Question: Is it possible to write a review of a film you saw in a language you don’t speak?
What if it was a film so simply and obviously plotted that you felt sure you could guess 95% of what was going on without understanding the dialogue?
The film that occasions these confounding queries for me is the 2006 Japanese zombie movie Zonbi Jieitai (Zombie Defense Force). (Here’s the trailer for it.) I watched this film the other day on a DVD that contained no subtitles or English translation. (And I speak no Japanese.) Despite this, I feel the plot was largely comprehensible to me. Below is a summary of my impressions of the film. I’ll let you decide if it should count as a “review” or not.
Zonbi Jieitai tells the rather tedious story of a U.F.O. that crash-lands in Japan, causing the dead to rise from their slumbers and feed on the flesh of the living. We see this zombie outbreak through the eyes of different groups of people: a platoon of soldiers, a pair of gangsters, a quarrelling couple, and a model on a photoshoot with her crew. The gangster characters were over-the-top in that Japanese-attempting-American-rock-star sort of way, but I enjoyed their antics. The soldiers were the least compelling initially, but became the action stars by the end of the film. The fashion model (or maybe she was a pop star), was the most interesting character. She played into impressions I have of the Japanese tending to portray desirable women as childlike and defenseless. (Certainly, this defenseless extended to zombies.)
The makeup and special effects were pretty poor. (You could tell from the U.F.O. effect at the beginning that this was going to be a low-budget affair.) The violence is, likewise, more campy than thrilling. For this to be your kind of zombie movie, I think you’d have to be one of those viewers who can say: “That didn’t look real, but it was a good idea… so A-for-effort, you know.”
Overall, my experience of watching this film (with, again, no idea of what was being said) was just so-so. Would a translation of the dialogue have changed my experience entirely? Hey, anything’s possible.
Final Thought: I greatly enjoy African rock musician Youssou N’Dour, who mostly sings in Wolof, a language I don’t speak. Now, obviously, my experience of enjoying one of Youssou’s songs is different than that of a Wolof-speaking Senegalese person. (There is a “poverty to my experience,” as a university professor might phrase it.) But I still like Youssou’s songs!!! Likewise, there are foreign musicians I don’t care for, whom I am comfortable dismissing completely with no idea at all what they’re singing about. (Like Zap Mama. Do you know Zap Mama? I’ve never liked Zap Mama.)
My point is, I don’t think you have to be a perfectly informed audience-member in order to tell if you like something or not. Maybe I can only review “the non-Japanese-speaking experience” of watching Zonbi Jieitai, but that doesn’t change the fact that watching the film elicited feelings from me. Feelings of boredom.