I’m translating segments of a Japanese TV show right now. It’s very different from my usual work, and not what I consider a strong suit, but the client seems happy with my work right now, so I’ll take it.
This particular show is of the “physical challenge reality TV” variety. It’s sort of like the show Ninja Warrior that’s currently on U.S. cable, but much sillier and with recognizable Japanese TV celebrities as commentators and sometimes as competitors. The commentators are clearly trying to call the proceedings the way a sports announcer would, and as I go along, I’m trying to imagine how it would sound if Bob Costas were calling the games with my translation. But some of this stuff doesn’t translate. It’s not so much that I don’t know the words, or don’t know what the speakers mean by them (although that happens here and there), it’s just that they’re saying things that would never be said in the same situation in an English-speaking contest.
I just ran flat-faced into a perfect example. The game in question has the contestants trying to sit atop a gigantic ball and navigate it through an obstacle course. At one point, one of the contestants gets stuck in a hole and is rocking unsteadily and impotently, trying to get out. The commentator says “まるで現代人の日常の不安定感をビジュアル化したかのようだ,” which I have translated somewhat loosely as “It’s as if the malaise of modern life has been made tangible in his plight.”
And there’s the thing. No American sports announcer, no matter how literate, would ever say anything remotely like that in this situation. I’m content with the translation, but it’s undeniably weird to an American audience. Then again, the rest of the show is kind of weird.