Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Read My Lips : 駄目!

It's no secret that I'm a Ninomiya Kazunari fan. I may be perceived as someone who has an Anti-JE stance in terms of general entertainment, but I have loads of goodwill towards this kid. Way before I discovered him to be an unabashed idol---who liked to cop a feel at band members and whose sarcastic remarks [screamed Napoleon complex at the get-go] and laidback attitude could potentially polarize viewers---he already won me over with his hilarious portrayal of a virgin boy in Stand Up and his outstanding work in the film Ao no Hono-o. There's no easy way to say this, but this kid had me fooled. He might look like a hunched gerbil with black gums and an abnormally scrawny torso but I love watching him all the same. He's the exception.

Now before anyone starts to think that I've gone fangirl loco* over this boy, let me get straight to the subject of this post. To make a long story short---I loved the Neener and therefore, I was doomed... doomed to suffer through 2 hours, 10 minutes and 49 seconds (give or take) of the English dubbed version of GANTZ because I was stoked to see it and had nothing else to do, and of course, having the emotional quotient of a toddler, I dove in without fully taking into account the fact that I would be listening in to nerve-grating audio and horrible dialogue. O, woe is me! To have seen what I have seen and have heard incongruous dubbing!

To sub or to dub?

I know it's an age-old dilemma that film buffs and anime lovers alike have debated upon  for years without reaching a satisfying conclusion. Whether the intention is to appeal to a wider audience or to meet the demands of purists and netizens, there are admittedly pros and cons to each side, which is why film production outfits are forced to make a judgment call. Proponents of both schools have come up with reasonable arguments for utilizing either method, but at the end of the day, when all is said and done, film distributors would always render a decision based on profit; taking a huge gamble by giving the viewers the option to either put up with it or skip it. And while it all boils down to personal preferences and the relative exposure  of each individual to foreign films and different cultures, I'm of the opinion that since subtitling and dubbing exist for the purpose of translating materials for an audience that doesn't speak the original language, it should follow that both be as accurate or in keeping with the film's context as possible. Furthermore, it should be unobtrusive to the viewing experience as a whole, or at the very least not be so off-putting as to draw attention away from the film.

Coming into GANTZ, I was already at a bit of a disadvantage. Having read parts of the manga, I already had a preconceived notion of how the story should play out; having watched a number of Asian dramas, I was already used to reading subs and therefore preferred the original version over the "localized" release this time around. But if there's such a thing as bad and  good subtitles, then surely there's also such a thing as good and bad dubbing. Just as subtitles are expected to be clear and concise, the quality of dubbing should also be held at a certain standard. The problem with this version of GANTZ is that the dubbing didn't seem to complement the movie at all, the voices didn't match the characters and most of the lines were delivered either in a stilted manner or a cloyingly cartoonish tone. There's an obvious rift between what you hear and what you see onscreen, it's a dissociation that lasts from start to finish, giving you a feeling that things weren't conveyed properly because the voice actors were less than convincing. It may all sound trivial, given that it's a sci-fi adventure movie, but the English audio certainly worked towards diminishing the fantastical elements of the story, making dialogue-laden scenes free of  action sequences a total buzz kill. Plus, anyone who's seen Ninomiya Kazunari before would no doubt lament missing out on his vocal inflection---there's a world of snark, angst, conceit and self-consciousness in Kurono Kei's character that simply didn't come across in this big screen adaptation. Another issue I had was how the dialogue sounded unnaturally choppy, the sentence construction was awkward at best, particularly during Kanata Hongo's brief, crazy-eyed monologue.

Some may argue that part of the reason why GANTZ turned out to be an utter disappointment was because the script for the film didn't even come close to replicating the graphic violence, wicked humor and plain awesomeness of its source material---to which I say, this argument is not without merit (but I'll save that for another post once the second installment comes out).  Point is, the English dubbed version of this movie pushed it from generic, mindless entertainment to a catastrophically BAD big budget movie, given that it already failed to establish a working story with characters whom you would care about and want to survive should aliens infest the planet. It's a bit too early to say this, but this duology might eventually come down as a prime example of what not to do when making a live-action version of a popular manga series. Still, for those who might want to see this film, take my advice and wait for the official release, don't settle for the English-dubbed version because, trust me, it's absolutely cringe-worthy. 

