I’m not sure how it ended up in my Netflix queue, but the 2006 Japanese horror film In the Site turned out to be an amazing exercise in disassociative deconstructionist semiotics (probably unintentionally so, but who really knows?). This Koji Kawano feature doesn’t register on IMDB, so I’m flying blind here.
In a hospital, an annoyingly perky girl patient is about to be released but not before receiving one more shot of something from a really young-looking doctor. We also see several other patients/visitors at the hospital, mostly scantily clad young women.
At home, the girl clicks on a weird website that keeps flashing the word “come” on the screen. She blacks out. When she awakes, she is trapped inside a room along with some other young women who also clicked on the weird website’s url. They are trapped “in the [web]site,” which looks surprisingly like a bad Chinese restaurant with no customers. Look closely, and you’ll recognize the other women from the hospital.
In this bizarre room (which features a number of Jesus on the Cross statues—go figure), the girls must battle a faceless leather-clad figure with knife-blade claws that is attracted to the sound of their cell phones. Meanwhile, the first girl’s boyfriend, back in the “real world,” keeps trying to call her, thus summing the demon or whatever the heck it is. Meanwhile, meanwhile, a spooky young kid haunts various corners of the “site.” The answer to all these riddles lies back at the hospital and that suspicious doctor.
So far, so much like a lot of Japanese horror movies, but what sets In the Site apart (aside from the cheesy cinematography and the high-school-acting-class acting), at least on the DVD, is that you get both dubbed voices speaking accented English AND English subtitles. And the two never quite match. When a dubbed character says something like “We must leave,” the subtitle reads, “It’s time to go.” When the dubbed character asks, “Are you OK?” the subtitle reads, “You must be hurt.” Dubbed: “The computer is frozen”; subtitle: “It is broken.” And on and on.
Generally, the idioms in both dubbing and subtitles are acceptable English, but not always: “I am not giving of the birth” says one girl denying being the mother of the spooky kid. It’s just so damn disconcerting that every single line of dubbed dialogue varies by several words from its simultaneous subtitle. (And the dubbing doesn’t even come close to corresponding with the lip movements of the characters, so it’s never quite clear who’s talking.) The slight disconnect makes you doubt every subtitled movie you’ve ever seen. It’s like one of those Jasper Johns’ paintings in which the name of a color is represented with a paint of a different color (the word “yellow” done in blue paint for instance).
The strangest language gap comes when the characters talk about the guy in the leather fetish outfit. Subtitled, he is a “cockroach,” but dubbed, he is “giant scary bug man.” As a matter of fact, the film’s big revelation is the statement, “I think big scary bug man is my boyfriend.” How many women have wanted to say that out loud? I’m just guessing, but maybe “big scary bug man” is the first onscreen embodiment of a computer bug.