To mark the first birthday of An Online Universe I have decided to share one of my favourite scenes of all time. This might be a semi-regular feature – I’ll see going forward.
The scene: Bob (Bill Murray) is an American actor who has travelled to Tokyo for work. His primary engagement is filming an advertisement for Japanese whisky brand, Suntory. Bob doesn’t speak Japanese, so relies on his translator to let him know what the rather hipster-ish Japanese film director wants him to do.
What makes it great:
Bill Murray – he owns this role, and this scene is a perfect example why he was robbed of the Academy Award he deserved for this role. He manages to be confused, frustrated and slightly annoyed, all the while remaining professional.
The Interpreter – She is the perfect example of a stereotypical subordinate. She speaks to the director so humbly, as if doing her job is the most annoying thing in the world for him. Sure she speaks English, but she never really translates what the director says. She gives her own extremely truncated version of what was really said. Bob knows she’s not giving him the full story, but when he asks she ever so politely insists that is it.
The Japanese and the translation – We all know that the director says more than the interpreter lets us know. It doesn’t matter what he actually says, but the fact she translates it to a few words is obviously wrong and makes for a very amusing scene.
The fact I speak Japanese and can understand what is actually said, makes this scene even funnier for me. As an example I’ve loosely translated what the director tells Bob to do. I’ve even cut it down a bit. But I think you’ll get the idea.
Director: On the table we have Suntory Whisky. I want you to turn slowly and look at the camera, and in a kind voice as if you were meeting with an old friend, say “cheers, it’s Suntory time”
Interpreter: He want you to turn and look to camera. Okay?
Bob: That’s all he said?
Interpreter: Yes. Turn to camera.
For those who have worked or lived in Japan, the Japanese-ness of the whole scene is unmistakable and hilarious. For Bob it’s frustrating and rather bewildering. For the audience its the best sort of classic comedy, all thanks to a handy language barrier.
By Sam McCosh