Margaret Marks has a fascinating entry explaining that the translation of the “Suntory scene” in Lost in Translation has a crucial error in the director’s first speech to Bill Murray: “As if you are Bogie in Casablanca, saying, ‘Cheers to you guys,'” should read “…saying, ‘Here’s looking at you, kid!'” After discussing the “brilliant translation” of the Casablanca line into Japanese, she moves on to the much-praised, exceedingly famous translation into German, “Schau mir in die Augen, Kleines,” which she considers “condescending, self-centred, jokey, and completely lacking in romance.” I have to agree with her.

It’s particularly amusing, by the way, that the director’s line immediately before turning to Bill Murray is:

DIRECTOR (in Japanese to the interpreter): The translation is very important, O.K.? The translation.

And it’s interesting that the film’s title is apparently not translated into German (“Schlechtes Dolmetschen in Lost in Translation”). Is it common practice not to translate English-language titles? Or was this one considered peculiarly untranslatable?


  1. I was just sitting here deliberating whether to edit obscenities out of a genuine comment (on pronunciation of English words in German).
    I think I was moving towards an entry on this subject. Or did one (sorry, not sure how far html works)
    Oh, and you commented on it! (And I mentioned Casablanca…) Well, usually the translations are horrible, but maybe a change is underway. I have no idea why they didn’t translate this one. There is no neat equivalent, but that hasn’t stopped them in the past.

  2. When we lived in Barcelona in the early 80’s, we watched Casablanca presented in English with Spanish subtitles. “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!” was translated, “¡Buen suerte!”

  3. I just got stuck in a Russian language television market for a month. I don’t have any Russian. In “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the catch phrase “Yeaaaaaaaaah Duuuuuuuuude” is dubbed as “da.”

  4. xiaolongnu says

    It’s funny to hear those very famous lines in translation. I saw “The Terminator” first in China, dubbed (badly, natch) in Chinese. The line “I’ll be back” came out as “Wo jiu hui lai,” emphasis on the “jiu;” the intent was obviously to use “jiu,” which can function as an intensifier, to convey the sense of menace in Schwarzenegger’s line, but it really means “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

  5. This is a memory of a line not translated, but I remember watching Red Heat on Russian television. It got to the point where Arnold says “Durak! Durak!” (“Idiot! Idiot!”) with his ‘r’ about as far from the flipped Russian version as possible, vowels all out of whack, etc. But since it was technically in Russian, it wasn’t dubbed. My host brother got a weird look on his face and had to ask me what Arnold had said. It was amusing. 😉

  6. Michael Farris says

    “It got to the point where Arnold says “Durak! Durak!” (“Idiot! Idiot!”) with his ‘r’ about as far from the flipped Russian version as possible, vowels all out of whack, etc. But since it was technically in Russian, it wasn’t dubbed.”
    You should clarify that usually Russian “dubbing” is done over the original soundtrack, which is still partly audible.
    Similar to Poland where “dubbing” is done with a single voice-over translation with the original soundtrack partly audible. (this is for live action, cartoons usually are fully dubbed)
    Both methods sound ugly beyond all belief (and effectively ruin the movie for native speakers of the original language whether or not they know Russian or Polish)

  7. Funnily enough, in Italy Sofia’s movie is called “Lost In Translation — L’amore tradotto” which, of course, sucks.
    But distributors often rape good movie titles — Truffaut’s “Domicile Conjugal”, believe it or not, became “Non drammatizziamo: è solo questione di corna”.

  8. Hmmm. Movie translation comments in general seems like a dangerously large floodgate to open, but I’m willing to float along.
    My brother reported to me on watching “Withnail and I” and regarding its lacklustre translation into Spanish in general he gave as an example that Withnail’s line after he wakes up from a dead drunk in a moving vehicle, saying “I feel like a pig shat in my head.” was translated as “I have a terrible headache.” (Sorry, I can’t give the actual Spanish.) Needless to say, throughout the movie, my brother was the only one laughing.
    And how it came about I cannot say but only yesterday I was discussing with my Italian Beau the title, “Herbie the Love Bug” which was, in Italy “Il Maggiolino Tutto Matto” (The Totally Crazy Beetle), which for some reason I find very funny.
    But what I cannot understand is why movie titles with names would be changed. E.g., Laurel & Hardy in Italian were Cric e Croc; Abbott & Costello were Gianni e Pinotto.

