About Me

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Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fairy tales, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also review children's and young adult books for Kirkus and teach English at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Monday, February 20, 2012

Misadventures in Dubbing: The Borrower Arrietty

After seeing the American dub of the Studio Ghibli film "Kari-gurashi no Arietti," or "The Borrower Arrietty," (distributed by Disney in English as "The Secret World of Arrietty"), I was left feeling as if I'd watched and understood only about 80% of what I knew deep down had to be a more than decent film.  I have always found Studio Ghibli films to be horrendously dubbed, and this one was really no exception.  So I did my best to hunt down the original Japanese version of the film.

Here is a list of the differences I noticed -- but take these notations with a grain of salt.  I would probably have to return to the theatre and rewatch the American dub to be absolutely certain about some of these:

Arrietty

(1) Japanese:
The most obvious difference is in the character of Shou.  "Shou" is a common Japanese name for a boy.

(1) American:
Shou's name was changed to "Shawn" for the American dub.  This seems a rather bizarre attempt to Anglicize a character who is in all other respects clearly Japanese.  There are numerous instances of books, products, papers, and other items bearing Japanese lettering.  Shou/Shawn eats with chopsticks in several dinner scenes, and both he and Haru (the housekeeper) leave their outside shoes at the door and wear slippers indoors (a uniquely Japanese custom).  Why change nothing but the name?  Niya the cat also receives a name change: Nina.

(2) Japanese:
In the Japanese version, Pod is clearly disappointed in Arrietty's botched first borrowing.  When he catches her prowling around inside the walls of the big house, he chastises her quite sternly, earning an obedient apology from her.

(2) American:
In the American version, Pod (voiced quite excellently by Will Arnett, whose wife, Amy Poehler, voices Homily, Pod's wife and Arrietty's mother) is a kind and forgiving man who even boosts Arrietty's confidence by congratulating her on not panicking when Shawn spots her during their midnight run.  This comforting/congratulatory dialogue replaces a more mundane exchange in the Japanese version.

Shou

(3) Japanese:
A topic is broached in the original version that doesn't appear in the American one: divorce.  It is revealed that Shou's parents are divorced; his father is no longer in the picture, and his mother is chastised by his mother's aunt ("Aunt Sadako") for leaving for a business trip and neglecting her sickly child.

(3) American:
Here there is no mention of divorce.  Shou simply reveals to Arrietty that his parents are too busy to take care of him.

(4) Japanese:
Pod and Homily share a rather cryptic discussion about a big "change" that must occur now that Arrietty has been seen by the "beans."  The audience is kept in the dark until Arrietty herself figures out that her parents are planning to move.

(4) American:
The original cryptic discussion between Pod and Homily is dubbed so that audiences are immediately aware that the family intends to move.  It's unclear if Arrietty is also made aware of this, and that it was never a secret to begin with, perhaps suggesting that Pod and Homily, as kind, loving parents, would never keep a secret from their daughter.

(5) Japanese:
In a pivotal scene between Shou and Arrietty, Shou blithely speculates that Arrietty's entire species is on the verge of extinction.  He thoughtlessly ignores Arrietty's insistence that he stop, seemingly unaware that his words are hurtful to her.  When he finally does apologize, he reveals that he is the one who is going to become extinct (he reveals he is going to die because of his poor health).  Shou's selfishness and seeming inability to acknowledge Arrietty as a fellow thinking, feeling (albeit small) human being is juxtaposed with his  childish and very real fear of dying.  In essense, he is a boy who copes with his own mortality by reveling in an obsession with death.

(5) American:
Shawn does not seem to share Shou's deep obsession with death, and he is more considerate of Arrietty's feelings.  In the Japanese version, he reveals that he wishes to protect her (not for her sake, but for his own, as he's been weak all his life and wants to feel useful).  This part of the conversation is left out in the dub.

(6) Japanese:
In the final scene, Arrietty gives Shou her hair pin for luck.  She assures him that he did, in fact, protect her.  Shou looks happy and relieved and promises that he will never forget her.  The film ends with images of Arrietty sailing down the river with Spiller (a semi-wild borrower who appears to have a crush on her).  The viewer is led to believe that Shou's morbid predictions were, in fact, mere selfish adolescent speculation: clearly, Arrietty and Spiller's budding romance suggests that the borrower species will carry on.  Shou's own future is left in doubt.  Did he die after his operation the way he believed he would?

(6) American:
Arrietty tells Shawn she is giving him her hair pin so he'll remember her.  He assures her that he will.  There is no mention of him having protected her since the original conversation about protection never took place.  Shawn's motives for helping Arrietty remain unanswered, causing his character to lack a fair bit of depth.  As Arrietty and Spiller sail down the river, Shawn's voice assures the audience that he did, in fact, survive the operation, and now stands a year later remembering his friendship with Arrietty.  Because Shawn also opened the narrative, he in effect frames it, somewhat confusing the audience as to who the hero of this story really is.

Homily, Pod, and Arrietty

My thoughts about these differences are mixed.  I'm sure it's apparent that many of the changes were made for the supposed benefit of American child audiences.  Touchy subjects like divorce and morbidity were removed.  Arrietty's father's stern demeanor was softened.  Shou becomes the less self-absorbed, but otherwise personality-less Shawn.


But I'm left wondering about the true root behind the various changes made.  Do we have a situation wherein certain material can be considered suitable for Japanese children but not American children?  Or is "The Borrower Arrietty" simply aimed at a slightly older audience than "The Secret World of Arrietty"?  The previews shown in the theatre clearly suggest that advertisers believe they are marketing to a very young audience.  Is it simply the American belief that all animated films are by nature created solely for very young children?  But films like "Shrek" and its sequels should have put such thoughts to rest.  Then again, "Shrek" was sternly criticized for the adult and crude humor that many felt was inappropriate for a child audience.

As usual, I don't have any definitive conclusions to make.  I wonder how others have felt about either version of the film.  Did anyone else wonder at Shawn's motivations?  Am I the only one who thought his framing of the narrative (when it was Arrietty's name in the title, not his!) felt a bit off?

On a personal note, it should come as no surprise that the voice acting and dialogue in the Japanese version are vastly superior to the American version.  I certainly intend to purchase the DVD when it comes out, and I more than likely will never watch the American dub again.


FYI: Do check out this article by Tim Maughan over at Tor.com.  Maughan talks about the film as an adaptation of Mary Norton's book and about the film's young director, a possible successor to the brilliant but sadly aging Hayao Miyazaki.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Trouble in Paradise: The Dystopian Romance

Dystopias are all the rage now in YA literature.  Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy did for the teen dysoptia what Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series (I must admit I refuse to refer to it as a "saga") did for paranormal romance.  And if you think that's a compliment...

Not to belittle Meyer's or Collins' efforts.  But Good Books do not always start Good Trends.  Or rather, sometimes Pretty Good or even Pretty Decent Books (says the girl who hasn't published a darn thing, save the occasional academic article) sell so well that they start mind-bogglingly dull trends. Seen on girl fall in love with a vampire, seen 'em all.

Admittedly, sometimes Good Books do start Good Trends.  Take Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It basically spawned an entire genre.  Some might call that genre "high fantasy" or "sword and sorcery fantasy," but the truth is that those are branches of a single genre (fantasy) that was essentially breathed into being by Tolkien.  Yes, there were fairy tales, there was Jules Verne, there was myth.  But then there was Tolkien.

And there is fantasy in Twilight, too.  (Something about werewolves and vampires?  To be honest, I haven't read them.)  And there is Twilight in the Hunger Games.

I'm talking, of course, about the love triangle.  My sister tells me the love triangle is fairly nonexistent in the books; it's only in the movies that the Jacob/Bella/Edward triangle exists.  I'm skeptical of this.  I think what she means to imply is that Bella in the book never cares for Jacob in the way that she cares for Edward.  But the quintessential elements of the love triangle still exist: one girl, desired equally by two different boys.  

The "Who will she choose?" element is perhaps a figment of the film adaptation's imagination, but nevertheless, this, too, has influenced YA to a fairly significant degree.  The Hunger Games boasts the Peeta/Katniss/Gale love triangle; fans have even adopted Twilight fandom lingo and refer to themselves as "Team Peeta" or "Team Gale," despite the fact that Katniss very definitively ends up with only one of the boys at the trilogy's conclusion.  Such is the nature of fandom, which routinely exerts the ultimate power of reader response in the guise of fanfiction, fanart, and other forms of fan-created artistic expression.  Allie Condie's Matched, a dystopian romance -in truth, more of a romance with a hint of dystopia- boasts a love triangle of its own.  So does Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel (another paranormal romance, not a dystopia).  Of course, not all teen dystopias have love triangles (Veronica Roth's Divergent, for example), but many do.  Many do not necessarily tickle their toes in the love triangle pool, so to speak, but still include a heavy dose of romance as the premise for their so-called dystopic narratives.  

Recently, it was announced that the CW will begin airing a series called "The Selection" based on Kiera Cass's trilogy by the same name.  The premise is eerily similar to one of my favorite novels, Shannon Hale's Princess Academy.  (Interesting fact: Hale once turned down an opportunity to let Matel make the book into a Barbie cartoon movie.)  In both stories, a group of girls is promised the opportunity to marry a prince; of course, only one will be chosen.  The MTV article calls "The Selection" "The Bachelor" with a dystopian twist."  

And that's essentially what the teen dystopia has become: romance with a dystopian twist.  Book publishers obviously think that girls prefer to take their science fiction, their fantasy, their paranormal narratives, with more than a dash of romance.  No, girls want full blown (age appropriate) Harlequins with only a pinch of milieu, a dash of plot, a hint of narrative.  

It's hard to argue with them when the books they produce sell so well.  And perhaps I should be chided for judging a book by its cover - or its TV pilot.