by Chris MaGee
We in Canada and the U.S. often complain about our favorite Japanese films, and our favorite foreign films, getting remade, rehashed or "re-imagined" (oh, we hate that last term). One thing that we don't consider ourselves lucky for enough, I find, is that when we finally get to see the latest releases from Japan on screen or on DVD or Blu-ray they are almost universally subtitled. We can only think of a couple cases -- Disney's DVD releases of the Studio Ghibli films and New People's (formerly Viz Pictures) dubbed theatrical screenings -- when this isn't the case. What's best is that more and more of these DVD releases come with subs that you can turn on and off. Trust me, when you go shopping for Japanese DVDs in Germany (which I've done) almost all the films are dubbed into German. I mean, how would you like it if your favorite films were being dubbed by a voice cast? That's exactly what many are fearing will start to happen in Japan in the next few years.
According to The Asahi Shimbun more and more Hollywood films are being dubbed for Japanese theatrical releases and TV broadcast due to a combination of social and technological factors. The number one reason behind this new push for dubs over subs is Japan's aging population. Apparently the Japanese moviegoers are getting into their 50's and 60's, older people who would rather be able to watch their films instead of reading them. (Sound frighteningly familiar?) Added to this is the hyper kinetic nature of many special effects and CGI heavy blockbusters like "Transformers 3D" Dark of the Moon" (above right) and even more sedate dramas like Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" (above left), which even younger Japanese viewers find hard to follow and read subtitles at the same time. “Rapid succession of footage makes it harder for audiences to read subtitles,” states Shigeki Sujino, the head of Tohokushinsha Film Corp., a company which dubs and subtitles major foreign releases in Japan. If the fast edits and fancy CGI weren't complicating enough for Japanese audiences, the advent of 3D films makes matters worse. Darkened screen images for some 3D films plus the necessity to wear 3D glasses are pushing more Japanese to request films be dubbed by a Japanese voice cast.
What will this shift in audience age and rapidly shifting motion picture technology do to Japanese theatrical screenings in the future? Hard to say, but you may be watching big Hollywood stars speaking Nihongo.