First, an Introduction
One thing that has interested me since my early days in Japan is how Japanese subtitles are handled in international films and TV. But in the early days my language level was too primal to be of much use, and I rarely went to the movies anyway. Now, years later, with a much higher level of understanding and the ease of access to services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (which both launched in Japan in 2015), I find myself faced with these subtitles on a regular basis, and they are constantly on my mind. Yes, the hot topic on the internet these days is Japanese to English translation and localization of Japanese media, not the other way around, but all the more reason to start such a conversation, I say.
Subtitles offer their own, unique challenges. Natsuko Toda, hands down Japan’s most well known translator of Hollywood movies, insists that they aren’t really translation in the traditional sense at all. There are limits of time and the number of characters on the screen at one time, and staying true to the storyline and the direction the dialogue is moving is considered more important than 100% accuracy. (Source)
I may question some of the changes made, but the goal of this article (and any subsequent articles I may post) is not to criticize, but to observe. I find this topic interesting, and I hope others will as well.
This post contains highlights. A collection of scenes that stood out to me. I don’t have time for a line-by-line breakdown, and I’m pretty sure no one else does either. Also, keep in mind that the translations of the Japanese script into English are just my interpretations, and know that I am trying to keep them as literal as possible, not because I think literal is better (because I do not), but so as to better illustrate the differences in the two scripts. Any commentary comes from a place of personal opinion and conjecture. I claim no authority on anything. I’m just a dude on the internet doing this for fun.
With that out of the way, let’s get started:
フェリスはある朝突然に: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released in Japan on February 28, 1987 as フェリスはある朝突然に (Ferisu wa Aru Asa Totsuzen ni), the Japanese title meaning something like One Morning, Ferris Suddenly…. The subtitles were handled by none other than Natsuko Toda herself.
Let’s jump right into the introduction scene, when Ferris’s family finds him in bed. In English, an exchange between the Mom and Jeanie goes like this:
Jeanie: Oh, fine. What’s this? What’s his problem?
Mom: He doesn’t feel well.
Jeanie: Yeah right, dry that one out you could fertilize the lawn.
Jeanie: あら？どうしたの？(What’s wrong?)
Mom: 具合悪いの。 (He doesn’t feel well.)
Jeanie: 仮病よ。ミエミエだわ (He’s faking. It’s totally obvious.)
The change like in Jeanie’s last line is common, and fairly unavoidable. Conversational English is riddled with idioms and metaphorical phrases, many of which lose meaning if translated directly into another language, so the Japanese line reflects the meaning of Jeannie’s words rather than literally translating what she said.
A few lines later, frustrated, Jeanie tells Ferris to “Bite the big one, junior.” The Japanese line is translated to something entirely different but fitting: ごりっぱ (gorippa). The word literally means something like splendid, or wonderful, but can be used sarcastically when you are sick of dealing with someone else’s BS.
After his family leaves home, a few lines:
Ferris: Incredible. One of the worst performances of my career and they never doubted it for a second.
Ferris: 甘い親だ。あんなヘタな芝居にだまされる (My parents are so naive, falling for a crap performance like that.)
Different words, but pointing to the same thing.
Ferris: This is my 9th sick day this semester. It’s getting pretty tough coming up with new illnesses. If I go for 10 I’m probably going to have to barf up a lung, so I better make this one count.
Ferris: 仮病は今学期９回目だ。病気がもう種ぎれ。今度は吐血（とけつ）が必要だ。今日が最後のチャンス (This is my 9th day playing hooky this term. I’m all out of illnesses. Next time I’m gonna have to throw up some blood. Today is my last chance.)
A lung becomes blood, probably due to the fact that the Japanese have no “hack up a lung” type expressions (as far as I know). The “Today is my last chance” speaks more to the fact that this is, in all likelihood, going to be the last sick day of his high school career.
Ferris: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it.
Ferris: 人生は短い。楽しまなきゃウソだ。(Life is short. You’ve gotta enjoy it.)
The Japanese version of Ferris’ life motto appears simplified, but when you look at what he says from a different angle, it’s still basically the same thing.
Ferris: I quote John Lennon. “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” A good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus, I’d still have to bum rides off people.
Ferris: ジョン・レノンはこう言った。”ビートルズより自分を信じる”と。さすがレノン。名言だ。それにしても車がほしい。(John Lennon said this: “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” Nice one, Lennon. Those are famous words. I still want a car though.)
This line illustrates something else I see commonly in translations of English media: the watering down and/or removal of pop culture references. People know John Lennon and the quote is key to the overall flow of Ferris’s monologue, so of course it was kept in. But perhaps because of time and space constraints, the walrus bit was cut, as it is more of a joke-y aside thing, anyway (and perhaps not considered as memorable a lyric in Japan? Maybe?).
