On Easter Sunday, I walked out of the ICA cinema feeling desperately stupid. I’d booked a ticket to see The Tale of Princess Kaguya, but the guy at the desk didn’t warn me it was dubbed, not subtitled. On the one hand: why should he? The information was available on the website, I should have checked. But I thought the ICA was an art house cinema, so I automatically assumed they’d show the proper version.
I’m not a total anti-dubbing fascist. If you use proper voice actors it can be a great skill to get it right, coupled with a sensitive translation. And I grew up watching dubbed spaghetti westerns, Jackie Chan action flicks and late night animes. I could handle it, or so I thought.
Wrong. This was excruciating. They’d hired in Hollywood actors to do the voices, which I can understand if you’re looking to put famous names on the poster and attract a new audience. But voice acting is a subtle and different skill to acting on screen. I’m sure James Caan and Lucy Lui are great, but they were terrible here: at turns booming, screeching and whining, distracting from the gorgeous, almost impressionistic animation on show.
So I walked out after twenty minutes. the staff were sympathetic and understanding. Without giving me my money back, obviously.
On Monday night I got to see the film as nature intended, at the Prince Charles cinema. Writing this two days later, I’m still haunted by the loving depiction of the mountain forest home of the young princess, a dreamlike scene where she rushes from the capital by moonlight, and the beautiful end sequence, which left me sobbing in the dark.