Movies with a Language Barrier

When there is a language barrier involved, it can be hard to find an activity that pleases everyone.  We found this out one night when my dad, my grandmother (on my mom’s side) and I were home one night, in search of something to do.  My grandmother is Japanese and speaks no English, my dad is American and speaks no Japanese, and I am half-Japanese with an eight year old’s grasp on the language. My mother, the main translator, was out on a reunion with old friends, and my sister, the one who often lightens the mood, was at a birthday party.  It was an impasse.  Maybe in another situation we would have tried an activity without words, like a game of catch or some other sport.  But as much as I love my grandmother, I didn’t imagine a pickup game of soccer would be her thing.

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It was my dad’s idea to put on a movie.  He found some Japanese films on Netflix, and, hoping they were subtitled, put several of them on instant. To our dismay, most of the films, even the ones from the foreign film genre, were dubbed over with English voices.  Not only was this disappointing, but in our case, it completely defeated the point of watching a Japanese movie at all.  So when we finally found a movie with the original Japanese voicing and English subtitles, we were so glad that we just agreed to watch it, without even really considering what the story itself was. It turned out to be a drama, titled High and Low, about a businessman who has to decide between his company and saving his chauffeur’s kidnapped son (guess which he decides).  Although it was a wordy film, the acting was great to watch, and this made it enjoyable for everybody.

Although I didn’t think of it at the time, another movie option would have been something wordless, like a silent film.  Silent films are something of a rarity these days—I’m not particularly a fan, and it seems that few other than dedicated film-lovers would choose a film without dialogue. However unlikely, my sister is a fan of Abbot and Costello, and she swears the films are accessible to anyone. They’re not too popular now, but I can’t imagine a more appropriate time for a silent film than when language itself is the problem.

Other times, when my dad isn’t around, we watch animated movies in Japanese.  Although a relic from when my sister and I were younger, all of us still have something of a weak spot for cute characters, and Miyazaki films are prime material for that.  Our favorites are My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. My sister or I might miss a few key points if the characters talk too fast or use more sophisticated words, but animated movies in general are pretty easy to follow even with a spotty understanding of the language being spoken.  Not only that, but they almost always have a happy ending, and none of us would have it any other way.

Movie nights are a great way to connect with people regardless of differences. DVD Funhouse offers student discounts; with these student savings, everyone will be pleased.

Ana Dicroce (American University)

Check out my blog here.

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