Can faithfulness to the original text betray the target public? the adaptations of Mononokehime (Princess Mononoke) in Italy

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Author: Daniela Pizzuto
Date: Apr. 2018
From: East Asian Journal of Popular Culture(Vol. 4, Issue 1)
Publisher: Intellect Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,427 words
Lexile Measure: 1520L

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Over the past few years audio-visual translation in 'dubbing countries' has been experiencing a significant shift from the traditional domesticating approach to a foreignizing approach that focuses more on faithfulness towards the source text rather than to the target readership. The Italian rendition of anime is a case in point: while appreciated by an increasing number of viewers, both serial and stand-alone anime, have either suffered a limited distribution or a highly homogenizing adaptation, in many cases through the employment of English as vehicular language. The first Italian dubbed version of the popular Studio Ghibli masterpiece Mononokehime (Princess Mononoke) (Miyazaki, 1996) is a clear example of the latter. The version distributed by Buena Vista International in 2000 as Princess Mononoke was adapted from the North American version, which included radical modifications aimed at providing a context with which the spectators would be more familiar. A second version, distributed by Lucky Red in 2014 under the title Principessa Mononoke, was re-adapted from the original Japanese script in order to improve fidelity to the original and was re-dubbed with a new voice cast. However, numerous viewers have criticized the unintelligibility of most of the dialogue. This article analyses the differences between the two versions and investigates whether the visibility of the translator can be seen as an obstacle for the understanding and enjoyment of films for the target viewership.



Principessa Mononoke



indirect translation

translator's invisibility

Full Text: 

Popular masterpiece Mononokehime (Princess Mononoke) (Miyazaki, 1997) was released in the Italian market first as Princess Mononoke in 2000, as an adaptation from the North American version, and later as Principessa Mononoke in 2014, in a brand new adaptation. (1) Both are far from perfect, but while the former suffers the consequences of being an indirect translation, the latter--despite offering a more philologically correct and direct translation of the script--still does not enjoy the status of 'great translation' (Berman, in Tahir Gurcaglar 2011) as hypothesized for retranslations. As a matter of fact, viewers lamented the unintelligibility of its dialogue, and the weirdness of some linguistic choices. The present article therefore analyses the two differently adapted versions of the film from a translation studies perspective, in order to ascertain whether too much visibility for the translator, despite what has been advocated for by Venuti (2008), may actually be a hindrance to the comprehension of the message.


Italy was one of the first countries in Europe to import cartoons and full-length animated films from Japan and anime's success was immediate, to the extent it could be considered as a sort of love at first sight:

Anime and manga have contributed to shape the audiovisual background of
many Italian children and teenagers, thanks also to the weird show
schedule on TV. (2) Arriving in Europe during the second half of the
1970s, a first wave of Japanese cartoons set the basis for a new
aesthetic sensitivity.

(Pellitteri 2008: 7)

After a long pause between the mid-1980s and the early 1990s, during which the programming of cartoons on Italian TV suffered an abrupt arrest, a second and probably stronger wave re-established the distribution and popularity of Japanese animation. There is also nostalgia towards the anime of the past and their TV opening and ending theme songs, especially amongst people in their thirties who used to be children at the time of the first wave (Pellitteri 2008: 7). In such a sociocultural environment, it is easy to assess the success of films by Studio Ghibli, which have been loved both by children and adults alike. Despite their popularity on television, animation films in Italy tend to suffer at the box office, while collecting their highest returns in the home video market (quoted in YamatoVideo S.r.l. 2008), which might be the reason why they are usually exhibited in cinemas for just a few days. Mononokehime was one of the first animated films to be distributed at the beginning of the second wave of anime in Italy, and it was immediately loved by the public, smitten by its tale of love and hatred and the eternal conflict between progress and nature. What the public did not know at that time was that the story they had seen in cinemas was not quite what Hayao Miyazaki had directed.


Set in an era long ago 'when gods and spirits still walked the earth' (Townsend 1999b), Mononokehime tells the story of Ashitaka, the young prince of the Emishi tribe, who is forced to leave his people after being cursed by a dying wild boar god. Banished from his homeland and sent to find the Great Forest Spirit in a quest to save his own life, Ashitaka finds the people of Tataraba (Iron town), governed by the strong and proud Lady Eboshi; and San, the titular princess of spirits, a human girl abandoned as an infant by her family and raised by wolf gods. Iron town is where the iron ball found in the body of the dying wild boar was produced, and it was likely the reason why the boar god turned into a demon and blindly attacked people. San is doing everything in her capacity to kill Eboshi, whom she holds responsible for the destruction of the forest. Ashitaka finds himself stuck in a hard fight between two strong-willed women and the eternal conflict between the preservation of nature and the hardships of progress.

