After such a meteoric rise to prominence during the rule of the Shining Duke, Confucius’s absence from the court did not go unnoticed. He was even asked why he did not involve himself in the running of the state.
Stargate is a film about an immigrant’s love for America. It has a wonderment, a fascination with the American way that seems almost undimmed by the history of the 20th century. Stargate is what happens when the Prime Directive of Star Trek meets the Manifest Destiny of the real world.
It’s also about a bunch of American soldiers getting bogged down in a desert war about a mysterious, magical resource, fighting a power that is almost unknowable. Stargate was made in 1994, right after the First Gulf War, and it ends with this terrible realisation that they have only fought one battle, and that their enemy has many allies, that will be coming for them next.
That’s not all. Stargate is adored by translators all over the world, because it’s one of only a handful of films in which the translator is the hero.
I have been in those situations. No, not quite brought back from the dead and forced to debate politics in a recently learned dead language with an immortal alien… but close. I have been dumped into negotiations way over my head, in a language or dialect I don’t even speak, and had to muddle through. I have turned up in the middle of fights threatening to escalate into real trouble, and they’ve said to me “You’re the translator. Translate!” I have stared at a blackboard where someone has tried to have a crack at my specialist subject, and said: “Who wrote this crap?”
You can thank Roland Emmerich for that, I imagine. This is a man who grew up speaking German. He knows whereof he speaks. There’s a great scene in Stargate when Daniel Jackson is in a cave with his love interest, Sha’uri; Daniel points at hieroglyphs and reads out the pronunciations, and she tells him what the vowel mutations and consonantal shifts are. If you learn to speak Mandarin first, that’s how you learn to convert it into Cantonese! Although sadly not every language course supplies a Sha’uri to jolly things along.
I think that at its deepest level, the thing that really strikes home in Stargate is that Daniel Jackson isn’t just a translator. He’s a writer in Hollywood. He’s the weedy, wimpy specky guy with the big ideas that nobody wants to hear, dragged off to the middle of nowhere by a bunch of bullies and told to twist his skills in new and unexpected directions. The soldiers hate him. They’re all producer types who just want car chases and boobs, but he’s there with his books in the desert, wide-eyed with amazement at this incredible thing, that is all his dreams coming true, as long as the producers don’t ruin it. And at the end, he gets the girl!
Well, at the end of the movie, anyway. In the TV series… well, there’s some small print…
Jonathan Clements has translated Sun Tzu’s Art of War, among other things.
I once wrote the script for a military sci-fi computer game, only to find that the producers had put dancers in the motion-capture suits. All the soldiers marched like ballerinas. Easier on the eye in the studio, perhaps, less fun in the finished product.
Phantom of Inferno could well be the future of entertainment. An anime on DVD, in which you use the DVD remote to control the direction of the plot. The first title to truly straddle the closing gap between anime and computer games. A director’s cut in which you are the director, in many ways! Except you’re not.
When Satoshi asked me if I’d go to the hospital with him, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. He was so young! My Japanese ability wasn’t even equipped to find out why. I asked him what was wrong and got a series of staccato jigu jago Japanese syllables. It’s easy to get mixed up if the vocabulary isn’t familiar. Shuy? is a tumor. Sh?yu is soy sauce, and I didn’t want to press him for clarification. Meekly, I said I’d be there for him, and tagged along.
In 1940, in a Japan at war, Wagoro Arai began work on an animated version of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Twelve minutes long, his version focussed on the closing act of the opera, as the dutiful wife waits expectantly for her husband to return home, only to find that he has abandoned her in favour of an American woman. It was the perfect propaganda strike against the Allies – a heartless foreigner, discarding a Japanese spouse, who avenges herself with suicidal fervour. Arai planned to use the voice of Tamaki Miura, a Japanese singer who had travelled the world in happier times, singing the role of Butterfly in Boston and New York, Rome and Florence.
This article first appeared in Neo #50, 2008.
Back in April 2003, I attended the Tokyo demonstration of Blu-ray. I rushed home trilling about the benefits of an entire TV series on a single disc! Except this was precisely what the Japanese TV industry didn’t want. At meetings with expensive biscuits all over Tokyo, people fretted about Perceived Value. It’s all very well, they said, to cram the entirety of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis onto a single disc, but how much can we charge for it? Will our target 16-year-old buyer really drop £100 all at once on that single disc, particularly if he’s never seen an episode beforehand?