Thursday, January 29, 2009

American Beauty took me here

It was 1999 when the idea of becoming a translator hit me, so it's been about 10 years since then. At that time I was a sophomore at a university in Japan and was 19 years old.

The reason was quite simple. I was watching the movie "American Beauty" with my friend, and I was enjoying the movie as usual. But just before the story came to an end, I was kind of shocked, not because of the story itself, but of the subtitle. Actually, at that time my ability to understand spoken English was terrible (much worse than now), so I didn't understand at all what people in the movie were actually saying. But anyway, the subtitle was beautifully sad, and the expression was, at least for me, perfect.

Before seeing that movie, I didn't trust the subtitle, or translation itself. In the course of learning other languages and taking some linguistics class, I came to realize that the difference between languages comes from the difference in the way people in each country think, which relates to the country's culture established in a long, long history. This difference is deep. One concept the people in a country has may not exist in other countries, so the word corresponding to that concept may accordingly not exist. That's why the "perfect" translation never exist in the world.

The subtitle, however, was just great enough to move me. I simply thought that if I can convey some good idea in my culture to people in other countries with translation that may not be perfect but nearly perfect, becoming a translator would be a good idea.

By now I had worked as a translator, though not as a subtitle translator for some reason (actually there's a very slight demand for subtitle translators), and 10 years has past since 1999. Time flies so fast! But I feel that I'm still at an entrance into my profession, and that's the reason why I'm back to school and studying writing. "American Beauty" took me to the States, in a sense.


  1. Emi, I love the movie "American Beauty" and also was very moved by it.

    I think being subtitle translated is a great profession, because I've also watched foreign films and enjoyed them very much because subtitles made my understanding of them possible. "Amelie", a French film, and "Bahran"[sic]and Arab film are two examples.

    The funny thing is I feel that nothing lost on the viewer of another language if subtitles are well done. I've come away from foreign films and forgotten in which language I viewed them, that their even were subtitles at all. Because my understanding was complete--as far as I knew anyway. Concepts are sometimes beyond language, and you are right, some concepts only exist--or are recognized anyway--in a certain language, but when those concepts can be grasped commonly, despite language barrier, it's an exciting thing.

    Oh, another foreign film I watched in subtitles and loved: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

  2. Relating to New Media, translation is an interesting idea. Often in New Media, the tools of expression are visual, like the title of are text implies "Letting Go of the Words" is the aim--interesting that movies have this visual power of common communication, since the images are often universally understand in their most basic implications (i.e. everyone gets a fight scene, a love scene, a lonely figure on a road, etc.)