Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

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setzer777
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Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby setzer777 » Thu Sep 18, 2014 2:20 pm UTC

Is it possible for someone unfamiliar with a language to judge the acting ability of those speaking that language with any degree of accuracy? I feel like several things could throw off such an assessment: not knowing exactly which words are being inflected a certain way, not knowing the cultural connotations of various idioms and statements (and therefore how a delivery colors the phrase), and usually having a terrible dub to compare it against.

I'm also curious - are facial expressions and intonations universally linked with specific emotions, or does that vary by culture?
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Sep 18, 2014 2:22 pm UTC

Perhaps not related, but my favorite is completely missing context and not understanding why someone is laughing at a completely innocuous comment. I guess volunteering to do the laundry was a grave offense?
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby Zarq » Thu Sep 18, 2014 3:34 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Perhaps not related, but my favorite is completely missing context and not understanding why someone is laughing at a completely innocuous comment. I guess volunteering to do the laundry was a grave offense?


I prefer that to the translators changing the content so it fits into a western context.
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby KnightExemplar » Thu Sep 18, 2014 4:24 pm UTC

I watch a lot of anime, and I have never studied a lick of Japanese.

Zarq wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:Perhaps not related, but my favorite is completely missing context and not understanding why someone is laughing at a completely innocuous comment. I guess volunteering to do the laundry was a grave offense?


I prefer that to the translators changing the content so it fits into a western context.


I don't know about that. There are some famous examples, like "Osaka" from Azumanga gets translated to have a southern drawl... because her Osaka accent is apparently strong in Japanese. (I spent a good amount of time going over the translator notes. I can't differentiate between the accents of Japanese outside of cartoony over-acting).

I probably wouldn't have gotten the joke if I watched it in Japanese, but the English dub makes it obvious that she's from another area of the country. The "southern drawl" added a lot to the concept of her character.

There are some tipoffs: while I'm bad at differentiating accents, I've noticed that I can pick up Japanese alliteration and puns despite not understanding the language at all. Case in point: Bakemonogatari. The first arc is a giant pun on "Kani Kami" (Crab God). I was able to pick up on the alliteration and look up the phrase even without Japanese training because the pun and alliteration was relatively obvious.

On the other hand, it does take intense amounts of focus, so I haven't actually finished Bakemonogatari yet.
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby Gopher of Pern » Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:20 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:I'm also curious - are facial expressions and intonations universally linked with specific emotions, or does that vary by culture?


I don't know about intonations, but facial expressions are universal, at least several of them. Off the top of my head, anger, happy, sad, disgust, fear, plus two others (there are 7 universal expressions) are recognised by everyone, regardless of culture.
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby shieldforyoureyes » Sat Sep 20, 2014 6:52 am UTC

I think it's possible to judge acting in subtitled films, but not if they're dubbed.

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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby KnightExemplar » Sat Sep 20, 2014 2:03 pm UTC

While most facial expressions are universal, there are many that are symbolic.

http://www.tofugu.com/guides/japanese-body-language/
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby Derek » Sat Sep 20, 2014 6:17 pm UTC

Watching subbed anime I've found that emotions carry over pretty well, even when you don't know the language. So in that respect, yes.

KnightExemplar wrote:On the other hand, it does take intense amounts of focus, so I haven't actually finished Bakemonogatari yet.

You really should, it's an excellent series (except for the Nisemonogatari arcs, which are creepy).

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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby KnightExemplar » Sun Sep 21, 2014 4:30 am UTC

Derek wrote:(except for the Nisemonogatari arcs, which are creepy).


I'm aware of the meme. Brush your teeth (NSFW).

But yeah, the main thing is that a good amount of Bakemonogatari is talking. Puns, alliteration, references, etc. etc. I probably would be more inclined to watch it if there were a guide or something. Again, Azumanga's official DVDs had little translation notes to help walk you through cultural references and translations.

I know most people are happy to just watch shows without studying that sort of thing, but for some reason it bothers me severely when there are jokes that I don't get. It makes me seek out the answers until I get it...
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby SecondTalon » Mon Sep 22, 2014 3:22 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:While most facial expressions are universal, there are many that are symbolic.

http://www.tofugu.com/guides/japanese-body-language/


Not even that, but different societies find different things acceptable and unacceptable. There's some universals in there, but ... I dunno, a show about how a girl is trying to get involved with a particular guy, the guy is currently unaware of her existence, and there's a scene where the girl walks up to the guy and straight up asks him out to the movies on a date is going to play out completely differently in High Society Egypt than it would in Working Class Brazil. Reactions from bystanders, reactions from the guy, how the girl is going to feel doing this thing, before we get in to whether or not the film is parody or trying to be subversive or anything like that, the baseline expected reactions from people are different as the society is different.

And if you're not from or familiar with the society and what would be the most likely real-world scenario, the reactions and buildup might be alien to the point of being comical, or alien to the point of completely not understanding why anyone is reacting they way they are. And as such, you may very well take the bizarre emotional reactions to be a sign of shitty acting or directing when... it's not.

So, yeah, while I could agree that judging acting ability of someone when you don't understand the language but do understand the culture is possible. Doing it completely ignorant of culture is not going to be possible in anything but the most basic stories.
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby Znirk » Mon Sep 22, 2014 3:29 pm UTC

This has developed into "Translation problems and viewer reactions to Japanese animation", but to get back to that first post:

setzer777 wrote:Is it possible for someone unfamiliar with a language to judge the acting ability of those speaking that language with any degree of accuracy?