* loca -- What can I say? I suck at foreign languages. 
Featured movie stills care of nurikocam -
Suggested Reading - To Sub or to Dub: The Challenge of "Translating" Films for Foreign Audiences


  1. I'm also a fan, he took me by surprise, ambushed me when I was not looking. I was all set to like Matsumoto Jun (he's the best looking of the bunch and my criteria are all physical) and be his fangirl forever so off to the DVD store I go. Disaster no available drama, What?!! To appease me the lady who's a good friend kept pushing Yamada Taro at me. She promised that I'll like it, so on the basis of our frienship and the threat that I will no longer buy from her if this turns out to be a dud i went home with said DVD. The front cover was not very promising it was a picture of 2 guys with crowns on their head, not manly crowns but those sissified crown that would look better on a frog. Not a very auspicious start but i had nothing to do and i was craving for something to watch. Then ta ta ta dhan Ninomiya Kazunari on the roof imagining clouds as food. Well he got me, he really got me. From there my descent to Nino fandom has started.
    Stand-up (love), Minami-kun no Koibito (Nino love), Namida wo Fuite (love) and Letters from Iwo Jima (love). Now I'm pestering my friend to get me all Nino DVDs no matter what it takes, just please give me a discount.

  2. Lol, you and me both. I think he's a great actor, very natural and believable. Funny thing is that Yamada Taro would have to be one of the silliest dramas there is but I still watched it because of Nino. As you said, it's pretty hard not to like him, aside from that scene you mentioned, I still remember a ton of scenes from that series, like Nino wearing a maid's uniform, Nino training for that supermarket sale, Nino professing his love for a hamburger....sounds crazy but it's all good, baby. x)

    Namida wo Fuite is on my to-watchlist but I just saw Minami-kun no Koibito a few months ago---I pretty much shook my fist in the air and swore like a sailor with how things ended but all things considered, he totally sold me on his character. I'm almost done with most of his SPs and his movies so I'm now moving on to his other series. Let me know if you'd be interested in his kandou series, I can probably help you get your Nino fix. :)

  3. Hehe, not exactly a Nino fangarrrl in the purest sense (I know you know who -- or, er, what -- float-ohs my boat-o) but I do admire him as an actor. ("hunched gerbil with black gums and an abnormally scrawny torso" - LMAO!!! too funny!!!!!!) I do admit he has the constitution of a premature ojiisan, but there's something about the boy that makes me wanna HUG him to death -- whether he's playing an angsty virgin in Stand UP! (best teen comedy like, evar!) or a young, duty-bound soldier trapped in a war not his own, in Iwo Jima. Which brings me to the question: I know the laddie's good, but can he ever play, say, a serial killer or something? Prolly not, heh xP

    Ah, the great subs vs dubs debate! I'll pick subs anytime, thank you very much. As you've explained so well in this post, somehow any given character's portrayal just doesn't feel complete without the voice of the actor. I always feel shortchanged when I watch something dubbed, and grossly, heinously bamboozled when it's dubbed BADLY. The only time I didn't get bothered by the dubbing was when I watched Crouching Tiger in theaters -- the timing and emotional authenticity were so spot-on I didn't realize right away the movie was dubbed, lol.

    Just curious, is there not a subbed, original audio version of GANTZ? =)

  4. Like I said before, I'm a Nino fan due to his acting work and not because of his status as an Arashi member. That's why I mentioned that this kid had me fooled, I didn't realize how much of an idol he was until I actually saw him in concert clips and MVs. Haven't gone to the extent of watching him hosting and performing on tv shows so I can't say I'm that far gone. In fact, every time I hear people say that he's "gwapo or sexy", I often reply with, "Huwag ganun". He can be entertaining but let's not kid ourselves here. LOL x)

    Can he play a serial killer? I think he can but he probably won't. There are after all JE restrictions and the only JE member I could think of who's done questionable film work abroad would be Shingo. He did, however, kill someone in Ao no Hono-o (The Blue Light) and he was pretty good in putting across the character's anger and murderous intent. Of course, I may be biased here because out of all his work, Ao no Hono-o still ranks as my favorite.

