The number of Western movies subtitled in Japanese is rapidly declining as 3-D movies become more common and viewers grow more averse to reading text on screen.
Instead, many theaters are opting to show films dubbed in Japanese.
About 40 percent of the theaters that showed “Avatar,” the world’s first full-length commercial 3-D film, used the dubbed version. That ratio climbed to 60 percent for “Alice in Wonderland” and about 90 percent for “Toy Story 3.”
“Inception,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, wasn’t done in 3-D, but about 40 percent of the copies showing here are dubbed in Japanese.
Film distributors in Japan acknowledge that subtitled movies have traditionally been the way to show foreign films in Japan, with the dubbed versions used mainly for animated movies aimed at families with children. In Western countries, however, it’s the reverse: Most foreign movies are shown with the actors’ voices dubbed in the local language.
Nowadays, many Japanese viewers are complaining how difficult it is to read subtitles on screen, movie distributors said.
“Many theaters have started saying they don’t need the subtitled versions anymore because dubbed versions can draw more audiences,” said a sales representative at a major movie distributor.
“The spread of 3-D movies will further decrease the number of (theaters showing) subtitled versions,” the source said.
Natsuko Toda, a noted translator of movies, believes the subtitled version is the best form for enjoying a foreign movie because the true voice is one of the major attractions in the performance of an actor or actress.
Japanese people have long preferred subtitles because of their strong adoration of foreign culture, the country’s high literacy rate and the nature of kanji, which can convey much information in a small space, Toda said.
“It’s good that audiences can have more choices, and I’d be happy if (dubbed versions) help people who didn’t like foreign movies to see more of them,” Toda said.
“But if all the people start relying on dubbed voices only because they can’t read kanji or they want to have an easy way out, it would mean a crisis for Japan,” she said.
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