Earendil FotR--Distorted Subtitles Earendil

--- Eigo Kobo (English Workshop) ---
Do you know that the Japanese, who holds the highest domestic literacy in the world, have always had a great 'language barrier' between them and the Westerners? Although most of them are well school-educated, you will find surprisingly few among them that can speak English.
Subtitles are indispensable part of 'foreign movies' in Japan, where translation can make a big business.


1. Examples of the Most Serious Errors in Japanese Subtitles


[script] You are not yourself.

[subtitle] You are a liar!

2. On Petitions

One of those petitions had 1281 signatures on it, and another had nearly 1000...[More]

3. A Petition Letter to Peter Jackson

We came to the conclusion that making a petition directly to you is our last hope. It is now obvious that Nippon Herald will never admit...[More]

4. Other Letters and Mails

Posted on TheOneRing.net titled "Boromir No Longer A Liar"...[More]

5. Articles on Japanese SubtitlesNew

Most recent article on The Japane Times (the oldest English quality paper in Japan): "Rings fans put 'subtitles queen' to sword", and more other articles on TheOneRing.net[More]


Examples of the Most Serious Errors

The Prancing Pony


[script] Good evening, little Masters.

[subtitle] What are these shorties here for?

[comment]: The subtitle makes Barliman too rude a landlord to offer any greetings to his guests, who looks down on Hobbits.

The Council of Elrond


[script] Long has my father, the Steward of Gondor kept the forces of Mordor at bay. By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe.My father has passed away!?

[subtitle] My father who was the Steward of Gondor beat off the army of Mordor. By the blood of our people, he kept your lands safe.

[comment]: According to the subtitle, Boromir's father is already dead. Some of the audience who have also read the original thought the story was changed by the director.

The Bridge of Khazad-dum


[script] I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor!

[subtitle] I am a servant of the Secret (Anor) Fire, the Creator of life!

[comment]: It is unbelievable. "Wielder of the flame" is eliminated, Anor is identified with Secret, and "the Creator of life" is made up by the translator.

Lothlórien 1


[script] And the tower guard shall take up the call "The Lords of Gondor have returned."

[subtitle] And the tower guard will cry "The King of Gondor has returned."

[comment]: Boromir calls Aragorn his king only at his death. But the subtitle completely ignores this and spoils the climax of the film.

Lothlórien 2


[script] I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star.

[subtitle] I give you the light of Elendil.

[comment]: All the Tolkien readers among the audience were puzzled to find "Eärendil" is changed to "Elendil", leaping over three thousand years.

Amon Hen 1
You are a liar!


[script] You are not yourself.

[subtitle] You are a liar!

[comment]: Frodo knows Boromir is now under the dominion of the ring, but the subtitle describes Frodo as despising Boromir utterly. It settled the impression of Boromir for the audience as an ill-willed, dishonest man.

I'm not a LIAR!
Amon Hen 2


[script] Can you protect me from yourself? Would you destroy it?

[subtitle] Don't you need this? Can you destroy it?

[comment]: It looks as if Frodo were the tempter, not the ring.

Parth Galen 1Shame on the translator!


[script] I let Frodo go.

[subtitle] He has left.


[script] Then you did what I could not.

[subtitle] I am ashamed.

[comment]: With these subtitles the audience cannot see that Boromir recognizes Aragorn as his superior, nor that Aragorn resisted the ring's temptation to which Boromir had succumbed.

Parth Galen 2


[script] I do not know what strength is in my blood. But I swear to you, I will not let the White City fall. Nor our people fail.

[subtitle] By the strength in my blood, I will protect our city, and save men from ruin.

[comment]: It is too bold of the translator to assume that Aragorn will no longer express his doubts about his inheritance.

Parth Galen 3


[script] Our people. Our people.

[subtitle] Our species. Human beings.

[comment]: Boromir means the people of Minas Tirith, not the human race. The subtitle makes Aragorn a sci-fi hero who will save all humans in the world.

Parth Galen 4


[script] I would have followed you, my brother. My captain. My king.

[subtitle] I feel regret, our brother. Our captain. Our king.

[comment]: After Boromir heard Aragorn's words "our people", he finally accepts Aragorn as the king. "My" is an important word because Boromir personally pledges allegiance to his uncrowned king. These subtitles obscure Boromir's feelings.

"The Two Towers" trailer 1


[script] Sauron is not so mighty yet that he is above fear.

[subtitle] Sauron is nothing for us to fear.

