[Daigo sighs]

Twice during the course of flaming June (an adjective which, thanks to the wonderful flexibility of English, works both if the sun shines and the mercury rises or if the heavens open and the all-pervasive chill seeps into your bones), I have chosen to spend an evening at home watching a film.  On both occasions, I have decided to go for something light and amusing, a rom-com perhaps, but somehow I have actually ended up watching a foreign language film about the preparation of the dead for their final journey.  I should make clear that on neither occasion have I regretted my choice of viewing: the correct decision was made and I really loved both films.

I am beginning to suspect that this says something about me, probably something slightly worrying.  It would certainly suggest that the part of me which believes itself in charge of decisions doesn’t know me very well (and so should probably steer clear of Delphi), but fortunately the aspect of the self invested with executive control is rather better informed.  Concerns might also be raised that I am becoming excessively morbid – or, and worse, may be acquiring a penchant for necrophilia.  I would like to reassure readers that, as of the time of going to press, I have managed to resist the urge to make the short stroll up to Southampton Old Cemetery for any purposes other than the purely historical or to enjoy its still living flora and fauna (via my eyes and ears alone).

The first of these films was Atmen (Breathing) wherein a young offender finds a new direction working for the Vienna coroner’s office.  I believe this has been covered in a previous post, and so need not detain us further – other than to say that it rewards a second viewing.

This evening, by the power of Netflix (well, I don’t seem to have transformed into an overly muscled superhero – so perhaps I am saying this in the wrong location or holding the incorrect object aloft.  One can only imagine how many failed combinations of place and article Prince Adam tried before He-Man made an appearance), I watched the Japanese film Okuribito (Departures) about a chap who gives up his dream of being an orchestral cellist and by chance finds redemption in a new career as an encoffinist.  In many ways, not a vast amount happens – at one stage a car is driven relatively quickly, there is a scuffle at a wake and our hero shouts once, briefly – but two hours passes very enjoyably.  Unlike many shorter (and most longer) films, at no stage did I feel the lack of a decent editor.

The actor playing our hero (Daigo), and who is slightly older than me, is irritatingly well preserved and also wrote the film.  Back in the eighties, he was in a very successful boyband – which may give some hope to the current crop of bedroom pin-ups when fickle fashion moves on to the next new thing.  Having said that, I’m not expecting any serious arthouse cinema out of the ex-members of Blue or The Wanted in the near (or even distant) future (and yes, I did have to Google the names of boy bands for these references).

I have a feeling that Departures may be the first Japanese language film I have seen (though as previously discussed my memory is now failing rapidly) – and, equally important, heard.  The film reinforced my view, acquired after hearing Kenta Hayashi sing, that the Japanese language forms a beautiful soundscape, with none of the abrasiveness I have come (quite possibly wrongly) to associate with Chinese.  As I don’t speak Japanese (but am rather tempted to try) the film was provided with very thorough English language subtitles.  It would seem that these are intended to serve both the non-Japanese speaker and the deaf reader of English.  As a result, every vocalisation is given a subtitle, as is each use of music, and by far the most common subtitle was [Daigo sighs] – and so we achieve titular enlightenment.

Among its many delights, the film introduced the ancient Japanese idea – from a time before widespread literacy – of giving a meaningful stone (more a pebble based on the examples in the film) to a loved one: a kind of ready-made sculpture, from long before Marcel Duchamp, if you will.  This struck me as rather a fine custom, but some thought would be needed to ensure a reasonably common understanding of the meaning invested in a specific pebble.  One would not want to give inadvertent offence, especially while equipping the now aggrieved party with effective ordnance.

Subtitles Redux

I wouldn’t want you to imagine that I never watch films or television programmes broadcast in my mother tongue – though I do have a rather serious BBC4 habit.  In fact, if I am honest with myself – and by extension, you – I do seem more willing to give something a “go” if it is not in English.  This seems particularly true of detective drama or police procedurals – hence, my recent viewing in this genre has largely comprised Wallander in Swedish, Montalbano in Italian and, most recently, The Killing in Danish.

If we ignore the arena of sporting endeavour (something which I have done pretty successfully over the years) then the most famous Dane in this country would probably (just feel that craft – even the adverbs refer back to the Danes) be diminutive funster Sandi Toksvig.  As a country, Denmark is best known for lager, pastries and bacon – all widely considered to be a sources of pleasure.   It is thus, perhaps, curious that so much of the output of Denmark’s entertainment industry is so depressing (née harrowing).  BBC4 transmits The Killing as a double bill on a Saturday night – and I must wonder if hospitals have seen a spike in attempts at self-immolation as a result.  I can only manage one at a time, and then require several days to recover – don’t get me wrong, it is quite brilliant but my joie de vivre can only take so much.  I have largely avoided Danish cinema as I doubt my state of mind is up to it (the trailers are bad enough) – though I have seen Italian for Beginners which I think would count as a farce by Danish standards (and merely mildly depressing by those of a sunnier nation).  Shakespeare is oft cited as a genius, and I do wonder if Hamlet is a more realistic take on the Danish psyche than commonly realised.

But, all of this discussion of the Norfolk of the Baltic is by the bye.  Earlier in the week I was watching the French comedy, loosely translated for the anglophone viewer as, “My Best Friend”.  This flick has a number of themes – friendship, antiques, taxis and quiz shows might all be considered (though I refer you to previous blogs for the difference between your host and a film critic).  In one scene, one of the characters lists quiz show hosts – and these are duly transcribed for the linguistically challenged.  To my delight, the subtitles listed Robert Robinson as one of these hosts – such was my excitement that I missed the original French.  This leaves three rather intriguing possibilities:

  1. The subtitles were written by a Brit, older than 30, and who can remember Mr Robinson’s ouevre.  Presumably, this suggests that the UK distributor was not targeting the youth market.
  2. The subtitles were written, as usual, by a Yank – but that Ask the Family was much bigger in the US than I had realised.
  3. The original (and best) host of Brain of Britain is famous in la belle France (Radio 4 leaking across la Manche?) – and so he should be.

So, the question (for Mother and Younger Child only) is – which is true?  Or is there a fourth possibility that I have failed to consider?

Dumbing Down Subtitles

I’ve just finished watching L’arnacoeur (Heartbreaker, if you will) a film almost wholly in French.  As a result, subtitles are provided as standard to let the Anglophone viewer know what’s going on.

I obtained an A for “O” level French back in 1982 (and I’m still banging on about it almost 30 years later – how sad), but have done little work on the language since.  So, I will admit that I found the subtitles useful.  However, even with my rather rusty and limited language skills it was all too apparent that we English speakers were not considered up to the full complexity of the script.  Perhaps the two most obvious examples required no knowledge of French at all: Dar es Salaam was subtitled as Tanzania and Alain Prost as Schumacher.  I mean, really?  I know some of our American friends don’t get out much but I don’t see any good reason to simplify the script in this way.  Let’s start a campaign now to have proper sub-titling without the implied, disparaging commentary on our intellectual capacity.

The film, by the way, was great fun – a definite thumbs up.  (Perhaps I’m not ready to be the next Barry Norman just yet – I’ll work further on my critical faculties).