5 Wildly Wacked-Out Foreign Takes On Pop Culture
Change is the only constant in life. Change allows us to grow and become better. Change is good. Unless you're talking about introducing a piece of pop culture from one country to another. That stuff should mostly be left alone. Nobody outside the US wants to pick up, say, a Batman comic only to find out that the publisher drew little berets on Bruce in every frame, changed half the dialogue to be about the awesomeness of French headwear, and renamed the character Le Hatman. But that is basically what happened to some of your favorite books, movies, and comics, like how …
Japanese Spider-Man Is A Power Ranger, Powered by Alien Body Fluids
We're willing to admit that Japan might have had trouble accepting Spider-Man in his original form. For example, a big part of the character is that his uncle was shot, and in Japan, pretty much no one owns a gun (so much so that the country actually has a legitimate problem with katana attacks.) That's why, in the Japanese Spider-Man show (1978 – 1979), the main character is Takuya Yamashiro, and he becomes Spider-Man after losing his father … who is a scientist killed by a robo-dinosaur monster with knife/ax hands after he discovers a spaceship belonging to the alien Professor Monster and his Iron Cross Army. Again, no guns in Japan. What else were they supposed to do? Something not totally rad?
Of course, more changes had to be made regarding the source of Takuya's powers. For mysterious reasons, Japan has a thing about radioactivity, so instead of a radioactive spider, the Japanese Spider-Man gets his powers from the blood of an alien from Planet Spider who's crash-landed on Earth and spent thousands of years living in a cave. Basically a retelling of Green Lantern's origin, only with more injections from hobos. The alien blood gives Takuya all the familiar Spidey powers like super strength, the ability to climb on walls, his Spider-Sense, etc. But to remain fair and balanced, Japan also focuses on the negative effects of shooting up alien spider-blood like Takuya becoming susceptible to cold. And, one would assume, giant newspapers.
Actually, though, giant anything probably wouldn't worry Takuya seeing as, unlike Peter Parker, his greatest weapon wasn't his kindness or his dedication to saving the world. It was his mega-cool spaceship called the Marveller, which transformed into a giant-ass robot called Leopardon.
An interesting fact about that: the giant, transforming robot angle was fairly new back then, and the success of Spider-Man convinced Japan to try it in other shows like the Super Sentai series, which eventually became the basis of a little pop culture phenomenon you might have heard of called Power Rangers. Let's say it again: Spider-Man basically invented Power Rangers. There, that's a (confusing) thing you now know.
The Nordic Dracula Made the Count a Nazi (and Threw in a Bunch of Sex into the Story)
Despite being indirectly responsible for the existence of Twilight, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) remains one of the most popular stories ever told, and much like the titular character himself, it has remained largely unchanged for over a century. Despite there being, to use technical jargon, a buttload of Dracula retellings out there, they all share the same elements: a guy in a scary castle, vampire women, blood-sucking count, the message that sex is bad, etc. Oh, you missed that last part? How …? It's not exactly subtle. Harker, for example, is terrified of and disgusted by Dracula's super-sexualized brides while the evilest thing that Dracula does in the UK is "corrupt" young, innocent women.
But, see, that sort of shit would not fly in Nordic countries. Because it's so cold up there, their only pastimes are boning, drinking, and making fun of how Danish sounds. So when Dracula was released in Sweden and Iceland, the translators went beyond their job description and straight-up rewrote the book to make it more accessible to Nordic readers.
So, in the Icelandic Makt Myrkranna (Powers of Darkness), itself based on the Swedish Morkrets makter, Jonathan Harker is now "Thomas" Harker, and he is very into one of the vampire ladies in Dracula's castle. They meet up a bunch of times throughout the story, and most of them end with him *cough* driving his stake into her and being really happy about it. That's to be expected as the vibe of Dracula's castle in Powers of Darkness is less "unholy lair" and more "sex shack," with the count receiving fresh shipments of almost-nude girls at his swinging pad on the reg.
But before you start liking this Dracula too much, we have to point out that he was also a proto-Nazi. See, Dracula came out right about the time of the populist volkisch movement that was all about things like killing handicapped people to create a pure master race, attitudes that would eventually lead to men like Hitler. And the Nordic translators absolutely hated that shit so, to make fun of it, they put that shit in the monstrous Dracula's mouth, who suddenly spouted a bunch of Social-Darwinist shit in the Icelandic and Swedish versions about how the weak must submit to and serve the strong.
The weird thing, though, is that Powers of Darkness might not technically be fanfic, as some researchers think that too much of the "new" stuff in these books is too similar to Stoker's style. Many actually think that Stoker collaborated on those editions by mail and only removed the controversial opinion that sex with others is a lot more fun than having to stoker your bram from his own book because it would make it unpublishable in non-Nordic Europe. So it turns out that the real monster of the book was prudishness.
Freddie Mercury Wasn't Gay in the Chinese Edition of Bohemian Rhapsody
The portrayal of Freddie Mercury's queerness in Bohemian Rhapsody was … not great. It basically went from "Did you know Freddie loved a girl? Have we shown you Freddie's girl, whom he loved? Well, here is the girl that Freddie loved. She's a girl, and Freddie loved her" and ended with "Alright, fine, Freddie was gay. Super gay. He had tons of anonymous gay sex. The guy couldn't stop hooking up with strangers of the same sex." Neither of those approaches gives you a good picture of what was a huge part of the Queen frontman's life. But at least the movie acknowledges that Freddie was queer, and if that sounds like a low bar for giving props to a movie, that's only because you don't know what China did with it.
