Interview with the Centipede

A couple of years ago Hyōronsha published a new set of Roald DAHL translations. Their goal, clearly, was to issue the definitive statement on Dahl in Japanese: all of the Quentin Blake illustrations are in there, and most of the translations are by the superhuman YANASE "the (best, and only complete) Japanese translation of Finnegans Wake" Naoki.

I finally got around to reading his translation of James and the Giant Peach, which is probably my favorite Roald Dahl book. I love every part of it -- the magnificently nonchalant elimination of James' parents on the very first page; the intra-Peach character work; the eerie cloud sequence; and of course the decisive return to reality at the very end. Yanase's version is entitled Obake-momo ga yuku* and it did not disappoint.

Won't go into the details, but I particularly enjoyed the "imaginary interview" with the Centipede at the end. (Square brackets denote my insertions or edits.)

Centipede: [...] Anyway, here we are together, the actor (yakusha, 役者) and the translator (yakusha, 訳者) [...] What was it you wanted to ask me?

Translator: Er, first off, I understand that your surname in English is "Centipede" (センチピード). "Centi-" means "hundred", and "-pede" means "feet", so instead of writing ムカデ in katakana or むかで in hiragana [as would be usual in modern Japan], I wrote it in kanji: 百足 [standard, but not common nowadays due to growing prejudice against multi-character ateji based entirely on meaning rather than sound]. How does that strike you?

Centipede: The English pronunciation is actually more like "centapede" (センタピード), but I suppose that doesn't matter...

There's also a brief discussion of the approach Yanase took to the poetry in the book, plus an all-new limerickoid the Centipede recites to taunt Yanase's pride in his work. (Note the two-mora rhyming, which is about the minimum required to ensure that readers notice rhyme in Japanese.)

Oira no myōji wa zu-utto Yanase
Gogen wa "yanagi no yutaka na se"
Sore mo shinayaka nekoyanagi
Da kara yakugo ga tokujō unagi
Oira no yakugo wa itsumo inase!

Which, if you were to get into the spirit of the thing and not pay too close attention to the requirements of the limerick form or indeed to the rules of rhyme, because it's getting late and you want to get back to La Rochefoucauld&emdash;just hypothetically speaking, you understand&emdash;you might render into English as:

My surname is Yanase, if you please:
It means "a shore crowded with willow trees".
I'm lithe like a catkin,
You're sure to be rapt in
My iki translations to Japanese.

Or you might not. That's what comments are for.

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At the risk of straying too far beyond the bounds of the genre, you could always borrow from hip-hop's rich lexicon and describe his translations to Japanese as "eelin'". Scans, too.



That is nice. The accent adds that late 90s Ricky-Martin, Latin-but-not-threateningly-so twist, too.

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