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!
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.