Mononokehime was bought for distribution by Buena Vista International, a Disney subsidiary, in 1996. Due to the violent content of the film and the unclear definition of the good/evil opposition, Disney chose to release the film through Miramax, another of its subsidiary companies known for distributing independent and foreign films. The script was translated by Steve Alpert, Haruyo Moriyoshi and Ian MacDougall, and turned into dialogue through the adaptation of novelist Neil Gaiman. By his own admission 'a lot of it was just taking it and trying to get it to flow as dialogue' (Gaiman, in Townsend 1999a) because

Most anime dialogue that I've seen [...] doesn't sound like dialogue
that people would ever say. And what I wanted to do was try and (a)
sneak information in, while (b) giving natural-sounding dialogue, that
(c) kept as much as possible, of either what the Japanese said or what
they meant. Occasionally, you'd wind up completely changing something
in order to make it work.

(Gaiman, in Townsend 1999a)

Of course, adapting a film is something that goes beyond the mere translation of dialogue, as Mario Paolinelli and Eleonora Di Fortunato argue:

When translating the lines for the actors, the adaptor cannot avoid
taking into consideration all the necessary elements that form the
narrative structure of the scene and of the whole film. That must be
accomplished by examining a series of elements that go beyond the mere
words used in the dialogues. [...] [The adaptor] must immerse
themselves into the language, understand what is the 'language' of the
film, which communicative strategies were chosen by the characters,
which variety of language--what in linguistics is known as
'register'--is used by every character in every situation, and then
choose the right variety, and the 'parallel register' to use in the
target language.

The adaptor should be able to ascertain the different communicative
levels: the one existing among the characters--which could identify
their ethnic, social and geographical background--and that between the
characters and the public--which concerns the linguistic competence of
the public itself--and, after an accurate analysis, should be able to
convey all of that in the target language.

(Paolinelli and Di Fortunato 2005: 2)

Gaiman's adaptation received high praise by critics and fans, to the point of believing that he and director Jack Fletcher had 'set a new standard' (Gaiman, in Townsend 1999a) in the field in the United States, but that does not mean it is immune from imperfections and problematic translation strategies. Gaiman himself admits to having changed part of the dialogue because it would not have been funny if translated literally, and that it was not his intention to simply 'recreate the Japanese experience on the screen' (Gaiman, in Townsend 1999a), thus focusing more on fluency than accuracy. While such an approach is not wrong per se, it is suggestive of a long-standing aggressively monolingual attitude, typical of a dominant culture, which is often seen in the US market (Venuti 2008).


As Miramax held distribution rights in Italy after 1996, Mononokehime was not adapted directly from the original Japanese script, but from the already released North American version. This could be viewed as a way to profit from an already well-received product and to limit the translation expenses for a film with a low expected return at the box office. In fact, indirect translations, the practice of translating from a pre-existing translation in a vehicular language, used to be common in the past, especially between distant languages, because of the unavailability of professional translators from less diffused languages and the lower costs of production (Pieta and Assis Rosa 2013). However, indirect translations are not devoid of risks, as they heavily rely on the quality of the mediated text: as the translator cannot be aware of mistakes or censored text, and therefore is not able to recognize or correct them, such mistakes are commonly transferred to new versions as well. Which is why translators now use them 'only where absolutely necessary' (UNESCO 1976: 42).

The first Italian version of Mononokehime was translated by Rodolfo Cappellini and released in 2000 through Buena Vista International. The influence of the North American version is strong, especially regarding the translation of single items and nouns. In the following analysis some of the most significant cases will be highlighted and discussed.

While in the original film San is either addressed by her given name or by the appellative 'mononoke' (literally 'things that are mysterious', used to identify some spirits of Japanese folklore), in the US version she is referred to as 'the wolf girl', which was then directly translated into 'la ragazza lupo' in the Italian version. As San is mostly seen with her mother Moro and her wolf brothers, this could be considered as an attempt to domesticate a term and a concept from the source culture that the team of adaptors considered too complicated or foreign for the target public. San's nickname, mononoke, was therefore connected to what was on-screen (a girl raised by wolves), linking her to the literary tradition of feral children, among which the most famous examples are Tarzan in Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, or Mowgli in Kipling's The Jungle Book in literature, or Romulus and Remus in the myth of Rome's foundation.

Ashitaka is sometimes referred to as 'straniero' in the Italian version by Buena Vista International, which is a false cognate of the term employed in the US release of Princess Mononoke. This case is particularly interesting for two reasons: (1) straniero is not the usual translation for 'stranger', as its closest translation would be 'foreigner' (thus, in Italian the focus is more on the fact that Ashitaka comes from another land, rather than he is someone no-one knows); and, (2) in the Japanese film no-one ever calls Ashitaka 'gaikokujin' (foreigner) or 'ihojin' (stranger). Rather, he is either called by his given name or 'danna' (sir).

