Dr. Oh No! The name is Bomb. James Bomb.

Back to Contents of Issue: January 2003

Suffering scribe Mark Schreiber frees the world's favorite secret agent from the horrible clutches of translation software.

by Mark Schreiber

IT BEGAN, AS MY jobs often do, with a telephone call. My British friend Gavin, a translator, had been approached by a publisher searching for an editor. The publisher was about to release a coffee-table book in Japanese for James Bond film buffs and was obliged by the terms of copyright usage to submit the text in English to obtain the rights.

The printed book would number over 120 illustrated pages, and when translated into English, it would exceed 20,000 words. To speed things up, and perhaps to cut a few corners, the publisher had fed the Japanese text into a computer.

"The translation is, uh, readable," Gavin explained, "but it still needs a little brushing up, and I don't want to do it. Are you interested in taking on the job?"

Sure, I responded. I'd seen most of the old Bond movies anyway, so I knew the stories. I'd just type in a few corrections, fix a few misspellings and smooth out the kinks. Sounds like a breeze. Right?

Wrong. As it turned out, I learned the hard way that when entrusted with rendering Japanese into English, computers are capable of turning out remarkably convoluted vocabulary and disjointed syntax. In cases where I had actually seen the film and recalled the plot, I could usually figure out what the text meant. But it was by no means a sure thing.

To permit me to edit at the keyboard, I requested that the translated files and original Japanese be sent to me by email. The publisher dashed them off. I backed them up on a floppy, clicked on the first icon and found myself looking at, "Maximum and highest hero in this century, his name is James Bond!"

Okay, I told myself, this is awkward, almost comical, but still comprehensible. I rewrote it and moved on. Soon I was looking at sentences like, "The fight is shown in this huge badness and the scene of exciting activity of Bond which challenges and the crisis visited one after another shows the interest of the excitement action enough."

Hmmmm. This took a little bit more effort.

Bond, I was then informed, "...is a man who belongs to the British secret information part, and has Homicide permit' of 00 No." This one stopped me in my tracks. Okay, "Homicide permit" obviously meant his double-O license to kill. But what the hell is a secret information part? Did "part," perhaps, refer to data about Bond's private parts, which are frequently used to service the films' leading ladies?
Throwing up my hands in defeat, I reached for the Japanese original and saw that "secret information part" was a direct translation of himitsu joho-bu. Bu, in Japanese, can be rendered "part." It also means "department" in an organization. By this, it became evident that it meant the British Secret Service.

The text continued. "About 1963 year when hero's James Bond appeared to the screen was an age of the cold war of the United States and the Soviet Union which became tense. Moreover, in 1963 it is year when President Kennedy to like to read 007 was assassinated. On a chaotic all over the world inside, even the hero who showed up dashingly was dispelled Bond as for the gloom in the world. An uneasy political situation it."

The above passage can't quite be described as English, but it's still not all that bad. So I input my corrections and plunged ahead with the next section of the puzzle.

"Bond is preeminent in the language study power (1), and is well versed in versatile sports and mechanism (2) and popular among a beautiful woman. He is the hero who has all power for which a man all over the world wishes. That is James Bond. Action of Bond which gets over crisis by intellect and action power, sexy Bond girls, secret arms (3), and monster enemy (4). There are a lot of fans enchanted to them. Bond movie of 35 years kept being manufactured."

I was able to figure out the four numbered expressions above by mentally translating them back into Japanese. They are, respectively, intended to convey:
1. linguistic aptitude
2. mechanically inclined
3. esoteric weapons
4. insidious villains
Next came some useful biographical information about James. According to his profile, he was 183 centimeters tall and figures/76K in weight; Small-boned physique; It is black hair and eyes are blues; It is in a right cheek and a left shoulder and there is a mark of the plastic operation on the shell* of the scar and the right hand.
(* shell in Japanese also refers to the back of the human hand)

