Review: Paprika English Dub

I decided this year that I would use my Spring Break to, among other things, watch all of the movies I own but have never watched. Since people give me them and I really don’t watch many movies, they stack up a bit.

This is not one of them. Paprika, Satoshi Kon’s animated masterpiece exploring themes of dream, reality, control, and maturity, is one of my favorite films. However, I’d never taken the time to watch the dub, so this is a quick note by way of preface to the actual project. (No plot spoilers ahead: some references to characters is made.)

Overall I thought the dub was fine. My chief complaint is that it provides explicit interpretations here and there where the subtitled form – and, I assume, the original Japanese – leaves implications to be drawn out by the viewer. Sometimes this results from differences in the translations, but there are also additional lines or at least phrases here and there.

Some of the differences seems inexplicable: why “line of action” (subtitle) but “action line” (dub)? (And while the concept makes sense – it’s explained as the imaginary line between camera and subject – neither phrase seems to be, on a quick web search, the term actually used in English.) Other differences seem like there’s a probable explanation, but the choice might not be justified. For example, the (friendly) criticism of a character’s weight is, “It’s not the outside the counts, but there’s a limit to that too,” in the subtitles, which sounds like a proverb. The dub has something like, “…but there’s a lot of your outside,” which makes me suspect the Japanese proverb also has a pun the dubber was trying to capture or replicate. I don’t speak Japanese myself; I admit a preference for the subtitled line, with its possibility of varied applications.

One thing the dub emphasizes in contrast to the subtitles is the maturity theme, simply because of the voices (or accents) chosen for the characters. This I suspect was replicating the original Japanese voice-acting, which hadn’t quite registered the same way. The “childlike” side of Tokita is really brought out more by the dub, as is the insufficiency of the Paprika alter-ego. For instance, her response, “Run?” to a threat near the end came off previous (watching only subtitles) as a sort of humorous only-option-left; the effect in the dub more brings out he out of her depth the situation is.

I don’t know how directly Kon was involved with the dub. I suspect not very closely, because as noted above it does seem to draw with much harder lines where Kon – both stylistically and particularly in this film – tends to leave things blurred, and up to the viewer’s interpretation of his implications and suggestion. I’m also not sure how closely they consulted native English speakers: there are certainly lines here and there which sound odd to my ear, without obviously being attempts to capture cultural connotations, and the approach to nicknames and honorifics feels a little uneven.

I don’t watch many dubbed films – honestly, many foreign films at all – so it’s hard to say how it ranks as a dub. It certainly captures the overall tone of the film: you are watching the same movie, so on that count it’s a success. I’ve listed above virtually every quibble I had with the translation. I don’t know how I’d rank the film if I’d seen only the dub: not likely as a favorite, simply because the occasional auditory oddity takes me out of the story a little – but it’s still quite good.

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