Goin' down to
creative producer/ transwriter of the upcoming Japanese version of the hit animated series
South Park, sits down with Aeve Baldwin and bares all.
photos courtesy of Kuzui Enterprises
© Comedy Central.
Christian gets cozy with his South
photo by Michell Coster
What's funnier: Bart
Simpson saying "Ay Carumba" and playing minor practical jokes on his sister, or
an eight-year-old kid cursing out his friends and mumbling about female genitalia? The
makers of South Park, a cartoon that made its American debut three years ago and
is due to make an impression on Japanese television, are banking on the latter.
It all started in 1995, when filmmakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone were hired by a Fox
executive and given $2000 to make a video for him to send as a Christmas card. $750 later,
they had a 5-minute video called "The Spirit of Christmas," an imaginary fight
between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. Word of the video spread, and soon the cable channel
Comedy Central offered them a weekly series.
South Park is the story of four third grade boys: Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny
(who dies every episode) growing up in the small mountain town of South Park,
Colorado. A loose interpretation of the term "cartoon," it looks more like
construction paper cutouts than animation, and carried a mature television rating in the
US for its "adult" language, animated violence, and very suggestive material
(episode titles such as "Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson," "Not Without My
Anus," or "Cartman's Mom is Still a Dirty Slut" are just the tip of the
iceberg). Every race, religion or culture is made fun of or stereotyped. One viewing, and
you'll either love it or want it taken off the air. Christian Storms thinks these rude
boys are worth your time.
Cartman feels a little
South Park interview, take one. Here we go!
Tell us about South Park. Will it be appearing on cable or regular TV?
It's airing on Wowow, starting in October. It'll be on Sunday nights after the feature
movie around 10pm; the same time as The Simpsons. They'll run South Park
for six months, then go back to The Simpsons for six months, and then back to South
Do the episodes start at the beginning?
Yes. In everything we do for the show we want to maintain basic integrity - the
shooting-from-the-hip feel, splenetic and manic details like alien abductions, anal
probes, flaming farts. The Christmas episode, "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo" is
about a dancing turd, an imaginary figure for Kyle, the lone Jew in a whitebread mountain
town who can't celebrate Christmas because "his people" killed Jesus, you know.
We'll do that in time for Christmas. Otherwise, it's all in the normal order.
You're doing the original shows and then dubbing them. How do you translate the
I wonder that myself. It's kind of like explaining enjokosai to your mom! As far
as possible we want to keep the same format and setting. It's a dialogue and
character-driven show in which the "integrity," if you will, must be preserved.
We expect the viewer to either get it - or not get it. We don't want to lower the level,
to play to the lowest common denominator. Obviously some of the cultural references will
have to be adjusted. For example in the first episode they make fun of David Caruso who
used to be on NYPD Blue and then failed as a film actor. Kyle's little brother Ike gets
captured by aliens; when Stan wants him to jump out of the alien ship he says, "Do
your impression of David Caruso's career!" But nobody would get that here, so we have
to use people like Tom Selleck, or others that a Japanese audience will recognize. Not
"getting it" isn't necessarily bad. I think those who don't get it feel pissed
off - why don't I understand? It motivates you to go out and learn. Alternative, pop,
sub-culture - call it what you want - it fries your brain in a positive manner.
Who will do the voices? Can you name names?
We're kind of debating. South Park is about being cheap, cheap in the sense that
Matt Stone and Trey Parker were these two geeky guys who got this thing going without any
names, and they make fun of established people. It got to be so popular that you get stars
like George Clooney volunteering his time to do a gay dog's voice, and all he says is
"woof." The easiest way would be to get the hottest Japanese band to do the
theme song, get Kinki Kids, but I don't think that appeals to people who are tired of
watching TV anyway. We want to preserve the integrity of the show, that same sort of punk
rock style, anything goes, and to hell with anyone who's established. As far as names,
nobody that anyone knows. The main thing is to get people who get the humor and Mach 1
speed and rhythm of the voices, and people who can sing.
We are using name talent, people we think are righteous, for sub characters. Lilly
Frankie, an underground writer and illustrator, for Jesus; Tomoro Taguchi, star of
Japanese cult films like Tetsuo and Sabu's Dangan Runner to play
Garrison and Mr. Hat. And we'll be ideating for the I-thought-she-was-dead celebrity
appearances like Sally Struthers.
Streisand tortures the kids
the target audience?
Adults. Definitely adults because you know kids are just too dumb... right?! The show may
have some warnings like "for adults only" but by saying in the warning that this
show is intended only for adults, kids will watch it, so that's good. Did you ever watch
the Peewee Herman Show? Despite Peewee's later "things" he originally created
the show because he realized how hopeless the future of American children was; he wanted
to really mess with their brains. The guys who created South Park wanted to offer
more to kids, who are pretty damn smart. You don't want to play down to them.
Kind of like The Simpsons, which works on both levels.