[comment]: This error in translation is unprofessional. Or the translator does not know what the whole story is all about.

"The Two Towers" trailer 2


[script] So Gandalf Greyhame thinks he has found the lost King of Gondor.

[subtitle] Did Gandalf find the lost Kingdom of Gondor?

[comment]: Again the subtitle reveals the translator's total lack of very basic knowledge of the story. Gondor is already ruined? Even Sauron has not made it so far.

Please note that these are only a small part of a huge list of errors and bad translations pointed out on the Web by Tolkien readers and fans, as well as professional translators.
We had to pick up 're-translatable' ones to show to the English-speaking world, and this limitation rules out all the 'wrong nuance' type of examples.

On Petitions

As it was made clear that such bad translations had spoiled their experience of FOTR in the theaters, criticisms burst out on the Internet. Petitions were made by the fans and sent to the Japanese distributor, Nippon Herald Films Inc., requesting corrections. One of those petitions had 1281 signatures on it, and another had nearly 1000. There was only one among them that was written in English [here].

Those thousands of voices, however, seemed to mean little to the distributor, who refused to answer them openly. No official statement or announcement, not to mention apology, on this mistranslation problem has been expressed.

A Petition Letter to Peter Jackson

After a fruitless struggle against the Japanese distributor, a group of people began to seek a way to ask higher authority for help. Here is the letter of petition sent to Mr. Peter Jackson with 150 signatures.

Dear Mr. Jackson,

This is a petition from Japanese fans of your film "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring", concerning its Japanese subtitles.

The film has achieved a considerable international success, also in Japan. Unfortunately however, we, the undersigned, strongly believe that inaccurately translated subtitles distort what you and ultimately what J.R.R. Tolkien have created. We ask you to refer to the list of most serious errors attached at the end of this petition.

We learned that you spent two to three years to complete the script of "The Lord of the Rings" with due and profound respect to the Tolkien's work. Nevertheless, the Japanese translator, who is a well-known subtitler for foreign films, but who admits she has hardly read the original, has been allowed to spoil your endeavour. Some of the Japanese subtitles are not true to the script, and the errors are unrelated to the number-of-letters restriction [Japanese subtitles have limits on the number of letters per length of each scene] . Unavoidably, in significant parts of the film, wrong interpretations of the storyline and the character-settings are forced upon the audience. Yet the fact remains that most Japanese rely on subtitles when they watch foreign films.

As soon as "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" was released in Japan, concerns were raised that downright and inexcusable errors in the subtitles should be corrected. These resulted in 1281 signatures for a petition on the Internet which were sent to Nippon Herald Films Inc., the Japanese distributor, late in May. The reply, or rather a notice, was then posted on the Japanese official website of the film in early June. We found this announcement unacceptable: it did not contain a single word of apology for mistranslation, and nowhere was expressed any intention to correct the errors. It merely mentioned that the subtitles in DVD/VHS would be revised, reasoning that some minor changes would be possible this time out of simple technical reasons, the number-of-letters restriction being less strict in these media. To our great disappointment, we found that they decided to hire the same translator for the forthcoming "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King".

We came to the conclusion that making a petition directly to you is our last hope. It is now obvious that Nippon Herald will never admit their fault, despite the criticisms from the audience. We sincerely hope that a translator who honours your achievement and Tolkien's original work, and an authorized supervisor for translation are hired for the Japanese subtitles of the succeeding two films, "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King".

Yours sincerely ,

Other Letters and Mails

Some have been individually writing letters and mails on this matter. I put up some of what I've written.

One of the earliest letters

Dear Master PJ, and to all that love 'The Lord of the Rings'

Please SAVE OUR BELOVED BOROMIR from the DISHONOR so unjustly attached to him!

The shameful Japanese subtitles make

a) Frodo call Boromir a LIAR;

b) Butterbur scornful of Hobbits, as having never seen such creatures before;

c) Denethor of Gondor DEAD;

d) Boromir use the word 'King of Gondor' in the MIDDLE of the story (an unbelievable mistranslation of the word 'lords of Gondor'),

and many other fatal mistakes.

However impossible it may sound to you, it is true. You'll find them in:


The translator has absolutely no respect nor love for Tolkien's world. She knew nothing about the original books, and did not bother to learn from them. It is obvious she at once took it as 'just another kids' movie' with magics and swords and monsters. So she did a hasty and lousy job.

