Beyond the Rhetoric


Foreign Movies Dubbed in English

August 15th, 2009 by
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Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (Studio Ghibli)

My Neighbour Totoro. Spirited Away. Howl’s Moving Castle. These are all great movies from Studio Ghibli and the mind of Hayao Miyazaki. One of the latest films to get released in North America from this dynamic combination is Ponyo, a film that I reviewed almost a full five months ago. How is this possible?

Well, the Japanese release of the movie, whose full title is actually translated as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, was several months ago and it is only now that we’re seeing the film officially released for North American audiences. The animation and story remain the same, but they have re-recorded the voice work with Western actors. The title role of Ponyo, the mermaid-like girl who yearns to be a human being, is now voiced by Noah Cyrus, little sister to Miley Cyrus. Other notable actors lending their voices to the English version of the movie include Tina Fey, Betty White, and Matt Damon.

I wouldn’t say that I necessarily have a problem with English dubs for foreign movies, since many of us can’t really be bothered with reading subtitles if we can help it, but this really does take away from the authenticity. There’s just something to be said about the Japanese language, its nuances, and its intonations that make it sound so different from an English equivalent. A big part of the acting is, of course, the way the words are spoken.

For me, if I have already seen the movie in its original language, I can’t stand to watch it dubbed in English. This not applies to movies, but also anime TV shows like Naruto and, going a little further back in time, Dragon Ball. It just sounds so wrong in English after you’ve already grown accustomed to the original language. My experience isn’t quite as vast in the area, but I’d say that the same would apply for foreign films out of Europe and elsewhere around the world.

At the same time, if I am watching the movie (or TV show) for the first time and it happens to be in English, I’m not bothered nearly as much by the transition. I don’t have as much of a point of reference and we can say that this is the norm for many Hollywood-produced films. Inglorious Basterds with Brad Pitt opens soon and I have a feeling that, despite taking place in Nazi Germany, the film will have a lot more English than German in it.

What do you think? When you watch a foreign film that has been dubbed in English, does the disjoint in language strike you as odd? Does it bug you?

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Michael Kwan Freelance Writer

5 Responses to “Foreign Movies Dubbed in English”

  1. Lesley says:

    Personally, I can’t watch a foreign movie in English. It MUST have subs.

    Having said that, I still haven’t seen Ghost in the Shell in its original Japanese, and it’s driving me nuts.

  2. Ray Ebersole says:

    Just one phrase:

    “Kung Fu Theater”

    Enough said.

  3. EarningStep says:

    it look like simple movie , do you think so.

  4. Ed Lau says:

    I usually have a huge problem with dubs as I feel they take away from the true essence of the film. Unlike the vast majority of people, I guess, I can read quick enough to keep up with subtitles and not miss what’s going on.

    Miyazaki films are the exception, though. The real problem with foreign films getting dubbed over is that they usually hire some talentless hacks that don’t know how to make it their own. Nearly every Studio Ghibli film, on the other hand, gets real talent to voice their characters and it always turns out well. My favorite Miyazaki film, Mononoke Hime, was done extremely well by Billy Crudup and Minnie Driver.

    At the other end of the spectrum, though, and this is far more commonplace, are the idiots that did the voiceovers for Dragonball. I’d like to send those people TO ANOTHER DIMENSION!

  5. […] an aside, I opted to watch it in Japanese, though an English dub is also available. I feel movies like this are just better served in their […]

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