People | 20 QUESTIONS

Hidemitsu Shimizu: Realizing the full extent of vocal possibility

by Ayako Nakano

Staff Writer

Name: Hidemitsu Shimizu
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Narrator, voice actor
Likes: Uiro-uri” (a lengthy monologue in a kabuki play, used in narrator training), camping, driving, Brazilian jiu-jitsu
Dislikes: Sleep deprivation


1. How did you get into voice acting? I used to sing in the glee club and an indie band in college. I also did emcee presentations for a PR company. That led to an interest in a career using my voice, so I joined the training school run by my current agency, Haikyo (Tokyo Actor’s Consumer’s Cooperative Society).

2. What do you love about your job? It’s a lifelong pursuit of possibilities with an instrument: me. I get to learn about the world through scripts and about human nature through the characters I play.

3. Do you think dubs for foreign movies and TV are contrived? You have to appreciate Japan’s voice-over culture, its 60-plus year history and its stylistic beauty. Sometimes there’s exaggerated articulation and breathing to maintain a balance between foreign visuals and Japanese dialogue. That said, many dubbed works sound so natural you’d think the foreign actors were fluent in Japanese!

4. How many different voices can you do? I’m not sure, but I once narrated a localized U.S. documentary about a factory and voiced about 15 people in it. (Luckily there were no women.)

5. How do you go about creating non-Japanese characters like “foreigner A” or “a blond guy”? Like Japanese characters, I create them based on their emotions. But if asked, I’ll try giving them a “foreigner-like” flavor, sometimes by modeling them on the foreign students I lived with in my college dormitory.

6. What is your favorite genre of voice acting? Narrating news programs. It’s so exciting and rewarding, having to alter voice tones between topics (politics/economics, sports, crime and food) while voicing politicians, celebrities, criminals etc. — all under time pressure. Maybe I feel especially strongly about it since I read the news about the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake in a TV network recording booth.

7. If you could voice anyone, who would you choose? Brazilian jiu-jitsu champions, like Michael “Mikey” Musumeci. For me, it would be combining fun and work!

8. Which celebrities have your favorite voices? Kiyoshi Kobayashi, the voice of Daisuke Jigen in my favorite anime “Lupin III,” has the coolest, sexiest male voice on Earth. Also Tom Waits — his voice is soul-shaking.

9. What do you think about so-called “idol voice actors”? On top of voice acting, they have to look good, sing, dance and keep their fans happy. They’re basically triathlon athletes. I have total respect for them.

10. What was your most shocking experience at work? When making a learning material CD, I had to rap a math study book to looped drum beats, like, “Yo yo, the square of the side opposite the right angle is, yo, equal to the sum of … yeah. Pythagorean theorem in da house!”

11. Have you had any memorable work-related failures? I once drank too much coffee before a live show. I was alone in a narration booth desperate for a wee, with a half-full water bottle in front of me and two minutes until my cue … I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. (I didn’t pee a single drop, so it was a success, really.)

12. Will artificial intelligence ever take away your job? Maybe some parts, but not all. Humanness is a big part my job, and that resides in our imperfections.

13. What do you notice about other people’s speech patterns? The ma (pause) between words.

14. If you weren’t a voice actor/narrator, what would you be? I would’ve continued singing in a rock band, had a big break and been a billionaire. The possibilities are endless!

15. If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be? I’d like to have coffee and donuts with fellow donut-lover Elvis Presley to discuss our favorite flavors and agree on how ridiculous low-calories donuts are.

16. What does your life need more of? Alcohol. I inevitably refrain from drinking because of my job. Why did god make the passageway for our voices and booze the same?

17. Do you have any habits your family would like you to change? Imitating and whispering a good narration or dialogue whenever/wherever I hear one.

18. What recent dreams have you had? I’m in a college classroom wondering, “Wasn’t I making a living as a voice actor?” Then I figure I’m daydreaming and tell myself I should study hard because life ain’t that easy.

19. What’s your essential karaoke song? “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers and “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf — theme songs of my favorite Hollywood movies.

20. When do you relish life? When my work calendar is packed but I still manage to go to jiu-jitsu practice and, on returning home, my kids are peacefully asleep.