As you may know, Japanese language has a rich variety of modes concerning 'respect' and 'positions'. Any Japanese can give you a dozen of different words meaning 'I' or 'you'. Just reading a line "I know him" in Japanese can tell you clearly the age, sex, educational level and much more of the speaker (and of course whether the person is speaking to his/her superior).

Now note that these differences cannot be translated into English, and are hard to explain with credibility. But they are what messed up your celebrated film.

Wrong translations have led the innocent audience to misunderstand, not only each character (like Boromir as a cheap, simple bad guy) but also the relationships between one character and another. Imagine Sam talking to Frodo the way a VIP to his chauffeur! (Believe me, this too she has done. I suspect she couldn't even tell them apart.)

How could she be so blind to all the marvelous work you and your actors/actresses have accomplished?

She MUST be replaced.
If we faithful readers of Tolkien in Japan --- still regrettably small in number --- cannot make it happen with our petition, YOU CAN!

Master PJ, you have the authority. Could you discuss it with your distributor, NIPPON HERALD, on this matter?

Already more than one translator have offered new and far better versions. All we need is the distributor's decision. We heartily admire what you have achieved in 'The Fellowship of the Ring'. We love every scene of it, and we are looking forward to seeing "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King".
Please don't let your LotR movies be degraded again by such criminal subtitles !

at your service

Reports posted on TheOneRing.net

---Boromir, No Longer a Liar (2002/9/25)

(This article appeared also on Tolkienmovie.com, titled "Japanese Fans Still in Doubt".)

Anxious days of waiting are finally over for the fans in Japan. On the release of the video and DVD on September 21st, they found the 'fatal mistranslations' in the Japanese subtitles on the FotR movie are not as they had seen in theaters.

"About 85% of the most serious errors are repaired," says one of the leaders in the movement for better and proper subtitles for FotR, "though it is regrettable some of them are still there." He is the one who sent a petition with 1281 signatures to Nippon Herald Films Inc., the Japanese distributor.

After such petitions and criticisms from the audience, a notice was posted on the official site in June. It did not contain a single word of apology for mistranslation, and nowhere was expressed any intention to correct the errors, but merely mentioned that the subtitles in DVD/VHS would be revised 'because the number-of-letters restriction is less strict in these media.'

This traditional euphemism to "save face" of the company and the subtitler made some of the fans very angry and gave others hope. It has turned out that the persons responsible are not blind after all. Frodo in DVD no longer calls Boromir a liar. And Denethor of Gondor is not dead this time.

Still, when you see FotR with revised subtitles, 'the air is poison gas' in Mordor, and Boromir on the verge of death says to Aragorn, "I am ashamed" instead of "You did what I could not." Do you find these translations acceptable?

Now fans in Japan are looking forward to seeing TTT, just as any other fans in the world. But their anxieties wear different colors.

---Trailer Twisted in Translation (2002/10/25)

Last month Japanese fans were relieved to see the subtitles in FotR DVD were repaired considerably to what they had been in the film version. Now they are tortured again.

"On October 18th, the new TTT trailer was released by the Japanese distributor on the Web. Dubbed version was good, but those who love the actors' own real voices chose the other version with subtitles-- -and they found a familiar frustration. [Eowyn says] "Preparations? Warning?" No viewer can possibly imagine Eowyn here is really saying, "They were unarmed. They had no warning."

Another example. Sam : Wonder if this is the way Gandalf meant? (Note that "We're lost" is eliminated) Frodo: Everything is unpredictable. "This is a Zen dialogue, not a translation at all," exclaims an ex- leader of Petition for Better Subtitles in FotR. What's in Frodo's mind here is the tragic fall of Gandalf, but these subtitles ignore it. Such were the lines that filled FotR when seen in theaters. And Nippon Herald, the distributor, declares that the same subtitler will stay in her position.

A group of fans have started preparing a new petition. "How we wish we didn't have to do this," says another leader. "All we ask is: Just show us what is being said. Why should it be so difficult?"

Articles on Japanese SubtitlesNew

Rings fans put 'subtitles queen' to sword (2003/1/12)

In a TV interview in Paris last month, Peter Jackson, director of "Lord of the Rings," dropped a bombshell on Japan's movie industry.

He said he had received a flood of complaints from Japanese fans of his film over serious problems in the translation of its Japanese subtitles.

It had thus been decided, he said, to fire the subtitles translator for the production of the second Rings movie, "The Two Towers."

"We've got someone else to do the Japanese translations this time around," Jackson has reportedly said.

The announcement was a devastating blow to Natsuko Toda, one of the most powerful figures in the film business in Japan.