A peculiar case of translation also surrounds 'Shishigami no mori', adapted as 'forbidden forest' in the North American version of Mononokehime and consequently as 'foresta proibita' in the 2000 Italian release. The forest is actually not forbidden at all, as the Japanese name simply means 'forest of the God of Beasts'. As the people of Tataraba are wary of the god and the spirits living in his forest, they tend to look scared and agitated when they speak about it--which is probably why the adaptors chose to add the appellative 'forbidden' to what was simply a sacred forest. In a similar fashion Deidarabocchi, the nocturnal aspect of the Shishigami (the forest god), is rendered as 'Colui che cammina nella notte' (literally He who walks through the night), as a translation of the American 'Nightcrawler'. Both adaptations thus preferred to focus more to the shape of the night version of the god rather than its function, which made the translations highly evocative, but lacking in connection to the original character name. Finally, the appellative Shishigami is rendered in Italian either as 'Spirito della Foresta' (Spirit of the Forest) and 'dio cervo' (deer god), depending on what was on-screen. The American version favoured only the first because, as Neil Gaiman himself explained, '"Deer God" seems kind of small and limiting, whereas "Great Spirit of the forest" seems to be huge and inclusive' (Gaiman, in Townsend 1999a). In these examples, the attempts to give local meaning to what is seen on-screen causes increasing breaks from the way important characters and settings were described in the original Japanese production. While these help to explain and localize aspects of the film, they also create distance between the experience of audiences in Japan and those watching the 2000 release of Princess Mononoke in Italy.


After the reduction of about 70 per cent of its staff in 2009, Walt Disney International sold Miramax to Filmyard Holding, an investment group (Nakashima 2010). By the time that happened, Lucky Red had already bought the distribution rights for Disney films in Italy. When it came to the newly acquired Studio Ghibli works, Lucky Red intended to release new Studio Ghibli films alongside the old ones that had not been released yet (e.g. Tonari no Totoro [My Neighbor Totoro], Miyazaki, 1988), in addition to re-releasing films already distributed, but in revised editions (including Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi [Spirited Away], Miyazaki, 2001 and Hauru no ugoku shiro [Howl's Moving Castle], Miyazaki, 2004; see Nikkei Voice 2013).

Lucky Red planned to re-translate, re-adapt and re-dub such films directly from the Japanese scripts, with a considerable amount of money invested in their realization and distribution. Alessandra Tieri, Press Office Manager of Lucky Red, confirms:

Of course, the success of Spirited Away has opened the doors of the
Ghibli world to a wider public, which is unquestionably something that
a good distributor would not ignore. The idea of buying the entire
catalogue of titles was by no means a sudden decision, as we slowly got
to it after the release of Howl's Moving Castle. That was an
extraordinary experience for all of us. [...] Without realising it,
suddenly we were completely immersed in the world of Hayao Miyazaki.
And well, we decided to never get out of it [...].

(Tieri quoted in YamatoVideo S.r.l. 2008)

The script for Lucky Red's Principessa Mononoke was translated from Japanese by Giorgio Sato Nardoni, while Gualtiero Cannarsi was in charge of the adaptation and the direction of dubbing. Dubbing is a very complex and expensive form of audio-visual translation, as it requires 'the re-recording of the original voice track in the target language using dubbing actors' voices' (Perez Gonzalez 2011: 17) and it also necessitates 'a complex juggling of semantic content, cadence of language and technical prosody [...] while bowing to the prosaic constraints of the medium itself' (Whitman-Linsen, quoted in Perez Gonzalez 2011: 17). Consequently, translation is just the first stage of the dubbing process, followed by the adaptation of the translated text, which takes into consideration the need for lip-synchronicity and the length of lines voiced by the actors. Once the script is ready, then the re-voicing of the dialogue track by professional actors can take place, usually under the supervision of a dubbing director and a sound engineer. 'The involvement of so many professionals in the dubbing process explains why this form of audio-visual translation is up to fifteen times more expensive than subtitling' (Lukyen et al., quoted in Perez Gonzalez 2011: 17).

