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News Navigator: How do foreign movies get their Japanese titles?

A still photo from "Rambo: Last Blood" C. 2019 RAMBO V PRODUCTIONS, INC.

It has been over a month since movie theaters in Japan reopened after temporary closure due to the spread of the new coronavirus. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about how foreign films are given Japanese titles.

    Question: Foreign movies sometimes are given Japanese titles that are significantly different from the original. Are there any rules regarding this?

    Answer: The American classic "Bonnie and Clyde" (1968) was titled "Oretachi ni Asu wa Nai" in Japanese, which literally translates to "we have no tomorrow." Even though the original title was radically transformed for the film's release in Japan, the Japanese title is brilliant in that it conveys the essence of the movie and the atmosphere of the time it was released.

    It all depends on the film, but the Japanese distributors that buy the foreign titles usually give them Japanese names. Needless to say, they usually consult with and get permission from rights holders as well as producers in the movie's home country.

    Q: How do they come up with a Japanese title?

    A: If the original title doesn't communicate the nuance of the movie, those in charge work on a Japanese title that fits their promotional plans to attract Japanese audiences. For example, the South Korean film "Parasite" that won big in this year's Academy Awards was given the subtitle, "a half-basement family," when released in Japan. This is because there was concern that the original title alone would give the impression that it was a sci-fi or horror movie, so a phrase that would sum up the protagonist family was apparently added.

    Take "Rambo: Last Blood" that is currently playing in theaters in Japan, for example. It is the latest installment of the Rambo series starring Sylvester Stallone, but the original title of the first movie released in 1982 was simply "First Blood." The Japanese distributor called it "Rambo," taken from the name of Stallone's character, and the American sequels adopted his name in the titles starting with the second installment. In light of the series' history, the Japanese name given to the latest Rambo film is in line with the first one's original title. Movies might be even more fun if you can appreciate the meaning of the Japanese titles given to different foreign films.

    (Japanese original by Tomohiro Inoue, Cultural News Department)

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