it's coming, you just don't know how. The most exciting episodes were certainly the ones where the first five ninja of both sides destroy each other in spectacular ways--how would those super powers be used against other superpowers. Rather like the appeal of the X-Men. Then it starts to move into intrigue and court politics and slowed down a bit.
And that's what I want to look at. I started watching Bailisk in January. It finished two weeks ago. I'd have to check but that makes for at least 25 episodes to take 10 days of real time and by anime standards that's pretty fast. I've never finished watching Inuyasha despite it's humor because I would tire of the fact that roughly 5 minutes of real time would pass per episode--a battle could be stretched out over a month or more. The latest Simpson's comic mocks this by saying that the Simpon's comic in Japan is a weekly of 5,000 pages. What on earth are they filling these with? The old Speed Racer anime (soon to be a live-action major motion picture f(O_0) by the Wachowski brothers) used to have absurd amounts of dialogue in order to keep the mouths moving as long as the Japanese. " I must succeed because in succeeding I will bring honor to my family and that will mean success, ha ha!"

Which brings me to another point. Sub vs. Dub. It gets hashed at IMDB ALL the time. I'm definitely on the Sub side. Yes, it means you read and watch the movie at the same time, but hey, the people against it probably talk on their cell phones while they drive. I don't usually bother to see the Miyazaki's in theaters (and I wish I could) because of the band of hip, young Americans (and sometimes Brits) who are brought in to make it palatable to American audiences. For one thing acting styles are different in America and Japan. Let me hear the Japanese and decide how the translation fits. For another, as I've mentioned their are tropes of anime, from the crazy, old scientist to the strong jawed hero. Like Commedia d'el Arte, these archetypes are instantly recognizable to the Japanese and likewise their voices are of a certain type. Basilisk got several of these wrong and it was very jarring. There was the middle-aged, powerful harridan and in Japanese she would have a high voice, ingratiating and needling in contrast with her aged appearance. She was given a bass voice that made her seem like a prison matron. Watching Paprika we had the delight of hearing a character say "So-so-so-so-so." This was translated as "That's exactly right!" Yes, that's an excellent translation but for me it was fun to hear the original.

Which brings me to my final point. In response to Matt's comment on filler words in Japanese. You may or may not know that German is also full of these--aber, auch, denn, doch, mal, schon, ja--to name the ones I can remember. Aber translates as but, but it can also be inserted for emphasis. Ja is yes, but like the English (slang) "innit?" it often occupies a more vague position, or a pause to allow the listener to catch up. I sometimes wonder if this is why you get non-English speakers saying things like, "That's so, yes?" But others on the list have no real definition and can be added or left out at the speaker's discretion.

In writing (and sometimes speaking) I find myself using a lot of filler (and was sometimes corrected for it), however, in fact, anyway. I attribute this to reading too much Dickens as a child. They are not wrong, per se, but the writing and speaking could be simpler without them.

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