For the abovementioned reasons, retranslation (3) is not as frequent in audio-visual translation as it is in literature--where it is actually regarded as a positive phenomenon--and thus it is quite clear why it was so important for Lucky Red to produce a satisfying adaptation. Reasons for retranslating a text may include 'the need to update or modernise the language of a translation, the publication of a revised or expanded source text, and the discovery of mistakes or misinterpretations in the first translation' (Tahir Gurcaglar 2011: 235; see also Toury 1999). Given the aforementioned issues within the US adaptation, it is not surprising that the public expected Lucky Red to create dialogue more equivalent to that of the original film, which could potentially reproduce the same experience as the Japanese viewership. The Lucky Red version indeed features revised and corrected dialogue and moves away from the US version, for example, presenting a more accurate translation of most characters' names. The next sections will provide a deep analysis of some of the most significant changes in the new adaptation.


Despite the fact that at the moment there is not any published work available about the procedures of the Lucky Red adaptation of Mononokehime, the intensive research and work put into the retranslation is well documented in the official Italian Internet forum for Studio Ghibli's films (see the thread Mononokehime--ineditamente in italiano). Adaptor Gualtiero Cannarsi himself is particularly active and passionate on this website, explaining his thought processes and justifying his personal choices, in the name of validating the effort he put into his work. This is especially significant due to the alleged obscurity of some of Mononokehime's cultural references, even for Japanese people. Miyazaki has confirmed Mononokehime to be a difficult movie, but also offers a generational critique arguing that 'many of the elements in the film were commonly known about Japan among those of my generation' (Miyazaki 2000: 188). Responding to this discourse of obscurity, Cannarsi's forum posts tend to be extensive and verbose, especially when people disagree with his opinions, and as he likes to remark 'I could go on for days, since, as it might come across pretty clearly, I've extensively researched on the matter' (2014).

The first major change was the title. Lucky Red replaced Princess Mononoke (2000) with Principessa Mononoke (2014), and while the change appears minimal, the translation of 'hime' (princess) into its literal equivalent 'principessa' in Italian makes it a less obscure title than the previous one, which comprised words in two different foreign languages. An even closer equivalent might have included a translation of the term 'mononoke' as 'spettri' (ghosts), as the latter is used throughout the Lucky Red version. While titles tend to be chosen by distributors rather than adaptors, there might be various reasons why the title was not changed into La Principessa degli Spettri. On one hand, keeping the term mononoke was a way to maintain a link to the previous adaptation and to a product with which the public was already familiar. On the other hand, the term spettri might have frightened the children away, because it implied that there might be frightening ghosts surrounding one of the main characters. While leaving mononoke untouched in the title of the US version was evocative, it was not exactly clear for audiences, who were forced to take it at face value and work out by themselves the meaning of the expression. However, some viewers had grown attached to the word, since they simply might have ended up liking the translations they grew up with (Levefere and Bassnet 1990: 2).

Audiences in Italy were particularly vocal in showing their displeasure directly to the adaptor on a thread on the official Italian forum dedicated to Studio Ghibli works. To one of said complaints, adaptor Cannarsi replied:

The absolute necessity of doing it [i.e., translating the term
mononoke] is due to the fact that 'mononoke' is not, and never was,
San's name, except in the phantasmagoria of the previous adaptation in

The fact that you consider that a correct term to identify San, as if
it were a proper name for her, is evidence of how much damage that
invented 'translation' has caused. [...] It still is just a *noun*,
not a proper noun.


Here, the battles over nuances in localization are revealed, with the adaptor asserting both his position of knowledge and authority within the Italian context.

In Lucky Red's version of Mononokehime the wolf gods ('yamainu' or mountain dogs) likewise take on new descriptive names, appearing as 'cani selvatici' (wild dogs) in place of 'lupi' (wolves) in the first Italian version. Moro and her offspring were simply known as wolves in the US version, as they are depicted as giant wolves: with their hard eyes, pointed ears and scary jaws and fangs, they share a common representational ancestry with the wolves of European fairy tales. However, the term used in the Japanese script is not 'okami' (wolf) but yamainu, because, as Cannarsi explains:

The infamous 'mountain dogs' [...] are what in Italian are called
'wild dogs'. As Japan is a mainly mountainous territory, Japanese
people consider what is not 'urban' or 'domestic' as 'mountainous' and
not 'wild'. [...] Actually, what we nowadays call 'Japanese wolf', now
extinct, used to be a beast of small size. But they weren't called
'ookami' (wolves), as it seems [...] that the Japanese language hadn't
distinguished the subspecies 'canis lupus' yet, therefore 'wolves' were
simply identified as 'wild dogs' (yamainu, 'mountain dogs').


The public seems to have been resistant to the new term, causing Cannarsi to provide this history of alternative terminology, though in this case their attachment can be attributed to the strong influence of the visual, rather than to an emotional attachment to the previous translation.

