Another Translator’s Nightmare

As I’ve mentioned a time or two before, I’m quite the Studio Ghibli fan.  This isn’t exactly setting me apart from the crowd, mind you; Ghibli’s movies are some of the best loved films to come out of Japan.

Anyway, one of my favorite Ghibli movies is Umi Ga Kikoeru, or “I Can Hear the Sea”, though the official English title is something like “The Ocean Waves” which I don’t really understand but whatever.

I have an odd association with Umi ga Kikoeru and Porco Rosso: I think of them both as “newer” Ghibli movies, though the truth is that they’re both coming up on two decades old.  See, the first time I saw a Ghibli film was in 1991 or so.  That was My Neighbor Totoro, by the way, and watching that made me immediately track down everything else I could get.  At the time, that was Nausicaa, Laputa, and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

So everything released post-Kiki’s gets lumped into the “newer” category, and everything up to that point gets lumped into my internal “classics” category, even though it doesn’t make sense to divide it that way.

Anyway, Umi ga Kikoeru came out in 1993, I got to see a fansub of it in 1994 or so, and I’ve watched it every year or two since then.

It wasn’t until the most recent watching that I noticed something, though, and it kind of blew my mind.

Here’s a very early shot from inside Taku’s apartment.  Note that, while Taku is centered in the frame, there’s a very obvious piece of paper tucked into his mail sorter on the left side of the frame.

He’s getting packed for a trip.  He gets up, leaves, there’s a pause, and then he comes back into the apartment; he’s forgotten something:

What he’s reaching for is, basically, one half of an RSVP card; it’s the half that has the address and time of the event on it.  In this case, it’s an RSVP card for a 同窓会, “dousoukai”, or “class reunion”.  Since he only has half of it, we know that he’s already returned the RSVP part of it to say that he’ll be attending the event.

I wouldn’t know this, mind you, except that we happened to study these things back in JPN301 during Fall term; in fact, one of our assignments was centered around how to properly respond to RSVP cards.

So if you’re watching this and you can read the card, you know exactly what his situation is, why he’s packing for a trip, where he’s going, and why the movie shifts into flashback mode a couple of minutes later and stays in flashback mode for the next hour.

It sets the tone for the entire story.

Unfortunately, neither the fansub I saw back in the early 1990s nor the official Region 2 DVD bother to translate it, and I guess I can’t blame them; it’s a very quick scene in the film and it’s hard to think of  a way you could explain it without putting up a big “cultural note” subtitle.

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