HK Doraemon stands for golden period

January 14, 2015 09:43
Lam Pou Chuen had a unique voice that made Doraemon sound neither like a kid nor an ordinary adult but a special being that grows up with the audience. Photo: Hong Kong Allies

The passing of Lam Pou Chuen -- voice actor of the Japanese cartoon character Doraemon -- earlier this month, made the headline of many local newspapers.

His death shocked many fans.

As one of them, I am not going to express my sadness here. Instead, I would like to explore Lam’s contribution from the angle of international relations.

Localization is a must for a successful cartoon to develop its global influence.

But at the same time, big brands always hope to maintain the original style. Striking a balance is always difficult.

The translation of Doraemon, a cat-like robot in a popular comic series, into Ding Dong is clearly a product of localization.

This translation came from an old magazine, The Children Paradise, which became widely used in Hong Kong.

The formal name was then changed back to Doraemon after the author wanted translations across the world to be unified and based on the Japanese pronunciation, but this "rectification" move upset a lot of long-time fans.

Compared to the name, voice acting is far more important. In the Japanese version, Doraemon has the voice of a child, so it feels like the cat-like robot and the main character Nobita are in the same age group.

Whenever I show Lam’s version to my Japanese friends, they are surprised.

“Why does Doraemon become an old man in Hong Kong?”

But this is exactly why the Hong Kong version is so special. Lam’s unique voice makes Doraemon sound neither like a kid nor an ordinary adult but a special being that grows up with the audience.

Doraemon is not just childhood memories. It actually keeps pace with the times. No wonder countless Hongkongers continue to watch the cartoon even when they are already adults.

This somewhat resembles the popular movie Ted.

In that film, the childhood playmate Ted suddenly turns alive and it grows up with the main character.

They become buddies who date girls and take drugs together, showing viewers how playmates face the challenges of growing up.

When the movie was shown in Hong Kong, many friends said “Isn’t that your Doraemon?” Thanks to Lam’s effort, only the Hong Kong version of Doraemon can smoothly transition to adulthood.

If every version of Doraemon can undergo the process of localization, this classical cartoon can be given more vitality.

The pizza in the American version is an example of even more thorough localization than that of Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong people miss Lam not just because of his voice and the story of Doraemon but also the golden age that Hong Kong could easily localize a global brand, and the top-ranking soft power of the city at that time.

But that era is gone.

Not long ago, I met a famous French public intellectual. Dr. Frédéric Martel is the leading scholar in soft power studies.

I deeply agree with his viewpoint on Hong Kong -- as long as Hong Kong keeps its world-class soft power, it will thrive no matter how the political environment changes.

Lam’s successful adaption of Doraemon with local features is itself an example of Hong Kong’s soft power.

Of course, this viewpoint reflects my strong personal emotion. But no matter what, we should thank Lam for giving us a happy childhood.

May he rest in peace.

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal