Kiefer Sutherland’s “Kept You Waiting, Huh?”

A few months back Konami released a video of Metal Gear Solid V’s opening cinematic for all to see. Fans everywhere seemed upset that David Hayter was replaced by Kiefer Sutherland as Snake’s voice actor, but something that stood out for me were scores of posts on NeoGAF and Something Awful about a certain line in the opening – at the climax of the video, Snake dramatically looks up and says, “Kept you waiting, huh?”

Here’s a look at the line in action:

There were complaints upon complaints about how Kiefer delivered this line so poorly and awkwardly… and I felt the same way. Except, coming from a translation background, it really, REALLY felt like the literal translation played a part in it too. Even without having played the Japanese versions of the game, I could “feel” what the original Japanese line was: 待たせたな (“mataseta na”).

So, just now, after writing the above sentence, I typed that phrase into Google and yep – the first hit was exactly that!

What actually reminded me of all this was this picture I saw on Twitter today, though:

So even though I haven’t been keeping up with news about the game(s), I’m assuming they’re going to push this catchphrase hard for the upcoming releases.

The thing is, 待たせたな actually sounds pretty cool and normal in Japanese – this and other variants are almost a sort of standard greeting in Japanese culture, sometimes said out of custom. When translated literally into English it’s something like, “I made you wait, didn’t I?” or “Sorry to make you wait.” There are actually many customary phrases like this in Japanese where the words CAN be translated into English words just fine, but in actuality we probably wouldn’t have said them at all in English in the first place. So although a phrase like, “Sorry to make you wait” isn’t odd in any way in English by itself, we wouldn’t necessarily say it every time someone in Japan would say it, and vice-versa.

And I think that’s where part of the disconnect here happens (for me, at least) – basically, it’s easy to say, “Oh, Keifer Sutherland’s acting is the problem,” and leave it at that… but WHY was the line so problematic? I think it’s partly because it was an unlocalized translation that felt unnatural to him or the director. So, try as he might, he just couldn’t make it sound natural. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe this is also why David Hayter WAS able to deliver the line more naturally – he was already experienced with issues like these.

As a translator, though, I sympathize – this is one of those phrases that sometimes feels “forced” or “out of place” when translated into English, but it sounds like the powers that be insist on having the English catchphrase mirror the Japanese phrase. Which makes sense, even if the result feels a bit wonky. Usually the modern Kojima games are localized with great care to flow in a fun, natural, and engaging way that doesn’t rigidly stick to the original text, so the fact that this phrase is kept as-is is intriguing. I dunno, maybe it’s a legacy/consistency thing after so many games.

Anyway, this is of course all subjective and a matter of opinion! But I just thought I’d share this example of a short, literal translation’s part in a small uproar from gamers worldwide!

EDIT: Ack, just to beat everyone to it, yes I know this has been in other games and said by Hayter and others before in different ways 😛 I’ve added some further clarification here and here too.

I think I might be giving the wrong impression, so just to be clear, it’s obviously the delivery of Kiefer’s line that’s off… but WHY is it off? He’s clearly an experienced actor and I’m sure they took many, many takes of this line. So what was it about this line that gave him so much difficulty? Why was this particular line so hard for him to “get”? THAT’S what I’m trying to explain here – a partial reason for the odd delivery.

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  1. Uh, pretty sure that’s LONG been a catch phrase in the series. It even appears in Brawl and one is of the very few spoken lines in its story (I think it’s the only non-attack one too). No one really has a problem with the phrase itself, it’s just the terrible delivery by the new VA

    1. Yeah, it’s been in the series before – I had to add an edit at the end there 😛

      For me, at least, the problem isn’t so much the switch from Hayter – it’s the delivery of the line. I feel the biggest reason it comes off awkward (for me! not necessarily for everyone else!) is because Kiefer couldn’t “get” the line, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. It feels like this one was Take 18 or something – basically, I’m trying to say that it’s not necessarily 100% his fault, it’s a weird phrase to begin with and maybe it goes to show how good of a fit Hayter was originally, at least with handling Japanese-y situations like this. Which makes sense, given his background.

      Since the rest of the translated script flows more naturally with rewrites and actual localization and all that, it doesn’t stand out as much to me, aside from the fact it isn’t Hayter and that he doesn’t sound like Snake and that he sounds kind of bored and oh man

  2. It all comes back to how hard it is to translate speech patterns that sound cool in one language into another. In Japanese, you can talk all Olde-Tymey and sound like a consummate badass. In English, you just sound wind up sounding like a guy who owns a cloak and a license plate that says “RENFAIR.”

    1. Exactly, you put it in quicker/easier terms than I did 😛 Between this and I think one other post I’ve come to realize it’s hard to explain to people how the same line can sometimes feel so different in translation. I gotta think of a good way to explain it sometime.

  3. To me it’s just that no one else is Snake except Hayter. I can imagine him clearly saying that line and it sounds beautiful, but even if that was the best Kiefer could do it just doesn’t sound right as the voice of an incredibly well established character.

  4. I don’t know anything about the Metal Gear franchise, but I don’t think “Kept you waiting, huh?” reads as awkward at all. That sounds like perfectly natural English to me. So after reading the article I went back and watched the video. And I have to say, it’s ALL in the delivery. I don’t know what Sutherland or his voice director was on, but there is nothing natural about that delivery. The inflection is wrong, the emphasis is wrong. Everything about it just reminds me of Tommy Wiseau’s “I did naaaaat!” from The Room!

    1. Totally, that’s what I’m trying to dig into here – WHY is the delivery so odd? I mean, he’s obviously an experienced actor and I’m sure they did LOTS of takes of this line, so there’s gotta be more to it than just that, you know? That’s what I tried to explain in this article but didn’t do a very good job of 😛

  5. If someone has been kept waiting, “Sorry to have kept you waiting!” is a very common English greeting, I think.

    For a bad-a type guy, “Kept you waiting, didn’t I (kid)?” is how I would phrase it. I haven’t seen the trailer, so I don’t know how it was spoken. I’ll assume it was spoken in Japanese speed, which is often the source of voice acting problems.

    1. Definitely, it’s not that “Sorry to keep you waiting” isn’t something we say in English (it is, obviously), it’s just that this particular greeting/saying happens more often in Japanese culture out of custom, including situations we probably wouldn’t say anything at all in English.

      There are lots of phrases like this, so whenever one is handled in translation there’s often something just under the surface that doesn’t quite feel “normal” if you’re paying attention but otherwise still translates into normal English. And I believe this was part of the reason for the weird delivery of the line everyone is unhappy about.

      1. I see what you’re saying. I’ve watched the video now, and I think it’s the way that Snake breaks the fourth wall here in the middle of gameplay, in addition to the awkward delivery. It sort of sounds like, “Kepp ye wating haaaa”.

    1. Milo: I thought so too at first, and decided to look for the same clip in Japanese… and found out that all the spoken dialogue is in English, it’s only the subtitles that are different. However, the script was probably written in Japanese first and then translated/localized, and so some of the lines might have ended up being slightly ‘off’ from the natural English that Kiefer Sutherland is used to.

      I’m too lazy to look it up, but does anybody know if there’s any good reason why Konami switched voice actors for the main character of their (arguably) biggest franchise?

      1. I recall Kojima mentioning something about facial motion capture being involved with the choice to switch, but I don’t remember why. I think the fact Kiefer Sutherland and 24 were big hits in Japan might’ve played a part too.

        1. From IMDb:

          “Hideo Kojima choose replaced David Hayter as the english voice of Snake because he felt that he needed an actor who could genuinely convey both the facial and vocal qualities of a man in his late 40s. Film producer Avi Arad suggested to Kojima that Kiefer Sutherland could fulfill the role.” (sic)

          I suppose that sort of explains why Akio Ôtsuka is still the Japanese voice.

          1. But: what? David Hayter is 45. Kiefer Sutherland is 47.

            I mean, not that I doubt Hideo Kojima — who is crazy — would do something like that. I’m just saying it makes no sense at all.

  6. Even though the line is kind of awkward in general, I do think the delivery plays a big role in this case. David Hayter’s delivery of the same quote had more flow to it, and just “felt” more natural. But maybe Kiefer Sutherland is still in the process of getting into character, who knows.

  7. But is that line like Engrish or something? I ask that because it sounds normal to me, but I’m not a native english speaker so I may be wrong.

    1. It sounds pretty normal to me too and I’m a native English speaker. Asking “huh?” at the end is basically an inquiring tone. Nothing seems Engrishy about the line to me at all.

  8. Speaking as someone with extensive experience acting in all media, cases like this are generally the fault of the director and not the actor. My take on this is that Sutherland was basically given this one line to record completely in a vacuum — no context, no idea of the character, nothing. You can do as many takes as you want; actors provided with insufficient direction will often sound stilted and unconvincing, since it’s hard to give a convincing performance when you don’t understand what you’re doing.

    I was doing voice work for a machinima (never finished) several years back, and I encountered the most extreme version of this situation I’d ever seen. The director sent me a list of lines to record, and that was it; not only did I not get any proper direction or any exposure to the other performances so I’d know what to cue off of, I didn’t even get a full script! Just a set of isolated lines and a deadline. Needless to say, that was not my best work.

    1. Agreed, and on a similar note of my own, as I work peripherally to the voiceover industry – sometimes if a line is giving a VA trouble the director might let the actor try to say a line in a way that feels more natural to them (especially with lines translated literally from Japanese, which often don’t sound all that natural). That probably wouldn’t have been an option here since it’s a catchphrase.

  9. I don’t think Kiefer delivered that line poorly. Actually, I think it’s one of those lines that, coming out of Hayter’s mouth, I would’ve thought, “ugh, typical hammy MGS line”. I think Sutherland sound pretty natural.

  10. Huh… So is that the source of the “Sorry to keep you waiting!” from the start of Kid Icarus Uprising, too? I’d assumed it was a jab at how long it’d been since the first game, but if it’s a more normal greeting in Japanese…


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