Not a bad question at all. To get the obviosities out of the way: based on my positively huge experience of directing a couple of amateur plays, no, I would not rely only on the assessment of someone who has seen an actor I'm considering, if the reference didn't know the language we're interested in. (And yes, I have cast an actor based on an audition given to someone standing in for me.) It's certainly possible to get a pretty good idea of someone's acting skill, but someone sharing the actor's language (and, yes, culture) will gain a more accurate idea more easily.

To me as a consumer of acting, the voice is a very important part of any performance. In live action I certainly want to hear the actor I'm watching, even if I don't understand the language. Not because dubbing performers tend to be worse in any way, but because I prefer the performance of one person to a performance patched together from one person's body and face work and another person's voice. (Yes, I do know about ADR, and no, it doesn't bother me anything near as much.)

There's a bit of an extra problem here with dubbing in that I'm a native speaker of German, and I live in the corresponding area of the planet. Dubbing into German has a somewhat unfortunate tradition of emphasising clarity over environmentally realistic sound design. It's a pretty large market, and money is being spent on those dubs, so you generally get competent voice actors performing a well-made translation; but it's unabashedly a studio sound which sounds obviously out of place in many contexts. Remember the last act of Hot Fuzz where the film goes through a list of action movie clichés, and Simon Pegg suddenly starts delivering ridiculously bass-resonant one-liners? A little like that, except it's played completely straight (though also less exagerrated) in German dubs.

So, summary-wise, when you don't know the language of the performance it probably makes it a bit harder to form an accurate idea of someone's acting skills - but I'd say it's still one hell of a lot easier than trying to judge someone's acting based on only the pyhsical aspects, while being distracted by the sound of a completely different person's voice acting.

Animation is, of course, a completely different beast: dub or no dub, you're not seeing the person doing the voice. To contribute to the thread's recent development: A lot of animation is at least some level of cartoonish in style (simplifying the basic shapes, reducing the number of features but exagerrating the ones which are there), which makes overacting (exagerrated body and facial expressions) much more acceptable. I don't mean that all animation gets away with eyes popping out of heads to the accompaniment of trumpet farts, but that a level of expression that seems perfectly all right or even subtle on an animated character might seem way over the top on an actor made from meat. Perhaps, very broadly speaking, animation is less dependent on voice than other techniques are where transporting emotion is concerned?

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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby shieldforyoureyes » Mon Sep 22, 2014 7:54 pm UTC

A great actor is obvious, even in another language. I suspect medium-to-good actors are a lot harder to judge without understanding their speach.

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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby Derek » Tue Sep 23, 2014 12:58 am UTC

Znirk wrote:Perhaps, very broadly speaking, animation is less dependent on voice than other techniques are where transporting emotion is concerned?

I suspect the opposite is true, but I may be biased because I watch far more animation than live-action. In animation you have to rely on the animator to convey body language, and even with tricks like downplaying unimportant details and exaggerating the important ones, I don't think animation can convey body language as well as live action. Therefore it is up to the voice actor to carry that extra emotional weight. And indeed, the voice acting might be somewhat exaggerated to make up for the lack of body language, but that still makes the voice acting very important.

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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby KnightExemplar » Tue Sep 23, 2014 1:13 am UTC

It is clear that not everyone in this topic is an anime fan, so I'll try to be a bit more generic than talking about that corner of "Foreign Language Films" that I enjoy.

SecondTalon wrote:So, yeah, while I could agree that judging acting ability of someone when you don't understand the language but do understand the culture is possible. Doing it completely ignorant of culture is not going to be possible in anything but the most basic stories.


I agree that culture is very important to understanding the majority of films... but it seems like a number of films are truly universal. For example, the Iranian film "Children of Heaven" (Bacheha-ye Aseman) is a story about siblings and responsibility, and probably rings true no matter what culture the audience is from.

Now, while I managed to pick up on anime expressions (many of which relate to Japanese body language), watching an Iranian film is especially difficult because I don't even know the name of the language they're talking in... let alone the ability to discern syllables or anything. Nonetheless, I think I was able to pick up on the majority of the emotions from the actors, despite being from an extremely different culture than them... and being hugely ignorant of Iranian culture.

IIRC, the film was a relative hit internationally especially considering its meager budget. On the other hand, perhaps it was easy to pick up the emotions because it was a very simple story.

Derek wrote:
Znirk wrote:Perhaps, very broadly speaking, animation is less dependent on voice than other techniques are where transporting emotion is concerned?

I suspect the opposite is true, but I may be biased because I watch far more animation than live-action. In animation you have to rely on the animator to convey body language, and even with tricks like downplaying unimportant details and exaggerating the important ones, I don't think animation can convey body language as well as live action. Therefore it is up to the voice actor to carry that extra emotional weight. And indeed, the voice acting might be somewhat exaggerated to make up for the lack of body language, but that still makes the voice acting very important.


Some of it may be "acting culture" as well. A lot of the over-acting cartoon body language does in fact happen in live-action Korean dramas. (Yes, I know Korea is a different country). I haven't seen much Japanese comedy, but there seems to be facial over-acting as well. It could be just how they do TV shows / acting over there. A friend of mine did mention that there are different districts in Japan, and one is well known for their different humor. I generally assume that over-acting facial expressions such as "Impossibru" reside from that district.

Perhaps anime in particular is easier for a lot of people to pick up because of the overacting... which helps get around the language barrier.
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Re: Judging Acting in Foreign Language Films

Postby shieldforyoureyes » Sat Oct 04, 2014 6:27 pm UTC

Another difficulty in judging foreign films that I've noticed is that cultural references you don't get are very easy to mistake for absurdism.

I think the Russian sci-fi film Kin-Dza-Dza is a good example of this, but.... who knows?


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