It’s no secret that many Hollywood films are retitled when they’re released in foreign territories. Sometimes, this is because there’s no literal translation for a title, other times it’s because the title might not make sense culturally. In the case of quirky cult comedy Napoleon Dynamite, the reasons for a name change in Japan were much more nefarious. Now, 20th Century Fox is rereleasing the film – along with an official apology for anyone duped all those years ago.
As Kotaku’s Brian Ashcraft points out, Napoleon Dynamite, the story of kind-hearted oddball Napoleon, was rechristened Bus Man. Initially, you might assume this was just an odd translation, but it wasn’t.
Instead, the Bus Man title was a calculated move to link Napoleon’s adventures to another popular Japanese film released earlier – a 2005 movie called Train Man. That film wound up being the 14th highest grossing film of the year in Japan, so marketing Napoleon Dynamite as a quasi sequel probably seemed like a pretty good idea, even though the two films are nothing alike.
In Fox’ defense, they did at least place the name Napoleon Dynamite on the Bus Man cover, but that didn’t stop a lot of less savvy film fans from being duped. I wonder what fans of the dramatic Train Man thought when they first popped Napoleon Dynamite into their DVD players? I'm guessing it was something like this...
Now, years later, 20th Century Fox is set to sell the film again in the Land of the Rising Sun, but this time, it will come with its original title intact and an official apology from the company. “It was truly inexcusable for us to take advantage of an opportunity at the time and to give the movie such a title.”
Hey, don’t feel too bad Fox execs – the Italian horror directors made this practice into an art form during the 1980s and they never apologized.