    I also caught the dubbed version of Crouching Tiger in the theaters. I didn't mind it as much since I'm more used to watching dubbed Chinese movies as a kid, particularly the ones that featured Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

    As far as I know, there isn't an original release of GANTZ available at the moment. Going over the credits, I realized that most if not all of the voice actors who worked on it had to be Pinoy. I know we have the best voice actors out there but the voices used for GANTZ really sounded like something from an anime. Couldn't help but laugh at crucial moments--I mean, someone was dying and I couldn't help but laugh. The script must have really sucked to produce such lousy dialogue. There's not much by way of a story but it should still be a fun movie.

  5. Definitely seconding E.G., Team Subs all the way baby!!

    Sometimes I watch Hong Kong movies where there may be on random Mandarin speaking actor amongst the Cantonese speaking cast and they dub that ONE person's voice- & even that is enough to take away some of my enjoyment. For me, it's kinda distracting when the audio and the actor's lips don't entirely synch. Once you learn to enjoy & appreciate television & film by reading subtitles, there really is no turning back.

    Most Arashi fans will tell you Nino is the best actor outta The Happy Five, myself included. But sometimes, it's hard to take him completely seriously in these epic dramas & films knowing the sort of cheek he gets up as one of the Storm boys xDD

    Btw, any feedback on Matsuyama Kenichi in this?

  6. Once you learn to enjoy & appreciate television & film by reading subtitles, there really is no turning back.

    That's true. Although at times I prefer my anime dubbed. It gives me an opportunity to see the pretty pictures. :)

    But sometimes, it's hard to take him completely seriously in these epic dramas & films knowing the sort of cheek he gets up as one of the Storm boys xDD

    I'm so regretting this down-the-rabbit-hole business already. Ignorance is bliss. Was a happy camper just watching Nino's dramas and movies and now they're tainted by his idol shenanigans. Can someone out there get me one of those MIB neuralizers so that I can erase his performance of the Gimmick Game from my memory? Can we wipe off the whole idol experience while we're at it? Pretty please?

    Btw, any feedback on Matsuyama Kenichi in this?

    MatsuKen didn't really get to do much aside from shake in his boots and look tortured. There's a love angle between him and this other girl but all they did was just gaze at each other and perform poorly during battles, which was--you guessed it--pretty lame. Hopefully, we'll see more of him in the second movie... I think the person who wrote the screenplay didn't introduce the characters properly, you don't get to root for them as one should.

  7. To those who are wondering, Ninomiya actually played a serial killer before... :3 Stranger on a Train and Ao no Honoo (though, that's more of a thriller.)

    Also, I think what really intrigues me about Nino is how un-idol he is despite being one of the most popular idol in Japan. He's charmingly genuine (what you see is what you get kind of guy) yet reserved. He's just full of contradictions and he brings that out in his acting too. Very believable, normal and natural. LOLS! I love him a lot. :3

  8. @ Anonymous

    Well, I think he can definitely play disturbed and intense characters but I doubt if he can or would play a certified serial killer. In any case, there's certainly going to be a different treatment or characterization to the role if ever he does such a project in the sense that it'll be more along the lines of Norman Bates and the Talented Mr. Ripley as opposed to the likes of Hannibal, Patrick Bateman or even Kakihara from Ichi the Killer. The boy has talent but he's a far cry from being something like arthouse favorite, Asano Tadanobu.

    Btw, Strangers on a Train is crime fiction so even though it's a stage play, it'll probably fall under the category of film noir (which is technically not the same as the serial killer genre).

    ...what really intrigues me about Nino is how un-idol he is despite being one of the most popular idol in Japan. He's charmingly genuine (what you see is what you get kind of guy) yet reserved. He's just full of contradictions and he brings that out in his acting too.

    A year ago, I would no doubt have agreed with you but after my brief idol excursion, I'd have to respectfully disagree because I find Nino to be one sly and cheeky rascal. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not dissing the dude, I actually expect a lot from him as an actor but I really doubt if any idol can ever be called "genuine". For one, I'm not sold on the "what you see is what you get" part of it all since all of them are sporting an image. Nino's definitely intriguing and outspoken, I'll give you that, but the fact that he's full of contradictions and has very few people that he considers his friends (despite allegedly being able to charm the socks off any person) tells me that out of the Arashi five he's the one who always has his guard up and would be very hard to read in real life. So yeah, more power to your love.

    P.S. If he does manage to play a Hannibal character while being a "national idol", I can guarantee you that I will f*cking lmao. <3