In the famous roll call scene:
Girl: Um, he’s sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who know’s this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.
Girl: 病欠です。私の親友のBFの弟のGFが昨夜サーティワンの店で彼が倒れるのを見たそうです。(He’s out sick. My best friend’s boyfriend’s little brother’s girlfriend saw him pass out at 31 Flavors last night.)
You can see how things have been simplified here. I’m sure it was because of a text length thing. Also, not sure how much the string of people high schoolers hear rumors from is much of a joke in Japan.
Later, when Ferris calls Cameron:
Ferris: How do you feel?
Ferris:気分は？(How do you feel?)
Cameron: メタメタ (Beyond repair.)
Okay, so this isn’t even a change at all, really, I just love that the English definition of メタメタ is “beyond repair”. Next time someone asks me how I’m feeling when I’m sick, this is how I’m going to respond.
Next, a colorful line of dialogue:
Ferris: Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.
Ferris: キャメロンは気が小さい。いつもクヨクヨ物事を悪い方向に考える(Cameron is a timid guy. He always frets and finds the bad in things.)
Again, this kind of change is unavoidable.
In the scene where Rooney talks to Ferris’ mom on the phone, he says:
Rooney: Wake up and smell the coffee, Mrs. Bueller, it’s a fool’s paradise. He is just leading you down the primrose path.
Rooney: 息子さんにだまされてはいけません。しっかり目を見開いてください。 (Don’t let your son fool you. Open your eyes, Mrs. Bueller.)
This is one of my favorites. Rooney just idiom-barfs here, and the Japanese script ignores it all.
Next, a few lines from Rooney’s secretary.
First up is this one:
Rooney: I don’t trust this kid any further than I can throw him.
Secretary: Well with your bad knee, Ed, you shouldn’t throw anybody.
Rooney: あのズル賢いガキめねじふせてやる (I’m gonna [hold that] smart-ass slacker [down] and make him surrender.)
Secretary: またひざを痛めますよ(You’ll hurt your knee again, Ed.)
Rooney again speaks in idiom here, but the secretary’s response is highly dependent on it, so Toda tried to work the knee thing in. Rooney uses the word めねじふせる, which can mean to hold down/twist one’s arm, or to make someone surrender. The knee comment works, but I wonder if it would have worked better if it had been changed to talk of hurting his arm instead.
Next we have this:
Secretary: Oh, well he’s very popular, Ed. The sport-Os, the motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waist-oids, dweebies, dickheads. They all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.
Secretary: フェリスは人気者よ。運動バカ、オートバイ・バカ、プッツン、スケベ、パープリン。みな彼の事をイカすやつだと。(Ferris is a popular kid. The sport-Os, motor heads, angry kids, pervs, idiots. They all think he’s a cool dude.)
Obviously they reduced the list of people here, but I love this line because of the fun vocabulary.
The equivalent to the sport-O is 運動バカ (うんどうバカ, undo baka), オートバイ・バカ (otobai baka), would be the equivalent to motor head, and スケベ is a commonly used term for a perv. プッツン (puttsun) is a term that originated in the 80s. It comes from the onomatopoeic sound of a blood vessel popping in the brain, and is an adjective used to describe someone who is has completely lost themselves in anger. パープリン (papurin) originated in the 1970s, and means idiot. It’s a combination of パー, from 頭がパー (an empty head), and プリン (pudding). So I guess it’s like it’s like saying someone’s has pudding for brains or something? Anyway, this one is long dead, so you won’t hear people using it anymore.
Next is another favorite. In English, the exchange goes like this:
Ferris: I didn’t hit you, I lightly slapped you.
Cameron: You hit me. Look, don’t ask for me to participate in your stupid crap if you don’t like the way I do it. You make me get out of bed, you make me come over here. You make me make a phony phone call to Edward Rooney? The man could squash my nuts into oblivion a-a-a-and then, and then, you deliberately hurt my feelings.
And in Japanese:
Ferris: おれは殴ってない、なでたんだ。(I didn’t hit you. I pet you.)
Cameron: 殴った。おれのやり方が気に食わないなら誘うな。おれをここへ呼びつけ、校長へニセ電話をさせた。おれにヤバイ橋を渡らせた上におれを傷つけた。(You hit me. If you don’t like how I do things than don’t invite me. You call me over here, you make me make a phony phone call to the principal. And after putting me at risk like that, you hurt me.)
I like Ferris’ line here. なでる is a verb that implies a bit of love. It can mean to pet, caress, stroke, pat someone on the head, etc. In Cameron’s line, instead of the nut squashing thing, he uses the phrase ヤバイ橋を渡る. Literally it means to cross a dangerous bridge, and idiomatically means to do something risky.