Toda is known as Japan's "subtitles queen," the woman who translates - - or at least supervises the translations of -- many of the biggest foreign movies to hit these shores, including the first Rings movie.

However, since the Japan release last spring of the first Rings movie, "The Fellowship of the Ring," she has come under intense fire from critics here.

They accuse her of taking unacceptable liberties and of committing flagrant errors in the translation of the movie's subtitles, Sunday Mainichi says.

The disgruntled are fellow translators as well as die-hard fans of the movies and the trilogy of books on which they are based.

The books, written by J.R.R. Tolkien, are set in a mystical world of hobbits, wizards and elves.

For decades, few people believed that any movie could do justice to the story's rich imagery. In that sense, Jackson appears to have pulled off the near impossible, thanks largely to his highly faithful adaption of the stories -- a feat that has earned him exuberant praise from film critics and fans alike.

No surprise, then, of his indignation over the reports of the less-than- accurate rendering of the Japanese subtitles.

In Japan, the reaction against the subtitles was fast and furious.

Several Web sites have been set up exclusively to castigate the quality of Toda's work, and in May last year 1,300 Rings fans submitted a petition to Nippon Herald Inc., the film's Japanese distributor.

"I don't aim to attack Ms. Natsuko Toda personally, but we've issued a complaint directly to Mr. Jackson," says an unnamed female translator who runs a Web site titled Eigo Kobo (English Workshop). "It stems from the fact that petitions and appeals from fans . . . have been ignored repeatedly."

In one of the many alleged blunders in the first Rings film cited by Toda's critics, the warrior Boromir urges Frodo, the story's hero, to stay away from the land of Mordor. "Why do you recoil? I am no thief," the warrior says.

Frodo replies, "You are not yourself." The Japanese subtitle, however, renders the reply as "Liar!"

Toda, meanwhile, brushes off the criticism and disavows any responsibility over the fracas.

"I've never spoken to Mr. Jackson about this matter, and I have nothing to do with it since it's the distributor that decides who will be used for the subtitles," she tells the magazine.

In her defense, Sunday Mainichi points out that producing Japanese subtitles is far from a perfect craft.

A big problem is having to chop up the text into bits small enough to fit on movie and TV screens.

Timing is also essential. Studies have shown that on average Japanese can read only four characters a second, a factor that must be reflected in the rate at which characters appear on screen.

Given such severe technical limitations, Toda and other subtitlers have been known to take broad liberties with the dialogues they work with.

For many fans of the Rings movies, however, these excuses just aren't good enough.

They want nothing less than the faithful rendering of the original words of Tolkien, not those of a Japanese translator.

Articles posted on TheOneRing.net

---Bad News from Japan (2002/12/28)

A while back we thought we'd made a difference - New Line got to hear about the substandard translations being done for the Japanese versions of the films, and Peter Jackson reportedly asked for that problem to be addressed. Whether it's a case of Japanese distributor saving face, or a misunderstanding, it seems that nothing is being done after all.

Japanse LOTR fan Herbalist writes, "We were so glad to hear PJ say, "We did change the person (to do the Japanese translation)" on TVNZ. But today the Japanese distributor, Nippon Herald Inc., OFFICIALLY made the announcement: they say that PJ never told them anything of the sort and that they do mean to keep the SAME TRANSLATOR Natsuko Toda.

"In her subtitles we had to see Frodo say to Boromir, "You are a liar!" and dozens of other terrible lines degrading your FotR! And she has never admitted her fault, on the contrary, she openly and repeatedly declares that she did not and would not read Tolkien's books!


Herbalist goes on to say that she feels that FOTR suffered at the box office as a result, and offers the figures from BoxOffice Mojo as evidence - the numbers for FOTR seem pretty low.

---Japanese Subtitles: All is Not Well, say fans. (2003/1/9)

OK, this is an endless can of worms, and feelings are running high. MANY Japanese fans have written to say that the explanation offered by Nipon Herald. Inc regarding their process in translating/subtitling the LOTR films is not as positive as it implies. They say nothing has changed; the cross-checking that Nippon Herald claim will improve TTT apparently existed before, and the results were still bad. I'm posting this letter as a representative sample of what we've received on this topic.

"I am Bunnyfoot in Japan and am writing to you for the first time. I subscribe TheOneRingNet maling list, which I always enjoy reading.

"Perhaps you are a bit weary of hearing each updated situation about the subtitles of LOTR films in Japan. Please let me have your patience for a while.

