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Sayuri Suzuki: Showbiz interpreter who works with witches and Dalmatians

by

Staff Writer

Name: Sayuri Suzuki
Age: 63
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Interpreter, translator
Likes: Good movies, good wine, good food
Dislikes: Bad movies, bad wine, bad food


1. Do you ever get star-struck, interpreting for Hollywood A-listers such as Angelina Jolie and Steven Spielberg? I was star-struck when I first met some of them but I’ve been doing it for so long now, many treat me like an old acquaintance. I sometimes forget how famous they are!

2. What’s your all-time favorite movie? It’s a close tie between “Casablanca” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” I love the famous lines in “Casablanca” and the film is so romantic. The latter is Paul Newman and Robert Redford at the height of their careers. They were so good together.

3. Your first job as an interpreter was for a magic show. How was that? It was fantastic. I got to see all the magic up close so I could see how the magic worked!

4. What do you find difficult about your line of work? There are many people involved in a film junket and schedules can change all of a sudden. You have to be flexible and have an open mind.

5. What was your greatest moment as an interpreter? It would have to be when I interpreted for Julie Andrews, my childhood idol. I had watched “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins” so many times and learned all the songs. It was such a treat to work with her and an extra treat to learn what an amazing, kind and generous person she was.

6. What’s your essential work item, other than a notebook and pen? Asada-ame Passion S, my favorite throat candy. Keeping my voice in good condition is very important. I also have mints and carry a toothbrush to keep my breath fresh.

7. How do you take notes while interpreting? Can others read your writing? I jot down the keywords in the sentence and try to remember the content of the speech through them. My writing gets messy if the speaker is going fast. I sometimes can’t read my own writing!

8. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? I like the words 熱意 (netsui, enthusiasm) and 誠意 (seii, sincerity). I like to be enthusiastic about my work and life in general, and treat others with sincerity.

9. What is the one thing in your life you can’t replace? My family. My three grandchildren are the joy of my life.

10. If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be? I would like to dine with the late Akira Kurosawa and ask him about all his films.

11. Where in Japan do you go to escape your life in Tokyo? My house in Nagano. I take my dog for walks along the lake and take naps on the hammock. Very relaxing!

12. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked as an interpreter? I was asked to interpret for a witch. This was for a film called “The Craft,” which was about witchcraft. Also, I was asked to interpret for the Dalmatians in the live-action film of “101 Dalmatians.”

13. You’re also a theater-script translator. Are you more comfortable interpreting or translating? I really like to do both. Sometimes when you’re interpreting, you regret not having said a better word but there’s no time for pondering. In translation, you can dabble with different ways to say the same sentence. I like that luxury.

14. You spent six years of your childhood in Australia. How has that affected you as an adult? My years as a child in Australia has made me aware of different cultures and different ideas. I think I’m more tolerant and appreciate the differences in people, which is very important in my line of work.

15. What culture shocks did you experience as a child? When I first went to Australia at the age of 8, I was surprised at the size of the house and our garden. The first thing I did was water the garden! Returning to Japan at 14, I was surprised by the freeways and technical advancements such as the color TV, which they didn’t have in Australia at the time.

16. Is Japan cool? Yes, with all the colorful pop culture such as anime, manga, games and toys. This pop culture being exported overseas is a cool phenomenon.

17. What do you think about while standing on the train? I often listen to people’s conversations. It’s good for when I translate plays, especially listening to how young people speak. Some high school girls talk like ojisan (old men)!

18. If you weren’t an interpreter or translator, what would you have been doing? As a child, I loved to draw and paint so maybe I would have pursued life as a painter. Then again, I always loved theater and films so I might have been involved in those areas somehow, too.

19. You’ve been interpreting for the Tokyo International Film Festival since it’s beginning 30 years ago. What’s the fun in it? I can see so many foreign films, it’s almost like traveling to all these different countries. And meeting interpreter friends and staff once a year, it’s like a big friendly reunion. I love it!

20. Any words of advice for young people aspiring to be an interpreter like you? Keep studying your languages, not just English but also Japanese. There are so many new words and phrases, it’s tough to keep up. Be open to people and ideas. Be curious and absorb new information. Be enthusiastic and sincere.

A play Suzuki translated, “Dixie Swim Club” (“Hachigatsu no Ningyotachi”), is running at Echo Theater in Ebisu, Tokyo, until Sept. 5.