A note on co-translation

Proud Son Large Poster v6-1I’ve been working with my longtime friend and colleague Kyoko Yoshida on a co-translation of Shu Matsui’s terrific play Proud Son. Desdemona Chiang is directing its first English language production at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. It runs from April 26 to 28. Here’s an extended version of the program note we’re including, exploring a moment in co-translation.

From Metropolis to Hermitage, from Castle to Prison Cell
“Proud Son” is written in the plain, contemporary, spoken language of Tokyo, and incorporates many set phrases and clichés. There are a few proverbs used effectively which made for a trans-Pacific headache for the translators.

Literal Translation
Brother: Some say, once you live there, it becomes your metropolis, don’t they.
Man: In some case, it is the prison for the rest of your life.

Kyoko searches and searches for a substitute proverb in English….

12/3/12 First Kyoko pass (Tokyo and Yokohama)
Brother: Some say, the hermit thinks the sun shines nowhere but in his cell, don’t they.
Man: The hermit might be spending the rest of his life in the prison cell.

Andy sticks with the proverb, but unsure of its point.

12/10/12 First Andy pass (Lancaster, PA and New York City)
BROTHER: There’s that saying about a hermit who thinks the sun shines nowhere but in his cell. Isn’t that how it goes?
MAN: The hermit may end up spending the rest of his life in that cell.

(Andy: What are we getting at here?)

Kyoko returns with an explanation.

2/13/13 Notes from Kyoko (Tokyo and Yokohama)
That saying about a hermit: The proverb used here in Japanese is literally, “Once you live there, it is the capital.” I picked this English proverb with a hermit because of the play’s plot and MAN’s response to BROTHER, referring to a prison cell. Having said all that, BROTHER’s line sounds a bit longish nonetheless….

I like the shift of meanings with the word “cell” though it is a little departure from the original.

3/5/13 Andy pass (Lancaster, PA and New York City)
BROTHER: There’s that saying about a hermit who thinks the sun only shines in his cell. Isn’t that how it goes?
MAN: The hermit may end up spending the rest of his life in that cell.

And finally the two brains meet in Ada, Ohio. At the rehearsal, hearing Garrett and David read the part, it was clear that lines didn’t sink into anyone’s mind immediately, including the ones responsible for the translation…. But this is precisely why we had to travel all the way to sit at one desk.

4/7 Kyoko Andy collaboration (Ada, Ohio)
BROTHER: Once we move in, it’s our castle, like the saying goes, right?
MAN: A man’s castle may well become his prison.

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