It was not just characters that were renamed by Lucky Red, but also the iron smelting community, which changed from the Japanese 'Tataraba' into 'la fucina' (the bellows) in place of 'la Fortezza' (the Fortress). Known as the Iron town in the US version and as la Fortezza in the first Italian edition, the name Tataraba refers to the place (ba) where the bellows (tatara) are located. While not equivalent to the original Japanese noun, both terms worked quite well as substitutions, as they focused more on the function of the city in one case and on its shape on the other, and were therefore unlikely to cause confusion.

The re-translation went further though, with Lucky Red 'correcting' the final scene so that it more closely mirrored the original Japanese version of Mononokehime, thus erasing the far-fetched ecologically friendly message of the first Italian version. Here, after her arm was bitten off by the head of wolf-goddess Moro, Eboshi speaks to her fellow villagers about the irony of being hurt by the god she had warned others about, while at the same time being saved by the one of the wolves she had wanted to kill:

MH: (4) Watashi wa yamainu no se de hakobare iki no kotteshimatta. (In the end I could survive because I was carried on a wild dog's back.)

PM00: Oggi ho capito che la foresta e sacra e nessuno ha il diritto di profanarla.

(Today I've come to understand that the forest is sacred and no-one has the right to profane it.)

Lucky Red's adaptation offers then a message closer in meaning to that of the Japanese film:

PM14: Io ho finito per sopravvivere trasportata in groppa a un cane selvatico.

(I ended up surviving because I was carried on a wild dog's back.)

In this way, Lucky Red's adaptation sought difference from the first international release, while courting fan appreciation by a return to the original Japanese language text.

After the final denouement, the monk Jiko bo remarks on the stupidity of the human race with an ironic comment:

MH: Iyaa--maitta maitta. Baka ni wa katen. (I give up, I give up. Yo u can't win against fools.)

The translator/adaptor of the first Italian version by Miramax apparently decided to focus more on what was visible on-screen (Jiko bo laughing in the background, while nature is blossoming again all over the mountain), rather than on the actual dialogue:

PM00: A quanto pare, la natura stavolta ha avuto la meglio. (Apparently nature had the upper hand this time.)

Lucky Red's new translation, though, brings the original line and message back:

PM14: M'arrendo, m'arrendo! Non li vinci, gli stupidi! (I give up, I give up! Fools, you can't win against them.)

Through such retranslation work, Principessa Mononoke is produced to close the linguistic distance between Studio Ghibli's original release in Japan, and the Italian anime market. In doing so, however, the retranslators of the text risked over-emphasising the original language, making the film less intelligible overall.


The few examples listed in the previous section show how the new version was carefully translated, and how much effort and research Cannarsi employed to produce the closest adaptation possible--but then, the closest possible does not necessarily equal to the best in absolute terms. Antoine Berman (1985), for example, considers the practice of translating a vernacular language into another vernacular something that should be avoided, as:

[A] vernacular clings tightly to its soil and completely resists any
direct translating into another vernacular. Translation can occur only
between 'cultivated' languages. An exoticization that turns the foreign
from abroad into the foreign at home winds up merely ridiculing the

(Berman 1985: 250, original emphasis)

While the closer adherence to the 'spirit of the original film' is definitely appreciable, as well as the diversification in register and the variety in the way characters speak to each other, the existence of a real public on the other side of the screen is crucial to translators. The public at the movies cannot stop and rewind the scene if a line of dialogue is particularly rushed, complicated, or translated more in a word-for-word fashion rather than sense-for-sense. Some of the most interesting cases of problematic adaptations will be discussed in this section.

First, we might consider points at which the translation is correct, but not appropriate to context: in particular, that is the case of words such as 'otome' (young girl) and 'danna' (mister), and the translation of the appellative Shishigami. In the first case, the Japanese otome is translated as 'pulzella' (maiden, maid) by Lucky Red. Otome is commonly used to refer to a young girl, normally before the age of puberty, or to a virgin: there is an intrinsic reference to purity, or to someone whose integrity has yet to be spoiled. Semantically speaking, pulzella holds the same meaning and connotations as otome, but while otome is used in modern Japanese as part of everyday speech, pulzella is an archaic term, usually attributed to Joan D'Arc, The Maid of Orleans ('la pulzella di Orleans' in Italian). Nowadays the use of the term pulzella is strictly confined to historical settings. Likewise, danna is translated as 'messere' (milord). Danna is a respectful Japanese title to address a patron, an unknown person of higher status, while messere is an old respectful title in Italian for somebody of higher status or nobility. Taken together, the Italian terms belong to medieval language and they are socioculturally well-defined, much more so than the Japanese terms used. While it is true that the Muromachi period (1336-1573) of Mononokehime is contemporaneous with the European Medieval age, it is not philologically correct to match terms from one time to the other.

