Not Lost In Translation

The internal clock went off at 6:30 am.  I was getting better.  No more 4:45.


Instead of trying to force some more restful sleep into my system I decided that being Sunday morning, this would be the best time for a run through the City of Uwara as there would be less pedestrian traffic to dodge through.  As always with these foreign country runs, I start off thinking I am going to do two or three miles and find by the end of my sight seeing I have done closer to six.  I was quickly reminded that the danger was not the pedestrians but rather the cars when you keep forgetting which side of the street is the on coming traffic.

God’s Ears was going to screen this afternoon, and I had to leave a bit early to do the film check where I make sure the colors/contrast/etc. was the way we intended it to look during the projection.  You would be surprised sometimes seeing your film for the first time on this kind of clarity what might pop up in terms of image.   Unfortunately, my film check fell on not only the same day, but the exact hour of the biggest mixed martial arts fight of the year.  Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar would be starting their heavy weight staredown right about the time my film check was going on.  I was more concerned about missing the fight before between Georges St. Pierre and Thiago Alves.  But, I just reasoned the amazing timing meant a meteor was going to crash through my hotel at that moment so I would be safely at the film festival when it happened.  As it worked out, I had one foot out the door during the last round of the GSP fight (caught on a local TV feed) and then sprinted out the door to the train station.  No meteor.

Once again I moved through the busy JR train station.  When I arrived at the festival I had them run a few scenes from the film.  As many Jap30times as I have seen it, I suddenly did not want them to stop.  The image and clarity projected in 4K was completely striking!  The best I had ever seen this film look.  When checking with their tech specs on the projection prior to leaving the United States, my post house called me back and told me they did not even know a projector like this was invented yet.

After the check, one of the workers came over to me to tell me how much he enjoyed the look and shooting style of the film and I was beginning to think I agreed with him.  If only every film festival was up to this technology I think the filmmakers would become even more aware of their framing and lighting choices as every detail was so heightened.  The audience which had built up to an impressive number outside finally filed in.  I had to give a brief intro and then moved to the waiting room.  I stuck around for the first few minutes just to watch the subtitles appear underneath the characters.  Kind of cool.

As I sat waiting for the film to wrap up I began to wonder how the film would translate to another culture.  Some things you can’t miss.  A car blows up, a punch is thrown or in this case I fall on a bicycle.  But much of the film is built on subtle themes and struggles of understanding and communication, love and friendship.  Maybe universal traits, but was this film going to effectively convey that?  Would the humor make sense or send the room flat?


I was called down to the screening a few minutes before the end.  I stood and watched the credits roll as the room remained silent.  In the US, the start of the credits will at least draw a courteous applause but here their hands remained idle.

And then the credits finished, the lights came on and the applause filled the room.

Okay, that was pretty courteous.


I stepped up to the stage and stood between the festival director and the translator.  After a few nice compliments from the director on the film, he turned to the audience.

No hands.  Uh oh.  When you don’t get something you can’t really comment on it.  He asked again.  Nothing.

And then a hand went up.

The young man spoke in Japanese and a few beats later a bit of laughter filled the room.  The translator smiled and relayed the comment: “I felt I wanted to make a comment on the film and how I liked it but thought it would be silly compared to more important questions.  But in the film, your character of Noah did some brave things so it made me want to be brave and say so”.

If no other question came I was the happiest director on earth.


But they did.  And the questions were not what I was expecting.  What kind of camera did you use?  What was the budget?  How long did you shoot?  No, that would have been too easy for Michael Worth.

“The buddha near the end, was that there intentionally to represent……”

“Was the nakedness of both characters professions, boxing and stripping, more than coincidence…..”

“The flower you chose was not a traditional rose.  Was there a reason….”

“There was a common struggle that all the characters shared, was this….”

Holy crap.  Translate?  I was starting to learn more about my own film from the audience here.  The thought that went beyond the story, something in itself I was concerned would make sense, was astounding.  And reinforcing.  Reinforcing in my instincts of how I like to work.  Which is when I tell a story, I find I can be clearer with myself about it when I dig deeper and tell the same story, and even a few others subtler ones, through the other means at my exposure as an “artist”.   My compositions, my metaphors and even as simple as the lighting.  This has always helped me stay on track while working.  Reminding myself what each scene, and the whole story, was all about by adorning the moment with meaning but at the same time making sure that those “techniques” were never brighter than the actual moment, drawing attention to themselves.

As I moved from the hall, the the questions and handshakes continued in the broken English of many, trying to express their feelings about what they saw.  I was given flowers and cookies and even in one case, a Japanese press kit for Batman Forever in which I had a small fight scene that lasted all about five seconds.

One of the workers commented on how many of these people knew only a handful of English words and were using them as best they could to express to me how much they enjoyed the film.

I smiled.  Translation?

Some things everyone understands.



One thought on “Not Lost In Translation

  1. Michael, I feel as if I was there – the fullness of your comments and commentary gave me a feeling of having some of the contact you had with that other culture. Maw

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