In the Chinese version of Bohemian Rhapsody, all references to Freddie's homosexuality/queerness were, uh, straight-up cut from the movie. His discussion of his sexuality with his fiancee (who tells Freddie that he's gay)? Gone. Scenes of Freddie wearing women's clothing? Gone The introduction of his future partner Jim Hutton? Gone … which means that, at the end of the movie, Freddie just starts living with a guy he doesn't really know, like many straight men do.
The Chinese censors even got rid of the part where Freddie tells his bandmates he has AIDS. In their version, the scene has no dialogue, and no subtitles are provided. Those familiar with Freddie's history will, of course, know what's being omitted there, but to everyone else, it probably must have looked like the band communicating telepathically and getting really bummed out for no good reason.
Hell, China even censored Rami Malek's Oscar acceptance speech, taking his "We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself" and replacing the "gay man" part with "special group." Which works GREAT with the rest of the sentence. You know, despite censorship being their main thing, China is kind of bad at it, which is just one way in which they are the Papa John's of authoritarianism.
The Italian The Nanny Cut Every Reference to the Character Being Jewish
Let's get this out of the way first: "Hey, Cracked, since when is The Nanny a famous show, let alone anyone's favorite?" Oh, since 19-always? Look, even if you never cared for it, the world sure as hell did. The adventures of Fran Drescher as the titular nanny Fran Fine working for the Sheffield household was a global hit.
And the intro still slaps.
That's why the list of foreign remakes and adaptations of The Nanny has its own Wikipedia page. And among all the reimaginings listed there, the Italian version is easily the weirdest one, and that includes the Russian version where, briefly, Fran and Max's (or Vicka and Maxim's) wedding turned out to be a dream.
The Italian La Tata (lit. "The Nanny") was just a redub of the American original, but it made significant changes to the story. The Italian Fran was renamed Francesca Cacace, and she hailed from a rural province in Central Italy, having emigrated from there to the United States, where she lives with her aunt. The aunt who, in the original, is her mother. It's a little weird that Italian audiences apparently couldn't connect with a fictional character unless she was from the same country as them (none of the American movies about Sherlock Holmes made him a Yank and renamed him to, say, Steven Harris), but it's not problematic. Neither is changing Fran's obsession with Barbra Streisand to being a big fan of Liza Minnelli. Again, it's weird but mostly innocent. But La Tata screwed up when it made Francesca a Roman Catholic.
On The Nanny, Fran being Jewish was a HUGE part of the character. Drescher actually had to fight for that. The network wanted her to be, ironically, Italian-American, but Drescher wanted to get more Jewish characters on primetime and actually risked her big break in order to achieve it. Fran's Jewish identity was not a tiny detail. It was a fundamental part of the show. And Italy ripped it out, removing any mentions of her or her family's Jewish heritage, and nowhere does it look weirder than in the episode "The Kibbutz," where the entire family takes a vacation at a kibbutz. Which is a type of communal agricultural collective. In Israel. They are a part of life for many Jewish people … and apparently, one Italian girl who used to visit one all the time despite not having any real connection to Jewish culture. She didn't even like Barbra Streisand.
For future reference, perhaps a country that was on the wrong side of history during WWII should take the issue of Jewish erasure a tad more seriously.
The Soviet Wizard of Oz Sure is a Soviet Wizard of Oz
For the longest time, the USSR just kept taking famous stories from around the world and rewriting them with a Communist angle because when your entire worldview is red, all that pesky copyright red tape looks just like regular, much easier to ignore tape. That's why in the Soviet version of Treasure Island (1938), the main characters are looking for treasure in order to fund an anti-British uprising in Ireland (instead of going with the much better alternative message that the real treasure was the friendship they forged along the way.) But their take on The Wizard of Oz outweirds that.
A translation-retelling of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alexander Melentyevich Volkov's The Wizard of the Emerald City keeps a lot of the original story but also makes some changes to the land of Oz. Like, getting rid of the whole land of Oz thing. From now on, Ellie is transported to Magic Land. Also, yeah, her name's Ellie, like the character from The Last of Us, and we're currently on our knees begging the internet to please draw that crossover for us.
The inhabitants of Magic Land now also have their own special ticks. Munchkins munch a lot, Winkies wink a lot, and Quadlings go to the gym and ONLY do leg day. Actually, they were renamed Chatters, and so they talk a lot. Same as Toto, who gains the power of speech upon landing in Magic Land. Actually, the dog's full name in the Volkov version was Totoshka, and he and Ellie-Dorothy (Ellothy?) aren't the only ones who undergo a renaming.
The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of the Emerald City is now called, wait for it, Bastinda (or Meantilda in the censored TV version, probably). Also, for a long time, it kind of looks like Ellie will lead a proletariat Winkie revolution against her. But in the end, she takes matters into her own hands by melting Bastinda with water, which here clearly represents the sweat of the workers of the world. Finally, she goes back home to that communist paradise on Earth: Kansas. Yeah, Ellie is still from Kansas, which shouldn't be the weirdest part about this Oz fanfic with a talking Toto in it, yet somehow still is.
Follow Cezary on Twitter.
Top image: Toei, 20th Century Fox