Similarly, although the use of 'Dio Bestia' by Lucky Red to replace Shishigami might look similar to the abovementioned examples, there is a crucial cultural difference. Given the Catholic tradition in which the Italian culture is deeply rooted, the employment of any expression referring to God has to be treated with extreme care, as it has the potential to give rise to problematic situations. Indeed, while the translation of the appellative is formally correct, as the Japanese 'shishi' means 'bestia' (beast) and 'kami' (voiced as 'gami') means 'Dio' (God) in Italian, placing the two terms together in this fashion creates two problematic situations for the majority Catholic Italian audience. On the one hand, there is the not insignificant issue of infringing the Second Commandment: 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord God in vain'; on the other hand, the association of the words for God and beast creates a potentially seriously offensive blasphemy (for which, e.g. TV celebrities have even been evicted from programmes in Italy). (5) Such expressions are usually condemned by a wide majority of the Italian population, especially in the south and in the north of Italy. Furthermore, for people living in regions with a less religious background (Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Marche), in which such expressions are historically rooted, the use of Dio Bestia can, conversely, become humorous--throwing people at the theatres into fits of laughter. In either case, it is easy to understand how both reactions--personal offence or laughter--are equally undesirable to the film's adaptor.

Realia, or untranslatable, culturally specific concepts, are another challenge in translation, especially when they involve two majorly different languages and cultures. Such is the case with 'Hanasaka-jiji' rendered as 'nonnetto Hanasaka' in the sentence 'Shishigami wa Hanasaka-jiji idattanda' ('Il Dio Bestia era come il nonnetto Hanasaka!' or, The God Beast was like old grandpa Hanasaka!). Spoken by Iron town warrior Gonza, the dialogue refers to a traditional Japanese tale about the old man Hanasaka who made flowers grow and cherry trees blossom by sprinkling ashes over them (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan [MOFA] n.d.). In the same way, indeed, the Deidarabocchi brings back life to the mountain after San and Ashitaka return his head to him. Unlike other Japanese folk tales, which may be known to the Italian public, this one is obscure in Italy. Therefore, saying that 'Shishigami is like the old man Hanasaka' is unlikely to add meaning for Italian viewers.

Formality and informality, physical and personal distance, and personal status are expressed in Japanese with a range of linguistic devices, from the use of specific pronouns for speakers, to the use of honorific language, and of gendered language(see Makino and Tsutsui 1989; Iwasaki 2006). These too are difficult to effectively translate into Italian. Given their history and geographical distribution it is no surprise that Italian and Japanese are two very different languages in this regard: while Italian is a Romance language, evolved from Vulgar Latin and deeply linked to those of the same family (among which Spanish, French, Portuguese and Romanian), Japanese is considered a language isolate, whose relation to other language groups is still debated. Their distance is based on a series of key elements, such as: the lexical structure, the grammar typology and a different semantic-grammatical Gestalt, reflecting the way the sociocultural environment and relations affect the way the discourse is organized (Soravia 2011: 86). (6)

In what follows, the analysis focuses on some key examples that highlight specific linguistic challenges of translation according to the differences between Italian and Japanese. For example:

MH: Suzumare! Suzumaritamae! Sazokashi na no aru yama no nushi to miuketa ga naze sono you ni araburo no ka?

PM14: Placati. Ti chiedo di placarti. Se ti ho scorto quale un certamente illustre nume delle montagne, perche ti dai alla furia in tal modo? (Please lessen your fury! I beg of you, please lessen your fury! If I have properly and rightfully recognised thee as a certainly illustrious protective deity of the mountains, why do you yield to fury in this way?)

This long sentence is pronounced by Ashitaka, while he is frantically trying to stop the enraged boar god Nago from attacking his village, and he pleads for the god's clemency even while firing arrows at him. The scene is very intense and Ashitaka speaks agitatedly in a loud voice, which has led Cannarsi to state that:

Actually that passage was very arduous. It is the same in Japanese, to
be honest [...], but, alas, the text is always less comprehensible in
Italian than in Japanese, because of the linguistic characteristics of
the two different languages.

(2014, emphasis added)

The validity of Cannarsi's claim can be contested from a linguistics perspective--no language is less comprehensible than another in objective terms, as 'all cognitive experience and its classification is conveyable in any existing language', therefore reinforcing the idea that 'there is no untranslatability between any pair of languages' (Jakobson [1959] 2004: 139-40). Also, it should be noted that the responsibility for the intelligibility of a line of dialogue lies with the translator first, and the adaptor second, not on the languages involved in the process.