Cameron: Hey, remember how insane he went when I broke my retainer? Come on, that was a little piece of plastic. This is a Ferrari.
Cameron: おれがバイクを壊した時も怒った。これはバイクじゃない。フェラーリだ。(He even got angry when I broke my bike. This isn’t a bike, it’s a Ferrari.)
This line is curious to me. For one, the retainer becomes a bike. Probably because kids and adolescents with retainers isn’t the common sight in Japan that it is in the US (same with braces). Secondly, the fact that it’s a bike. In Japan, the term bike (バイク, baiku) is commonly used, but in reference to motorcycles, not bicycles. Now, there are certain types of motorcycle licenses available at 16 in Japan (and the age is 16 in the US too), and perhaps this is to illustrate how Cameron’s parents are loaded, but who gets a motorcycle license in high school, really? And does Cameron seem like the type of person who’d want one? If they mean bike as in bicycle I’d understand, but in that case they probably would have used 自転車. And on top of everything else, the difference in scale of investment between a retainer and a motorcycle seems a bit too great.
Next, another untranslatable line by Rooney:
Rooney: I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind.
As such, it becomes:
Rooney: 校長をバカにしてすむと思ったら大間違いだ。(If he thinks he can play this principal a fool, he’s got another thing coming.)
What can you do? The Japanese translation is still right on the money, in terms of meaning.
After being seated at the fancy restaurant:
Host: I appreciate your understanding
Ferris: Don’t think twice. It’s understanding that makes it possible for people like us to tolerate a person like yourself.
Host: おわびの言葉も…(Please accept my apologies.)
Ferris: 許そう。君のような人間に対する時は ”忍”の一字だ (We forgive you. The saying “patience is the only way” was meant for dealing with people like you.)
I like how they fit a Japanese proverb, 忍の一字だ, into Ferris’ line of dialogue here.
I really like the exchange between Ferris and Cameron when they are in the taxi, stuck in traffic. Both the English and Japanese dialogue point towards the same thing, but the actual back and forth is notably different.
In English, the exchange goes like this:
Cameron: It’s getting late buddy, we better go get the car back home.
Ferris: Whaddya me—we have a few hours. We have until six.
Cameron: I’m sorry. I mean I know you don’t care, but it does mean my ass.
Ferris: You think I don’t care?
Cameron: I know you don’t care.
Ferris: Oh, that hurts, Cameron. Cameron, what have you seen today?
Cameron: Nothing good.
Ferris: [exasperated nonsense] What do you mean nothing good? We’ve seen everything good. We’ve seen the whole city. We went to a museum, we saw priceless works of art, we…we ate pancreas.
In Japanese, it unfolds like this:
Cameron: そろそろ帰ろうぜ (We should be getting back soon.)
Ferris: ６時までは平気だよ (We’re good until six, man.)
Cameron: 車の事がバレたら大変だ。(If they find out about the car, I’m toast.)
Ferris: 平気だよ。(We’re good, man.)
Cameron: 勝手な奴だ。(You’re so selfish.)
Ferris: ひどい。傷ついたよ。楽しくないか？(Ouch. That hurts, Cameron. Aren’t you having fun?)
Cameron: ちっとも (Nope, not in the slightest.)
Ferris: [exasperated nonsense].町中を遊びまわって楽しくないか？美術館で絵術を鑑賞し、うまい物を食った (Running all over town hasn’t been fun? We went to the museum and saw fine art! And we ate delicious food!)
It’s interesting how the Japanese script drops Cameron’s accusations that Ferris doesn’t care about him. Instead he outright calls Ferris selfish, which I suppose is similar. Also, I like how pancreas just becomes “delicious food”.
Next, a line by Cameron when Ferris is singing on the float in the parade:
Cameron: You know as long as I’ve known him, everything works for him. There’s nothing he can’t handle. I can’t handle anything. School, parents, the future. Ferris can do anything. I dunno what I’m gonna do.
Cameron: あいつわツイてる。何をしても思い通り。学校、親、将来。彼の意のままだ。ぼくは最低。(Ferris is a lucky guy. Everything goes exactly the way he plans. School, parents, the future. He can do whatever he wants. I’m nothing.)
I find it interesting that when comparing himself to Ferris, Cameron’s insecurity is reduced to a simple ぼくは最低. It works, though.
I also like this line immediately following:
Sloane: What do you think Ferris is going to do?
Cameron: He’s gonna be a fry cook on Venus.
Sloane: どうする気かしら (I wonder what Ferris is going to be?)
Cameron: 目立ちたがり屋だ。(Someone who always stands out from the crowd.)
The fry cook on Venus thing is basically nonsense, but probably just Cameron saying he’s going to do something that turns heads, so the Japanese line, while less playful, fits that.
