Cursing and bantering in English subtitles

Mark Nornes amnornes at
Thu Oct 24 15:44:42 EDT 2002

It _is_ harder to read cursing than hear it. First, I think you need to 
be sensitive to the edge of the words, whether they blend in seamlessly 
to the atmosphere as in The Sopranos or Scorsese films or if they are 
themselves shocking for one reason or another. I'm reminded to two 

Harada Masato's famous subtitles of Full Metal Jacket. Toda Natsuko did 
the original subtitles, but Kubrick fired her because she left out all 
the obscenities!  His translation is pretty creative (he also wrote an 
article or two about this experience).

Also, the subtitles for Tenamonya Connection are interesting. If you've 
seen the film, you know how crazy it is. When faced with obscenity in 
Japanese or Chinese, the subtitler used subtitles like You #&$*(#&&!!!! 
    You can do that kind of thing in a transgressive comedy, tho.

But isn't the standard practice to erase foul language?

This creates protocols for translating and reading, protocols that 
become naturalized. The shock of reading obscene subtitles is partly 
from the way they break these long-established rules. If this is 
correct, than it's up to someone to start breaking those rules and soon 
we'll get used to seeing these, and know they indicate a certain kind 
of speech in the source language. They'll be shocking only when 
translators want to make them so.


On Thursday, October 24, 2002, at 12:32  PM, Fujioka Asako wrote:

> Hello. During my work subtitling Japanese films into English, I've been
> wondering how the international film community (film festival 
> programmers,
> sales agents, general audiences, journalists) reacts to explicit 
> language in
> subtitles. Understandably, having to "read" too many curse words in the
> subtitles leaves a negative effect very different from "hearing" the
> colloquial language of bantering. Aside from this issue of 
> communicating a
> film and its nuances properly, are there any kinds of guidelines that 
> major
> film festivals or movie companies follow in the use of explicit 
> language in
> subtitles?
> "come" or "cum" is a word I've used often, now I'm faced with 
> translating
> cursing: "fuck" and "goddamn" "dick" etc...
> Any advise would be helpful. Thanks.
> Fujioka Asako

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