South Park is about the difference between kids and adults. Kids just
toss out words; they don't understand the prejudices involved. So when Cartman, who is the
white, fat, racist guy, makes friends with the Jewish kid, Kyle, he repeats things that
his mother says to him. She's got this real Christian upbringing (despite her centerfold
past), and she makes comments such as "All the Jews, they killed Jesus so they won't
go to Heaven," and he'll just say that right to his friend. So the show is a lot
about that - kids are smart, adults really don't know what kids are doing and have
fantasies about the innocence of children.
Jews won't really translate here. What will you substitute?
No, we're not interested in doing that, and in fact Japanese broadcast codes are
really strict. In a nation with no supposed minorities you can't say much. When we first
translated the script we tried to do it as close to the original as possible, and Wowow
was a little concerned because we used words that you can't use here. It's really amazing
- there's a big list, about four pages, of words that you can't use on Japanese television
but it's case by case - there really aren't any rules per se. Kind of like renewing your
Things like flower shops: You can't say hanaya, you must say hanaya-san
according to Japanese codes, because otherwise you'd be discriminating against a certain
occupation. You can't refer to a prostitute as a shofu which is a common word,
you have to use something else, so it's pretty strict. Especially the racist words, most
of which relate to the burakumin [outcast class]. What we want to do is instead
of making fun of minorities or other nationalities, just make fun of Japanese people. Even
Japanese think that their celebrating Christmas is weird, so we want to play on those
How do you translate or convey the, er, "rich" language?
There are a couple of ways we've discussed. One thing is to beep things out, which is fun
because you can put beeps in there on purpose and people will know "Oh oh, that's
banned; they really said something bad." The other way is to create a new lexicon
amongst Japanese because, damn it, Japan needs more swear words! I think most viewers are
smart enough to know what piggu fakkaa means. Just like words such as toire
[toilet] or saafin [surfing] come into Japanese, other words can come into the
language as well. We want to go as far as the broadcast code allows us, and whatever the
broadcast code doesn't allow us to do, we'll publish the scripts in Japanese on the
Internet so people can actually see what we meant to be saying. We'd love to make fun of
the prince because frankly he's hysterical. Always walking around like he's stoned,
looking at flowers. I wonder if they speak keigo [super-polite Japanese] in bed.
Mm mm Mmm! Mmmm mmm Mmmmmm!
there any episodes you won't show?
No. We'll show them all. What's really funny is that the first episode is probably the
worst one: Cartman gets an anal probe. Originally they thought, "Gee, what word can't
we say on TV?" And worked from there. On American TV you can't say "have
sex," it has to be like "making whoopie" or some politically correct
Babbitt-speak, so dildo was a test. We want to do the same thing. What's weird about Japan
is that yes, there's more restriction concerning racial topics, but as for sexual things,
it's pretty cool, which is typical because America just can't get laid.
Do you think audiences will get the humor?
I think some people will; I hope they will! We want to "transwrite."
For example, in one episode Stan is the quarterback and there's a commentator who makes
really horrible comments like, "I haven't seen a Jew run like that since Poland
1931," or "I haven't seen someone take a blow like that since Hugh Grant!"
Those kinds of things we'll have to get around. There's a bus driver character, Ms.
Crabtree who's a real bitch. You know what the bus drivers were like in school - they were
bitches, so we thought about using Nomura Sachiko [omnipresent wife of Hanshin Tigers'
manager Nomura Katsuya] for the bus driver. We want to make fun of Japanese
"talent." And there the Japanese audience will "get it." Atsushi
Kuwahara, the "transwriter" has spent time in the US and knows a lot about
American culture. I provide him with pretty detailed cultural notes about what's being
said or where the jokes are, or where the cynicism is and how it could play in Japan. Then
we collaborate with the director who started out doing early Beat Takeshi shows. Then we
either go with it or chuck it.
How do you think the audience will respond to non-Japanese characters speaking in
Most animation characters could be Japanese, but they're not. One thing we're
committed to is this is animation, not Japanese anime. Sometimes the style is similar to
Japanese animation and monster movies. There's an episode where Barbra Streisand
in her pursuit to rule the world turns into Mega Streisand. Leonard Maltin as Ultraman and
Sidney Poitier as Gamera battle her. Finally, The Cure's Robert Smith turns into Mothra to
save the day. There's actually Japanese on that; Trey Parker lived in Japan years ago. The
reason they chose Barbra Streisand is that they think she's a real bitch and wanted to
make fun of her. On the homepage we might talk about other people who might be suitable
targets in Japan. There's no end of material.
Do you anticipate the same sort of merchandise frenzy here?
It's already happening via pirated goods but you'll be able to get the real deal
soon. I always carry Kenny with me and put him on the table; he's the silent partner.
We'll be doing some weird, funky guerrilla promotions, like midnight screenings on
building walls in Shibuya or some wicked South Park parties. Plus buildup for the
release of the film Orgazmo by Trey Parker.
Who's your favorite character?
I like Cartman, the way he just lays it out there. It makes you feel sad, but I have to
say I like Kenny cuz he knows things, and everyone asks him stuff, and it really pains my
heart when he dies every time. I like the way Kyle always says "You bastards! You
killed Kenny!" They care about Kenny when he dies.
Will you? Tune in to South Park starting October.
Many thanks to Maki Nibayashi and Melanie C. Redmond.