Speaking of the cinema, one of the things that’s almost impossible to do in Japan is talk to Japanese friends about foreign films. Not that they haven’t seen the film in question or that they won’t have an insightful opinion. It’s that it takes forever to figure out what it’s called in Japanese. With both song and film titles, Japanese distributors are wont to give the work a “houdai” (邦題) — “Japanese title” — that will be attractive to domestic consumers. Creating an accurate translation of the original does not, apparently, fall into their game plan. They simply assign more “palatable” titles that will appeal to the broadest possible audience.
Now, American firms are quite guilty of equal crimes. For example, how did C’est arrivé près de chez vous become Man Bites Dog?
But in Japan, the blatant rewriting of film titles for marketing purposes is a widespread, ingrained practice. Distributors must first take out all words used metaphorically or abstractly and replace them with specific, direct meanings. Then, if love enters into the plot at any level, they must insert the words 恋, 愛、心、or ハート.
Some choice cuts:
Chariots of Fire –>「炎のランナー」 (The Runners of Flames)
Dead Poet’s Society –>「いまをいきる」(Live the Today)
Dazed and Confused –>「バッド・チューニング」 (Bad Tuning)
Before Sunrise –>「恋人たちのディスタンス」 (The Lovers’ Distance)
重慶森林 (Chungking Express/Jungle) –>「恋する惑星」(Love Planet)
There are a million more like it — some sensible, some egregious. (The new War of the Worlds‘ houdai is 「宇宙戦争」, which pretty much means “Star Wars.”) These title changes, however, make sense: Why would anyone want to see a movie starring dead poets? Or how could you go on a date to a movie with the word “Chungking” in the title? Can you imagine a Japanese fan really getting into the Partridge Family song “I Think I Love You” if it was not re-named 「悲しき初恋」(“sad first love”)?
Maybe Wes Anderson likes the fact that his film Rushmore is called「天才マックスの世界」(The World of Genius Max), but these title changes seem to reflect another theme quite apparent within Japanese society: Companies think very little of their consumers. In this extremely low-risk culture, distributors fear that filmgoers will choose films based solely on the title. “Rushmore?!” exclaimed Yoshi, “I’m not seeing a movie about that monument in South Dakota!”