A Few Things I Know About Subtitling: The Godfather Part II


・Coppola, a man who bore the same name as the president

There is an unspoken rule that movie subtitles in Japanese can be up to 13 characters per line and no more than two lines on screen at a time. This is considered the acceptable limit for the number of characters that can be understood while watching a video, and even a two-hour film will only use about 1,000 to 1,500 characters. Since the subtitles displayed on the screen are only a summary and not a word-for-word translation of the actors’ lines, have you ever been watching a Western movie and found yourself wondering what words and phrases the actors are actually saying? This project is about bringing iconic movie lines out into the light and for you to enjoy STC’s translation of them into Japanese. Incidentally, the author has no English ability whatsoever, so the translation is the handiwork of the company’s interpreters.
We will kick things off by looking at our first film, The Godfather Part II. There is no need to go into everything that makes this series of films a masterpiece, but I chose Part II over Parts I or III out of a sense of mischief, like pulling the trigger on the count of two instead of on three like they do in the old Westerns.
The film was released in the US in 1974. Japan was witnessing the end of Sazae-san as a manga, Shigeo Nagashima’s playing career, and the Kakuei Tanaka administration, while Takarazuka Revue’s The Rose of Versailles, Nagatanien’s Asage miso soup, and the anime Heidi, Girl of the Alps were just making their debuts. In the US, the Watergate scandal led to President Nixon’s downfall. The second film in The Godfather series was released, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, whose middle name is the same as the surname of the vice president that took over for Nixon. It starred Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Robert Duvall, and Talia Shire — Coppola’s sister who would go on to become famous for her portrayal of Adrienne in the film Rocky. Sylvester Stallone himself, however, had an unsuccessful audition for a role in The Godfather.

・The last American Technicolor film dominates the Academy Awards

The film was an adaptation based on Mario Puzo’s hit novel, and took the success of its predecessor — which broke box office records and won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay — to a whole new level. In addition to being the first sequel to win Best Picture, it won Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Art Direction. When you also consider the fact that three actors from the film were nominated for Best Actor, you could say, to put it in the vernacular of crime films, that this movie was “the big boss” of American movies at the time.
One interesting note for film history buffs is that this was the last American film to be shot in Technicolor, a coloring method of shooting with red, blue, and green filters at the same time and combining them into a single film, creating a distinctive coloring unlike the digital films of today. Just thinking back to the days when these films were extolled as “all-natural color movies” in Japan brings back memories.
Gordon Willis continued in his role as cinematographer from the previous film. His work is known for its use of deep black tones, which he also employed in his later work on Woody Allen’s Manhattan. As a crime film, The Godfather Part II does reference the film noir genre, but the head of the distributor was said to be furious upon seeing the darkness at the opening of the first film.

・That famous line that wasn’t actually in the script

In the first film, Michael Corleone, the youngest of three sons of an Italian immigrant family, takes over for his father who has been caught up in a conflict and becomes the head of the family business (mafia) that he had long held in disdain. The second film continues Michael’s story interspersed with flashback scenes of his father in his younger days, telling a dark coming-of-age story.
The contrast between the father — who not only becomes a certain kind of necessary evil to save his fellow immigrants that are suffering in the so-called land of the free that is America but also works to make his family happy — and the son, who grows lonely and isolated as he ruthlessly expands his organization, is simply heartbreaking.
Gangster films are known for their shootouts. This film is no exception with many fascinating scenes of violence, but it has charms that even go beyond that. Take the dialogue, for example. The most famous line is a proverb Michael has learned from his father: “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” (Translated into Japanese as “Tomodachi to wa shitashiku shite oke. Demo teki to wa motto shitashiku shiro.”) Despite being chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time, the actual line is nowhere to be found in the script, which instead reads, “never to act until you know everything that’s behind things.” (“Ura ni nani ga kakusarete iru ka wakaru made kōdō o okosu na.”)
I wonder whether this work would have come a masterpiece without that line, but what I would like to point out is the translation of the word “close” in the line as spoken in the film. You might read that word and want to translate it as “close” in the sense of shutting something, but it could also mean familiar or intimate (which is reflected in the Japanese translation). So, when you are at a funeral and want to ask a relative of the deceased what their relationship was, you can ask, “Were you close?” There is also “close!” in response to a response to a quiz question, in the sense of “close (but no cigar),” i.e., “almost right, but not quite.”

・A movie by an Italian American for Italian Americans

Cinema is said to hold a mirror up to society. As if foreseeing the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, films such as The Big Sick, Get Out, Crazy Rich Asians, and Black Panther told from a non-WASP perspective have enjoyed great success in the US in recent years. The Godfather Part II also has elements of race. The US is depicted from an Italian American standpoint, and there are lines in which racial conflict becomes readily apparent.
Aiming to expand his power, Michael seeks help from a WASP-y senator. Not only does the senator extort him for money, but he mocks Michael, saying: “I’ll do business with you, but the fact is that I despise your masquerade. The dishonest way you pose yourself. Yourself, and your whole fucking family.” (Translated into Japanese as “Bijinesu dake wa shiyō. Demo hontō no tokoro, omae no sono kamen ni wa miburui suru. Ura de wa, fusei darake da. Omae mo, omae no kazoku mo.”)
Those words are meant to provoke anger, but this is the Godfather he is speaking to. Michael responds nihilistically with “We’re both part of the same hypocrisy,” (“Anata mo watashi mo, kekkyoku wa onaji gizensha deshō”) but then goes on to threaten the senator with “But never think it applies to my family.” (“Demo watashi no kazoku was chigaimasu.”)
Here I would like to point out the translation into Japanese of the word “masquerade” (the Japanese word used, “kamen,” can be back-translated literally as “mask”). The word “masquerade” may be known to those who are familiar with “masquerade balls,” and the English word “mask” is a derivative. Incidentally, the English title of Yukio Mishima’s Kamen no Kokuhaku is

    Confessions of a Mask

. Also, look at the phrase “dishonest way” (“fusei na yarikata”, which can also be back-translated as “fraud” or “illegality”). The word “dishonest” is the antonym of “honest,” and the phrase “honest and sincere” often appears in English legal documents.

・Michael Corleone doesn’t play dirty

There are many wonderful aspects to this film, but the most moving is the depiction of a family torn apart by the family business. Just as Michael overcomes, through underhanded means, being revealed as a mafia boss at a government hearing, his wife tells him that she intends to leave him and take their children with her. It is quite a memorable scene.
Michael, who mistakenly assumes that his wife is depressed after suffering a miscarriage, prevents her from leaving by saying: “I would use all my power to keep something like that from happening.” (“Arito arayuru chikara o tsukushite habamu yo, ore wa.”) He truly is a powerful person. The line as written in the script is a little different, but even more high-handed: “all my strength, all my cunning” (“Donna kitanai te o tsukatte mo ore wa zettai ni habamu.”) What is interesting is the word “cunning,” translated as “kitanai te” (dirty hands, i.e., dirty tricks). The script continues with his wife responding using the same word: “…you with your cunning, couldn’t you figure it out.” (“Sore dake zurugashikoi nara naze wakaranai no yo.”)
In the script version, there is another interesting phrase that appears before the use of “cunning,” where Michael says, “I would never let it happen.” (“Ore no me no kuroi uchi wa zettai ni yurusan.”) It is a powerful line, but one instance of the word “let” used in exactly opposite way is in The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” a song about the Virgin Mary telling the singer that when nothing is going right to just leave things alone. Also, “I won’t let it happen” (“Watashi ga chanto kantoku shimasu kara”) is a phrase that demonstrates leadership.