Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Let It Go" in Japanese: The translation of the "Frozen" song is anything but stiff

I got addicted to this cover of the Japanese version of "Let It Go" before I had even heard the English version. When I finally did take a listen, I realized that, as you might expect, the differences in the translation are pretty fascinating. Let's take a look! (By the way, I still haven't seen "Frozen.")


The back-translation (of the Japanese into English, by me) is in bold.
The actual English lyrics are next to that in regular.
Places where the Japanese translator rhymed with English are in blue.
"Let it go" and its corresponding Japanese are in green. (You'll see why.)
Commentary is in italics.

降り始めた雪は 足跡消して
真っ白な世界に ひとりのわたし
このままじゃ ダメなんだと

Furihajimeta yuki wa ashiato keshite
Masshiro na sekai ni hitori no watashi
Kaze ga kokoro ni sasayaku no
Kono mama ja dame na n da to

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight / Not a footprint to be seen -- The snow has begun to fall, erasing footprints  
A kingdom of isolation / and it looks like I'm the queen -- I'm all alone in a pure white world
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside -- The wind whispers to my heart
Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I tried -- "You can't go on like this."

Basically the translation is even freer than it appears at first. When you look closely, the image of the kingdom is gone and the idea that there is a storm instead her is lost, with the wind outside giving her advice instead. 

とまどい 傷つき
誰にも 打ち明けずに 悩んでた
それももう やめよう

Tomadoi kizutsuki
Dare ni mo uchiakezu ni nayande ta
Sore mo mou yameyou

Don't let them in, don't let them see -- Confusion, pain
Be the good girl you always had to be -- I was worrying
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know -- without opening up to anyone
Well, now they know -- I gotta quit doing that

Lol, really though, when I started this post I had these ideas about where I would be like, "Huh, this part is translated quite freely," but when you look at it, it's all different. Oddly I don't feel that makes it a bad translation per se; it's fun to sing. I especially like all the blue here. When I noticed those spots that matched the English vowels I was really impressed.

ありのままの 姿見せるのよ
ありのままの 自分になるの
何も怖くない 風よ吹け

Ari no mama no sugata miseru no yo
Ari no mama no jibun ni naru no
Nanimo kowakunai Kaze yo fuke
Sukoshi mo samukunai wa

Let it go, let it go -- I'll show you
Can't hold it back anymore -- my true self
Let it go, let it go -- I'll be me 
Turn away and slam the door -- my true self
I don't care what they're going to say -- I'm not scared of anything
Let the storm rage on -- O, wind, blow
The cold never bothered me anyway -- I'm not cold at all

So the back-translation for ありのまま. I'm sure there are a zillion ways to do it, but I tried to make it something that could be repeated, like "Let it go." ありのまま means "as [x] is" so in this case, kind of like "as I am." So a literal (or even sense-literal…if that is a word) translation of "Let it go" it is not, but it captures the overall meaning of the song, I think. And it sounds great!!!! I wonder if a closer rendering of "Turn away and slam the door" would have seemed to random in Japanese? By the way, this is the only time "Let the storm rage on" gets translated as such.

悩んでたことが うそみたいね
だってもう自由よ なんでもできる
そうよ変わるのよ わたし

Nayande ta koto ga uso mitai ne
Datte mou jiyuu yo Nande mo dekiru
Doko made yareru ka
Jibun wo tameshitai no
Sou yo Kawaru no yo watashi

It's funny how some distance -- All the stuff I was worrying about 
Makes everything seem small -- seems it was like lie, huh
And the fears that once controlled me -- I'm already free! 
Can't get to me at all -- I can do anything.
It's time to see what I can do -- How far can I go?
To test the limits and break through -- I want to test myself
No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free! -- Yes, I will change!

In Japanese she's so confident she doesn't even think about the fears at this point! One thing you notice immediately about translated song lyrics is that the Japanese has to be less elaborate. Japanese may have the advantage space-wise when it comes to writing, because of kanji that contain a whole word per character or two, but in terms of syllables, English wins. There are nooooot a lot of one-syllable Japanese words. 

ありのままで 空へ風に乗って
ありのままで 飛び出してみるの
二度と 涙は流さないわ

Ari no mama de sora e kaze ni notte
Ari no mama de tobidashite miru no
Nido to namida wa nagasanai wa

Let it go, let it go -- As myself
I am one with the wind and sky -- I'll ride the wind in the sky
Let it go, let it go -- As myself
You'll never see me cry -- I'll try leaping out into the world
Here I stand -- I'll 
And here I'll stay -- never 
Let the storm rage on -- cry again

Sorry, the back-translation for 飛び出してみるの is kind of wonky, but what else would it be? Maybe "I'm stepping out" would be better. "Coming out" brings up the wrong connotations. 

But yeah, here I guess she just wanted to emphasize the not crying and needed to devote some syllables to it. Syllable piggy bank is lowww.

高く舞い上がる 想い描いて
輝いていたい もう決めたの

Tsumetaku daichi wo tsutsumikomi
Takaku maiagaru omoi egaite
Hanasaku koori no kesshou no you ni
Kagayaite itai mou kimeta no

My power flurries through the air and into the ground -- My imagination wraps the world in cold
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around -- Soaring high above
And one thought crystalizes like an icy blast -- Like a blossoming crystal of ice
I'm never going back -- I've made my decision
The past is in the past -- I want to shine!

The back-translation for this part was kind of hard, but I imagine it was also hard to try to capture the English imagery in Japanese, so we're even, lol. It's interesting how the Japanese is affirming the future whereas the English is sloughing off the past. 

これでいいの 自分を好きになって
これでいいの 自分信じて
光あびながら 歩きだそう

Kore de ii no jibun no suki ni natte
Kore de ii no jibun shinjite
Hikari abinagara arukidasou
Sukoshi mo samukunai wa

Let it go, let it go -- This is fine
And I'll rise like the break of dawn -- I'll love myself
Let it go, let it go -- This is fine
That perfect girl is gone -- I'll believe in myself
Here I stand in the light -- Bathed in light
Let the storm rage on -- I'll be on my way
The cold never bothered me anyway -- I'm not cold at all

これでいいの is probably the closest meaning-wise to "Let it go" of all the syllables that stand in for it in the Japanese song. 自分信じて could probably have been something like 完璧じゃなくていい but what do I know? 

By the way, someone did a detailed comparison like this in Japanese.

Here's an interview with the translator, Chikae Takahashi.

She says she preps a lot to find out what movie itself is trying to say and then listens to the song repeatedly to translate, focusing on key words first (i.e. in this case, "Let it go").

She said matching the lip movements was really hard. "The part that is 'ari no mama no' in Japanese is 'let it go, let it go' in English. If you put importance on preserving the melody, only six Japanese sounds will fit. Plus her mouth is facing up, so the third and sixth sounds are limited to 'o.'"

Apparently she went through a lot of back and forth with the director to get the message right.

Her advice to people who want to translate lyrics:

"More than translating lyrics, you need to be able to write lyrics. Of course, knowledge of English (or your source language) is important, but expressing it in Japanese [your native language] is the real battle, so work to cultivate a rich vocabulary in Japanese through reading etc."