  9. here’s a side note on the subject of movie translations:
    one of the problems the Russian movie goers are facing today is the censorship of swear-words. be it “Pulp Fiction,” “South Park,” or “The Sopranos,” the characters do not use any words worse than “damn” or “hell” in the translated version.
    that’s is why the translating industry is currently being upstaged by a very single-minded ex-cop with a love of free speech, “two years of English courses at the Dzerzhinski’s Police House of Culture,” and 18 years of independent study under his belt. His nom-de-plume is “Goblin.”
    after hearing my russian friends rave about his work, i uploaded his translation of “Boondock Saints” and enjoyed it immensely. this guy is solid. great knowledge of English and zero moral reservations about sticking to the original script.
    Goblin’s Complaint.
    Goblin’s site:

  10. Is it common practice not to translate English-language titles? Or was this one considered peculiarly untranslatable?
    It is not uncommon. In the past, a german tag line (usually a particularly dumb one) was often appended to the English title, something that, luckily, does not happen to often anymore.
    It seems that in deciding whether or not to retain the English title the question is not so much whether the original is translatetable, but rather whether the majority of the German audience can be supposed to know the English words involved. Hence the questionable decision to not translate “The 6th Sense” – which most Germans should understand, but only very few can pronounce without a good deal of spitting.
    A rather nice, if lengthy, overview of the kind of titles of (mostly Hollywood) movies in Germany is given in:
    What’s German for GI Joe?: How film titles travel (PDF)

  11. I remember that Stanley Kubrick strongly opposed the translation of Eyes Wide Shut in France, his argument being that he wanted the movie to be known under the one and same title all over the world. It is a pity in this particular case, since Les yeux grand fermés would have had a much more appealing poetic, almost Breton-esque effect.
    While producers tend to keep English titles untranslated in France, where all mainstream movies are dubbed, it is exactly the opposite in Greece, where foreign movies, except those for pre-school children, are systematically subtitled : Breaking the Waves in Paris becomes Δαμάζοντας τα κύματα in Athens.
    Here in Taiwan, Lost in Translation (which is the “French” title as well, if pronounced with the usual stress on the final, or, to write it à la Queneau, “Lôstintransléchione”) has been translated Aiqing, bu yong fanyi 愛情,不用翻譯 (“‘Love’ doesn’t need translation”). Pretty clever, don’t you think?

  12. I think Goblin’s also does wilfully-mistranslated versions of films – his Lord of the Rings was very popular in Aginsk. I personally have only heard his translation of Full-Metal Jacket, but it’s very good. It caused much red-faced laughter, and no one would believe me that the original was so vulgar.

  13. (Oh, and, great remark about the “Terminator” line, Xiaolongnu ; apparently, Lü Shuxiang’s Xiandai hanyu 800 ci hasn’t been taught enough).

  14. English fans of Japanese animation sometimes do parody dubs as well as serious fan-dubs and fan-subtitlings; sounds a lot like what Goblin’s doing.

  15. By which I meant English-speaking, of course; the ones I’ve heard of are American.

  16. In Israel, the distributors are responsible for translating film titles, and they are notorious for lots of silly names. “Lost in Translation” became “Lost in Tokyo”, “The Shawshank Redemption” was “Walls of Hope”, “Training Day” was “A Dangerous Training Day”, “Groundhog Day”=”Waking Up Yesterday Morning”, “Alien”=”The Eighth Voyager” – and there are many more!

  17. Michael Farris says

    Late, but here are some Polish titles, some are pretty hard to translate back into English but I think are basically okay in Polish.
    Good Will Hunting – A rebel by choice (buntownik z wyboru)
    Sliding doors – Girl by chance (przypadkowa dziewczyna)
    Try seventeen – Everything I want (wszystko czego pragne)
    You stupid man – Getting the guy back (facet z odzysku)
    The Sweetest Thing – Watch out with girls! (Ostroznie z dziewczynami – okay this one’s dumb)
    Monsters ball – Waiting for the verdict (czekajac na werdykt)

  18. In Germany, the movie titles are translated to give a ‘feel’ for the subject matter and let you know if it’s a comedy, romantic drama or college spoof etc. The English title might give clues to us English speakers but it may not mean anything to non English speakers.

  19. Then there’s the perhaps apocryphal (se non e vero, e ben trovato) incident in the American war movie where the G.I. runs down the road toward his buddies (and the camera) screaming “Tanks!”
    In the French version, he is made to say “Merci.”

  20. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    One (late) friend of mine used to work at a Danish film distributor — his favorite example was that they distributed Hollywood Knights as Blondiner på bagsædet ‘Blondes in the back seat’. A quick perusal of the WP page does not tell me if that goal was ever achieved in the movie, much less in the plural.

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