Watership Down Subtitles, a la Japonais

A few months ago, I was feeling nostalgic and decided to download a copy of the old 1978 animated movie, Watership Down, based on the epic novel by the same name by Richard Adams. I had some mixed feelings about this movie, mostly because I can recall that after seeing it as a young boy, I had nightmares about the acid-trip scene where the half-dead survivor recounts the extermination of the burrow. I later read the book as a teenager and absolutely loved it though, so I decided to give the movie another shot.

Also another surprise: the song “Bright Eyes” in the movie is sung by none other than this person.

So after Karisa was in bed, we started the movie. Almost immediately though, we ran into a major problem: Ryoko couldn’t follow any of it. Usually Ryoko doesn’t have too difficult of a time with TV, movies, etc., but this was different. Maybe it was the heavy use of author-invented words for the rabbit language, such as silflay, hrududu, owsla, etc., or maybe it was just the british accents. Ryoko decided that without Japanese subtitles, she probably wouldn’t be able to watch this film.

Well, finding English subtitles usually isn’t too difficult, there are many websites that have subtitle files you can download for thousands of movies. After a short while of looking I found some English subtitles for Watership Down. I tried them with the movie and the timing was perfect. But what about Japanese subtitles? I hadn’t had much success finding Japanese subtitles in the past, and this was no exception.

So I decided: I can make a translation of these subtitles! I’m always complaining about how bad the subtitles are in the fan-subs I watch, aren’t I? I figured I couldn’t do any worse, at least. So after looking around for the necessary software, I decided on Subtitle Workshop, since it was fairly easy to use, had all the functions I needed, and is freeware.

So here’s a sample of my work. This is from the very beginning which is the fable/creation scene:
creation scene

Long ago, the great Frith made the world. He made all the stars… and the world lived among the stars. Frith made all the animals and birds… and, at first, made them all the same. Now, among the animals was El-ahrairah, the Prince of Rabbits.
He had many friends… and they all ate grass together. After a time, the rabbits wandered everywhere… multiplied, eating as they went. Then, Frith said to El-ahrairah: “Prince Rabbit, if you cannot control your people… I shall find ways to control them.”

And here is my translation:


That scene involves very specific phraseology in English that we generally associate with epic or biblical tales, something that I can’t do the equivalent of in Japanese very well. Ryoko gave me a bit of a helping hand on some of the phrasing, so perhaps its passable.

The other really hard scene so far is Cowslip’s exisistential poetry jam:

Where are you going, stream?
Far, far away.
Take me with you, stream.
Take me on your dark journey.
Lord Frith, take me far away, to the hearts of light.
The silence. I give you my breath.
My life. The silence.

I still don’t feel too good about my translation for that scene, since a good Japanese translation would require some familiarity with Japanese haiku and tanka poetry, which I most certainly lack. Still, the experience so far has been pretty fun, if a lot more time-consuming than I originally anticipated. I’m maybe only a third of the way through the movie so far. Maybe next time I’m in Japan I’ll take a look at it, so I can see how crappy my translation is compared to a professional.

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5 Responses to Watership Down Subtitles, a la Japonais

  1. Muninn says:

    Derek, this is a wonderful idea! Looks good, you should go through with it!

  2. Muninn says:

    You have me doing math to post comments?! Shocking…what will us historians do! :-)

    What plugin did you get that did this? Easy to set up?

  3. admin says:

    The math problem spam-blocker was really easy to set up, considering I was able to do it. I was starting to have a problem with 12 spam comments filling up my [Requiring Moderation] page every day, so a google search got to this page. From there I decided to go with something simple at first, so I though I would try this. To set it up all I had to do was upload it into my plugins folder and then activate it. If it gets popular, I’m sure any spam-hacker could program a bot to defeat it, but I’ll go ahead and use it until something more sophisticated is needed.

  4. Matt says:

    Yes, you should definitely do this! I don’t even think you need to know much about traditional Japanese poetry to render Cowslip’s little freak-out — it’s not like he sticks to traditional English forms…

  5. Pingback: Moroha 諸刃 » Watership Down subtitles, pt. 2

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