Cannarsi uses the difficulty in translation to shift blame away from his own practice. However, the line in Italian is too complicated and long: it combines the use of words of higher register (placati, scorto, tal) with elements typical of written speech ('quale' in place of 'come') and a noun compound modified on the left side rather than on the right (certamente illustre nume delle montagne). Moreover, the excessive length of the line forces Ashitaka's dubbing actor to rush his words. The result is a barely intelligible line, supported only by the visual elements on-screen, which put the viewers in the uncomfortable situation of being unable to discern the meaning of the scene. The translation of such a varied language was definitely a challenge for the adaptor, who decided to employ literal translation extensively. The resulting target text, while philologically correct, tends to be marked and inappropriately connoted, thus making comprehension for the Italian audience more complicated than necessary.


Given the diversity of the two languages involved and the different standard structures, following the original structure of Japanese is almost bound to result in calques and awkwardly phrased sentences. That is the case in the rendition of personal of Japanese, as they are so different from those employed in Italian: it is particularly difficult not to make them sound artificial and forced in translation. In many cases, the pronouns in Principessa Mononoke are translated inaccurately, or in a way that does not correspond to the intentions implied in the original sentences. For example, translating 'ano hito' or 'sono hito' with 'quella persona' rather than 'he' or 'she' appears artificial in Italian, while using 'questo qua' or 'questi qua' for the Japanese 'koitsu' or 'koitsura' (they, them) can be perceived as arrogant, and the use of 'noialtri' and 'voialtri' for 'oretachi' (we, us) and 'omaetachi' (plural you) borders on regionalism.

MH: Rei wo ittoke.

PM14: Porgetegli ringraziamenti! (Give him thanks!)

MH: Ato de rei wo ittoke.

PM14: Dopo vorrei rendergli grazie. (Afterwards I would like to give thanks to him)

'Rei', in the examples above, means 'thanks', and it is used when one of the two participants is grateful for something the other has done for them. The two examples above do not feature the standard Italian verb 'ringraziare' (to thank) but the formal 'porgere ringraziamenti' and the literate 'rendere grazie': the former is usually found in formal or commercial letters, as a closing formula, while the latter is heard in parts of the Catholic mass, thus implying the sense 'thanks be to God'. The two lines are both pronounced by Eboshi: in the first case to the people of Iron town to welcome Ashitaka when he brought Koroku back, and in the second to Gonza, who goes to find Ashitaka after he saved Eboshi's life. In this way, it is implied that Ashitaka deserves a higher reverence than the other characters, which is not the case in the film's narrative.

A different case is that of grammar mistakes, which at first might appear as personal interpretations of the source text. Sometimes they could be justified by a particular situation in the source text (e.g. when a foreign character does not speak the language very well), or because of a more commonly used form (for instance, the use of indicative present instead of subjunctive in Italian). Sometimes, though, a grammar mistake in translation is just that--a mistake. For example:

MH: Watashi wa jibun de koko e kita.

PM14: Sono arrivato qui da me stesso. (I've come here by me myself.)

Here, the Japanese 'jibun' corresponds to the reflexive pronoun 'myself' in English: its use in the line above forces the adaptor to bring about the idea of reflexivity in Italian as well. The problem is that the adjective 'stesso' can be paired only to a subject pronoun (io, tu) and not to an object pronoun (me, te) as in this case. While not the most unsettling mistake, it still causes disturbance in an otherwise well-rendered dialogue.

Similarly, the following example shows two sentences in the past form:

MH: Sono mae ni kita toki ni wa koko ni mosorenari no mura ga attanoda ga naa.

PM14: L'ultima volta che ero venuto, anche qui c'era un discreto villaggio. (The last time I came, here as well there was a decent village.)

Japanese only has one form of the past, so the order of the actions is expressed through the use of prepositions and lexis. On the other hand, Italian has a strict sequence of tense that has to be respected in order for the sentence to make sense and show the correct series of actions. Any mistake in the sequence is bound to cause problems for audiences trying to understand the dialogue. In this particular case, both the dominant (anche qui c'era un discreto villaggio) and the dependent clause (l'ultima volta che ero venuto) are in the imperfect past tense, thus describing actions with undefined coordinates. However, the action described in the dependant clause is not undefined but clearly set in a specific time (the last time I came) and therefore should be expressed in a finished tense, such as the indicative present (sono). Such mistakes have the potential to disrupt viewing, so although they are minor mistakes, their impact can be disproportionately large.

Finally, as remarked upon before, the language of the Lucky Red adaptation tends to be formal or marked. It is interesting to show some of the most recurrent cases because of the way they mark the whole retranslation production. For example: 'invero' in place of 'invece' (instead), 'immane' instead of 'enorme' (enormous), 'buggerati' for 'ingannati' (tricked), 'celati' for 'nascosti' (hidden). In some cases, the words chosen are even archaic of disused. Among the more obvious examples are: 'imperitura' in place of 'immortale' (immortal), 'frammezzo' in place of 'tra/fra' (between), 'puranco' in place of 'pure' (also). Although most of the cases analysed would not hinder the comprehension of the film in isolation, the continual use of formal or marked structures and words, as well as grammar imperfections and uncommon translation choices, makes the experience of the Italian audience more challenging than necessary, and seemingly still distant from the experience of the Japanese-speaking viewers of the original Mononokehime.