Mr. Bond's curriculum vitae also included the following:
* "The second inside Bond great war was taken an active part as the British navy special duty commander."
* "Bond becomes a member in British information part (MI6) because of the recommendation of ÔM' who is the superior during the war."
* "Love wandering/There are quite a lot of numbers of women who attached Bond after the virgin is lost in Paris at the age of 16 each other."
* "Drinks/Martini is done in shake without mixing it and the drunk custom has never been broken even once except You Only Live Twice of the movie. Champagne, the brandy, and the Scotch whisky are drunk liking it.
* "Own car/Mark II Continental etc. of the Ben tray* in the novel. Recently, he gets on Aston Martin DB5 of the information part disposal in the movie. (* Ben tray = Bentley)

When he's not whacking villains, James also flirts with the boss's secretary, Miss Moneypenny, who is, we are told, "...director addition secretary with thick trust of M. She seems to be good at combustion of the cherub cake. The romance with Bond is dreamt as long as there is free."

I was considering whether "combustion of cherub cake" was another sort of secret weapon, until I checked the Japanese original and saw that the computer had picked "combustion" instead of "baking." What was most bizarre is that the computer took what was almost the same Japanese word, "enjeru keeki" (angel cake), and transformed it into "cherub cake."

The real fun, though, began when the text shifted to the details of 007's dashing cinema exploits.

I was confronted by this synopsis of Goldfinger:
"All of the property are changed into the gold ingot and British people Auric Goldfinger who save it are reigning as a wire-puller of an international contraband organization.
"Then he executes Operation Grand Slam which spends 15 years. It was a plan of making to being not able to pour the radioactivity on the Fort Knox gold ingot keeping place in the United States, and use for 58 years, and raising the value of his own wealth.
"Bodyguard's Korean people to whom Goldfinger is faithful and the lethal weapon of Oddjob are top hats with the guard made of steel.
"The lethal weapon of Oddjob, a Korean bodyguard to whom Goldfinger is faithful is a top hat with the guard made of steel. He is skilled at throwing it like a Frisbee and kill his target with it.
"Bond greatly fights hard against the confrontation with Oddjob good at Karate with tough. Finally, Bond causes Oddjob to die from electric shock.
"By the way, the fashion of Oddjob of & hat of the black morning not suited is full dress of the Britain type put on at the funeral and the funeral to the Orient people. The style is his black humor which means no good luck Use of the death.'"

Here's what the computer said about You Only Live Twice:
"Spaceships of the United States and the Soviet Union disappear from orbit, resulting in an international crisis.
"The rocket of the mystery is detected being launched from the vicinity of Japan by the British information part. Bond ascertains it goes to Japan, the cooperation of Tiger Tanaka of Japanese secret service and secretary's Aki is received, and Osato Chemica Engineering is related to this event.
"Bond found there was a secret base in the crater of the volcano of Akishima, and sneaked inside.
"Having appeared there was Blofeld of SPECTRE at the old enemy. Drunken every day continues to Bond in the novel (work in 1964) after losing Tracy in novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service (work in 1963)."

And finally, from The Spy Who Loved Me:
"Jaws is a large monster who exceeds it to two meters in stature employed to Stromberg. Even he is a suitable man for calling the man lethal weapon.
"It is an owner of the unicellular intelligence which keeps being obstinately chased to achieve killing.
"He bites power and the chain as the car is dismantled by bare-handed and is driving in Bond to the predicament many times with teeth made of steel cut. His only weak point is interesting and teeth made of steel weak to the magnet and the current are interesting. However, do not seem man by his marvelous invulnerability."
These examples are actually the ones that made sense -- well, sort of. Others (see sidebar) could only be deciphered by referring to the original Japanese text. Actually I found myself looking at the Japanese more and more, and eventually realized that I could translate the text from scratch in less time than it took me to grapple with disjointed English.
Translation glitches in a book for James Bond movie fans aren't likely to have serious consequences. But I tremble at the prospect of somebody having enough misplaced confidence in machine translation that he might, say, entrust a computer with an operator's manual for a nuclear reactor.
Why, that's an idea that might even fit the plot of OO7's next action flick. @

Mark Schreiber writes Blowfish every month for J@pan Inc.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.