"Having read the two letters in defense of the Japanese subtitler Natsuko Toda in Dec. 28 edition of TheOneRingNet, I thought it is high time I tipped off some extra info regarding the case.

"The first letter is a fairly accurate translation of what we LOTR fans in Japan saw on Christmas Day on the Web page of Nippon Herald Inc.

"The Japanese fans were at first relieved to hear that Akiko Tanaka, the co-translator of the epic novel, was to be deeply involved in preparing the subtitles for TTT. Then the Nippon Herald announcement went on to say that the TTT trailer that we have already seen and were appalled by also had gone under Tanaka's check. The trailer subtitle is actually full of inexplicable expressions that a fan described as "a Zen dialogue," and we are very worried if TTT may suffer from a similar setback. I already saw TTT in Hawaii last week and found that there were a lot of changes from the original novel. So I doubt whether having Tanaka translate the script and check Toda's subtitles would be enough to make good subtitles.

"Yes, they may come up with a lot better subtitles for TTT than for FOTR, but now the argument has come down to the point that, unless we have someone else other than Toda to do the job, it's going to be like that we pay money to check subtitles, not to appreciate the film.

"The second letter on the same page, the one from Shiots, is a bit more controversial because he is right to a certain extent. As he says, Natsuko Toda is definitely the best-known subtitler in Japan, who boasts she can prepare the subtitle of a film in just one week (which she said she did with FOTR as well). [eeeek! -Tehanu] Yet she is also known for having made many unprofessional mistakes in the past (* See below) although it did not cause furor among the audiences until FOTR was released here. This is perhaps because LOTR fans are, er, a bit more sensitive about the story and the film they are in love with than ordinary moviegoers.

"But I think all this is a good step for the improvement of the antiquated movie industry in Japan. Toda was perhaps the best for a long time, but her days are now probably limited or over. After all she has been never good translating fantasy or sci-fi films.

"Shiots writes, "unless a huge Japanese Tolkien fan steps up and offers to translate the movie for her, she is the most capable person for the job." He probably does not know that a number of fans, including some professional translaters, already made timed subtitles for FOTR on their Web sites, and some even offered their hands to Nippon Herald, Inc.

"I hate to act like a telltaler, but really the fans would have been a lot happier if Nippon Herald acted more quickly to explain the situation even if they would stick to using Toda.

"Best wishes for New Year, and sorry for my bad English writing."

- Bunnyfoot

"*Toda's mistakes are many but here I write a few of the most recent ones. In "Gosford Park," she translated Welsh rarebit as "rabbit", which a vegitarian person orders instead of poultry in a restaurant. In "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret," she mixed up Muggle and Mugblood at a crucial scene, which has reportedly onfused many in the audience. When the FOTR cast came to Japan for promoting the movie earlier this year, Toda acted as their translator. Orlando Bloom was asked what other character he would like to play in LOTR, and he replied, "Saruman," which Toda tranalated as "Solomon." No wonder the fans who understood English were left aghast. It was after she prepared the FOTR subtitles."

---Japanese Fan Power Triumphs (2003/1/20)

"It's me, Bunnyfoot from Tokyo again. According to reports by two leading members of the LOTR subtitle reform activities on the Internet, the movie trilogy's Japanese distributor, Nippon Herald Films, Inc., invited them to a private screening of TTT at the comapny last week and asked their views about the subtitles. With permission from the company, the two announced on Jan. 19 on their respective Web sites what they thought about the subtitling of TTT. To our great relief, they said it was remarkably better than that of FOTR, although they made some suggestions for further improvement. The company reportedly told them that it put forward their opinions to Akiko Tanaka, co-translater of the novel, for examination.

"The two also said that the people they met at the Nippon Herald were courteous and that the company, hitherto seen by the fans as unreliable and insolent, was perhaps being just slow and naive in responding to the audience's demand.

"So, at the end of the day, there seems to be a happy solution for the problem that even involved Peter Jackson. (He made a comment about the matter on NZTV at TTT's Paris premiere, as you know), although we must still wait and see until the movie finally opens here on Feb. 22. (Media previews are scheduled for this week, and there will be special previews for fans on Feb. 15.)

"By the way, Viggo Mortensen's visit to Japan on Jan. 22 seems to be more to do with promotion of one of his books than TTT. It was the Japanese publisher of the book that invited him this time. A huge number of his female fans are expected to queue up for tickets to get his autograph."

Images from geocities.com/seatofkings

(In Japanese Only)