Super Dubbing on Track to Replace Movie Subtitles in Japan

Category: International Business, Translation Services

Traditionally, Japan has been a nation in favor of subtitles. Unlike film distribution in Italy and France, where upwards of ninety percent of imported films are dubbed, Japan’s theater-going experience entailed reading Japanese subtitles paired with the original actors’ voices. In fact, satellite TV providers through the 1990s even used the pitch of uninterrupted, subtitled films as a selling point for Japanese viewers.

Today, though, the tide has turned. A perfect storm of cultural factors have brought “super dubbing” to Japan in a big way, and the trend could have a direct impact on your company’s decision on how to present video content to Japanese audiences, especially for multimedia as part of global marketing translations.

Super dubbing is not only the use of Japanese voice actors to replace the dialogue in foreign films, but also the improved translation of cultural references, idioms, and even the degree to which spoken Japanese matches the motion of the actors’ mouths. Several factors have made super dubbing commonplace in international film distribution in Japan.

Initially, demand grew from Japanese viewers in the 50-plus age demographic due to vision concerns. Gradually, Hollywood drove demand through rapid-fire film editing which made keeping up with the film’s action and the subtitles extremely difficult. Compounding this has been the proliferation of 3D films, which require greater attention to on-screen action. With super dubbing, the choice is no longer between reading the dialogue or watching the scenes. Now Japanese theatergoers can do both simultaneously.

Subtitling used to be the preferred method in Japan due lower costs, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easier route, as we highlighted in an earlier blog post. As the number of voice actors have grown (due, in part, to the proliferation of gaming and animated feature films), expenses in this arena have come down. It’s now quite common for the DVD releases of films to include Japanese voice acting.

Younger audiences now see super dubbing as a major factor in their decision to watch imported films. In an attempt to grow the youth audience share, distributors have begun seeking Japanese celebrities to voice the dialogue for foreign releases. Actors such as Mao Daichi and Yuya Tegoshi have recently super dubbed films such as The Chronicles of Narnia and the animated feature Happy Feet.

So if the question is “should we subtitle or dub?” for your next Japanese release, consider this trend towards super dubbing. Not only is the cost compared to subtitles beginning to find parity, but Japanese audiences may already be expecting voice actors versus a screen reading assignment.

Photo attribution: fensterbme