As shown throughout the article, the work and research done by Gualtiero Cannarsi for Lucky Red's new adaptation of Mononokehime was remarkable. As a matter of fact, by comparison to the first Italian version in 2000, which was affected by problems connected to the procedures of indirect translation, the Lucky Red edition is more philologically accurate and attempts to maintain the same spirit and content of the Japanese film, as advocated for by potential Italian viewers online as the news of a second adaptation spread.

Nonetheless, while much more source oriented than the first Italian translation, the Lucky Red adaptation is sometimes too faithful to the original, to the point that it can sound strange and foreign even for the Italian public. In a sense Cannarsi abuses Venuti's idea of the need for a more visible translator, to the point of making his work too visible. Among the problematic translation choices highlighted, the most evident is that of his adherence to a word-for-word translation strategy. The result is a constantly marked syntax that makes it difficult for the Italian audience members to follow the dialogue properly. Also, the attitude displayed by the adaptor on the Italian fan forum dedicated to Studio Ghibli has not made the approach to the new version any easier to understand for audiences. Indeed, one of the most amusing outcomes of this repeated translation process has been growing resentment within the Italian viewership. The blog Gli sconcertanti adattamenti italiani dei film Ghibli (The disconcerting adaptations of Ghibli films), for example, is comprised of critiques wherein the blog owners screencap scenes from the various Studio Ghibli films adding the correspondent line of dialogue as caption, in the fashion of joking Internet memes.

By contrast, if it were an adapted literary text, Principessa Mononoke would likely be considered as a good final draft before the final revision, or, to paraphrase Antoine Berman, the first step towards a great translation. The combination of visual and written materials reifies the problematic adaptation practices surrounding both Princess Mononoke and Principessa Mononoke with neither able to smoothly marry Italian dialogue to the Japanese visuals. Since it is very unlikely for the film to be re-adapted and re-dubbed for a third time--because of the high demands in terms of costs and work involved--Principessa Mononoke is to be considered the final Italian version of Mononokehime. For the reasons highlighted in this article, such a circumstance cannot help but leave the Italian viewership slightly disappointed, if not feeling betrayed, at the missed opportunity to fully experience a Japanese animation masterpiece filtered and refined for the experience of Italy's film-going public.


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University of Bologna


Pizzuto, D. (2018), 'Can faithfulness to the original text betray the target public? The adaptations of Mononokehime (Princess Mononoke) in Italy', East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, 4:1, pp. 61-76, doi: 10.1386/eapc.4.1.61_1

(1.) All translations of Italian materials are my own, unless otherwise stated. I use Mononokehime to refer to the Japanese version of Hayao Miyazaki's text, with Princess Mononoke used to describe the first translation released in Italy, rather than to the US-English version

(2.) These included, for example, the first (and only) TV screening of the film Kaze no Tani no Naushika (Nausiaa of the Valley of the Wind) (Miyazaki, 1983) in four parts in 1987 on RAI 1 (, accessed 22 July 2016).

(3.) The term'retranslation' usually denotes the act of translation of a text that has previously been translated into the same language, or the retranslated text itself. Sometimes it is also used to refer to a text that is translated through avehicular language, what is otherwise called an 'indirect', 'intermediate' or'relay' translation (Tahir Gurcaglar 2011: 233).

(4.) MH stands here for the Japanese version, Mononokehime, PM00 for the Buena Vista nternational release based on the US Princess Mononoke, and PM14for Lucky Red's retranslation.

(5.) The most recent case is that of the employee responsible for the open captions during the live New Year's Show on national TV who let a message with blasphemous language pass and was consequently fired a few days later (, last accessed 22 July 2016).

(6.) Japanese is mainly a SOV language, as every sentence starts with the topic noun or noun phrase and ends in a verb, an adjective or a form of the copula (Makinoand Tsutsu 1989:16), while Italian is mainlya SVO language, where the object tends to be placed in the final position (Berruto2006: 129). Moreover, the word order principle in Japanese is the modifier precedes what is modified, as the function of the modifier is to specify the meaning of the modified word (Makinoand Tsutsu 1989:16), making it a language that'builds the sentence on the left' (pre-determinant), while Italian 'builds the sentence on the right' (post-determinant), as the modifier follows what is modified (Berruto 2006:131).

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A535943827