Next, we have Ferris’ monologue after Cameron’s freak out. Most of it is the same, but the beginning is a bit different. First, the English:
Ferris: This may very well be for real. I think Cameron might have blown a microchip or two. He’s always been a little keyed up. All I wanted to do was give him a good day. We’re gonna graduate in a couple of months, and then…. We’ll have the summer. He’ll work and I’ll work. We’ll see each other at night and on the weekends. Then he’ll go to one school and I’ll go to another. Basically that will be it. Sloan’s a bigger problem. She still has another year of high school. How do I deal with that? I was serious when I said I would marry her. I would.
Now take a look at the Japanese:
Ferris: これでいいのだ。彼はショックで頭の配線が切れた。かえって落ち着くだろう。一日を楽しませたかった。ぼくらは数ヶ月で卒業。夏休みはそれぞれバイトして、会えるのは夜と週末。それから別々の大学へ。そういう図式だ。スローアンはー 高校卒業までにま１年ある。彼女と結婚するという話はマジだ。 (He’ll be fine, the shock just disconnected some wires in his brain. He’ll calm down after we get home. I just wanted him to have fun today. We’re going to be graduating in a few months. During summer vacation we’ll work different part time jobs and only meet on nights and weekends. Then we’ll head off to different colleges. That’s how it’s charted out. As for Sloane, she still has one more year before she graduates. I was serious when I said I’d marry her.)
When I was watching the movie, I was a bit baffled by the これでいいのだ (Literally: This is fine[the way it is]). I didn’t understand why that would be the opening line. I decided to google it once I started writing things out, though, and I discovered this is a famous line by the father character in an old children’s manga Tensai Bakabon, and is meant to remind people to accept things as they are. Whether or not this is actually a reference to the manga is another matter entirely, but I do think it is worth sharing.
Here is an extended quote I found on this blog post:
わしは バカボンのパパなのだ。この世は むずかしいのだ。わしの思うようにはならないのだ。でも わしは大丈夫なのだ。わしはいつでもわしなので 大丈夫なのだ。これでいいのだと言っているから 大丈夫なのだ。あなたも あなたで それでいいのだ。それでいいのだ。それでいいのだ。わしはリタイヤしたのだ。全ての心配から リタイヤしたのだ。だからわしは 疲れないのだ。どうだ。 これでいいのだ。これでいいのだ。やっぱりこれでいいのだ。
I am Bakamon’s father. This world is a difficult place. Things never go the way I want. But I am okay. I will always be me, so I am okay. I am saying that things are fine the way they are, so I am okay. You are fine the way you are, too. You are fine the way you are. You are fine. I am retired. Retired from all my worries. That’s why I’m never exhausted. See? Things are fine the way they are. They are fine. Of course they are.
Cute stuff. I’ll say again that I don’t know if this line was meant to be a Tensai Bakabon reference, but I’ll leave it here as a possibility.
Moving on, we have this from Cameron:
Cameron: You know that whole time I was just thinking things over. I was like, I was like meditating. Then I sorta watched myself from inside. I realized it was ridiculous. Being afraid, worrying about everything, wishing I was dead. All that shit. I’m tired of it. It’s the best day of my life.
Cameron: 時間をとび越えた感じだった。何というか、瞑想の感じだ。自分という人間が見えた。バカだったよ。いつもビクビク周囲を気にして、死んだほうがマシだと思ってた。今日は最高だ。(It felt like I had stepped outside of time. It was like…meditation. I saw the person that I was, and it was so stupid. Always worrying about what others think of me, thinking I was better off dead. This is an amazing day.)
We can see a bit of simplification here, most likely due to limits in dialogue length and time. I’m not sure how I feel about Cameron’s statement that he is tired of living that way getting cut. He illustrates it later, I suppose, which might be why they cut it here, but I think the script would have been better with it left in.
And now, finally, we reach the end of the movie. In the final (pre-credits) scene, Ferris once again shares his life motto.
Ferris: Yep. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
And in Japanese:
Ferris: どう？ もう一度くり返す。人生は短い。思う存分楽しまなきゃウソだ。(See? I’ll say it one more time. Life is short. You’ve gotta enjoy it to your heart’s content.)
In the English line, the motto is exactly the same as the first time he says it, but in the Japanese version 思う存分 (to one’s heart’s content) is added. Perhaps it’s been added as if to say, “See how much fun this all was?”, which I get, but it would have been fine if it was there in the beginning too, right?
And there you have it folks. That ended up longer and was more time consuming than I expected. And I cut things. I cut things! Thanks to all of you who stuck with it to the end. This is probably most personally enjoyable thing I’ve done for the site so far, and that being said it’s something I’d love to do again. Here’s hoping!