Translation and situation

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.

3 thoughts on “Translation and situation”

  1. I have to know which show this is, and when it goes on the air. I hope the producers stick with the existentialist dilemma angle :)

  2. Wait, I can hear Bob Costas saying that in my head. (Then again, I can hear Bob Costas saying all kinds of things in my head, most of which are unsuitable for a family audience. Rrrrrrrr…)

    I think you need John Hodgman to do the voiceovers in English.

  3. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that the show is called Muscle Ranking (筋肉番付け), though they may change the name for Western audiences. I have no idea where it’s going to air.

    I can totally hear John Hodgman reading that line, which I take as evidence of his unsuitability to be a sportscaster. Then again, I can kind of imagine Howard Cosell saying it. So go figure.

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