Natsuko Toda

Natsuko Toda s_bukley /

Movie Subtitling with Natsuko Toda

Interview series with Japan’s most renowned translator of foreign films and interpreter for Hollywood stars, Natsuko Toda

Interview by Miyuki Kawai

TJ: What do you think is the future of subtitling?
TODA: There are not so many subtitlers anymore, and recently people have come to prefer dubbed movies. I believe subtitling will survive, but the number of subtitled movies will decline in the future.

TJ: That’s true. But isn’t it also true that the number of minor movies or TV programs to be subtitled has been increasing?
TODA: Yes, but the payment is very low even though it requires the same amount of effort.

TJ: Don’t aspiring subtitlers sometimes say, “I want a job even if I don’t get paid?”
TODA: Yes, they do. I thought exactly the same thing when I was young.

TJ: Do you have any advice for them?
TODA: Inexperienced subtitlers tend to make self-indulgent sentences. Even if they research and understand the story deeply, it is meaningless if the audience does not have background information and cannot understand it. It’s bad when you can’t follow the story by reading the subtitles only. Subtitlers have to be objective with an open mind and have good sense. Beginners lack that point of view.

TJ: Can you describe the typical process you follow in translating and subtitling a movie?
TODA: Subtitlers no longer watch movies in a viewing room like they used to. When we create subtitles for a movie, we separate sentences using slashes, called “Hako,” by making sentence sections based on when the actor or actress takes a break in speaking and based on a certain amount of time that has passed. Each Hako is given a sequence number. Then the Hako-marked script is sent to a film lab to make a spotting list that indicates the sequence number and its duration. Japanese subtitles are then Movie Subtitling with Natsuko Toda made for each Hako based on the spotting list. Traditionally, four Japanese characters per one second is the maximum the audience can read on the screen. Therefore, the number of characters in a subtitle is limited according to the duration of Hako. Nowadays, I do this process from my home with my computer instead of creating the Hako in a viewing room. Technically, the subtitling process has changed continuously, but the art of translation does not change.

TJ: Subtitlers are no longer locked up in a viewing room?
TODA: Spielberg once asked me to subtitle in a room in Hollywood in order to keep it secret, but that was only once. Now scripts and images are sent to me digitally. Details have changed but the job itself has not changed. I still work from home as before, but now I use my computer for subtitling.

TJ: Do you still watch movies just for fun? What are some of your favorite movies and why?
TODA: Frankly speaking, I have found few interesting movies recently. Have you seen movies in 3D or CG animated films such as superhero movies? Young people love them but I have no interest in them at all. They go by too quickly and leave you with nothing after watching for two hours. I can’t even remember the story. I think they are not worthy of being called films. But now they are the mainstream. I will go to see movies of substance, but not as often as when I was younger. I used to watch many, many good movies in my early days, and I think that’s enough. I don’t want to see movies featuring monkey tricks. Of course there are still some good movies, and I watch what I want. Young directors tend to make movies for young people, so I like ones by older directors such as Eastwood or Scorsese. I can understand movies made by directors in their 70s or 80s because we are of the same generation. The quality of their movies is very high without the help of 3D.

TJ: What about “Hugo,” which is a 3D movie by Scorsese?
TODA: It was great. Whether it was 3D or not, it was wonderful because it told us about Georges Méliès’ great movie history. I don’t say I dislike young directors, but their movies don’t attract my attention. So there is no young director who I favor.

TJ: Can you tell us about a challenging time or situation that occurred in your career and how you got through it?
TODA: My early days were challenging. Once you get a break, it is not so challenging, but I waited for 20 years before I got my big break by subtitling for Coppola. Finally, I got a chance to subtitle a major Hollywood movie, and it was vital for me to do a good job. So looking back, that was the most challenging time in my career. Twenty years was such a long time. Of course I was not a pioneer. Great forerunners such as Shunji Shimizu had established the industry, and I succeeded them. But there was no female subtitler before me, so maybe that was the reason I attracted people’s attention. But gender discrimination does not exist in this business. If you do a good job, you will continue getting work.

TJ: Can you tell us about the most exciting day or point of your career?
TODA: I think it is “Apocalypse Now.” Before I finally got a chance in my forties, I had never been abroad. Coppola brought me to the movie location in the Philippines and his home in the US. It was my first experience going abroad, and the first job I had hoped for in 20 years. Moreover, it was a significantly great movie. Many things happened and I could make use of the chance. So it was the most dramatic point of my life. tj


日本で最も著名な字幕翻訳家でありハリウッドスターの通訳も務める 戸田奈津子のインタビュー・シリース

TJ: 字幕は今後どうなっていくと思われます か?

トダ: 最近は字幕より吹替えを好む人が多く なっています。もちろん字幕は残るとは思いま すが、数は減っていくでしょうね。

TJ: 確かにそうですが、マイナーな映画やテレ ビ番組の数は増えていますね。

トダ: でも同じ手間をかけても作業の単価はと ても安いでしょう?

TJ:“お金をもらえなくてもやりたい”という 人もいます。

トダ: そうですね。私も若い頃はそう思ってい ました。

TJ: 字幕翻訳志願者にアドバイスを。

ト ダ: 経験の浅い字幕翻訳者は自分だけが分 かったという状況に陥りやすい。自分はリサー チをしてストーリーを理解していても、白紙の 状態で映画を観る観客に理解できなければ意味 がありません。字幕だけでストーリーを追える ようでなければダメなんです。思い込みは禁物 です。字幕翻訳者は白紙の状態で原稿を見直す 必要があります。初心者にはその視点が欠けて います。

TJ: 字幕制作の一般的過程を教えていただけま

トダ: 字幕を作る時はまず、スラッシュで文章 を区切ります。セリフの区切りに従って文章を “ハコ”に切っていくのです。それに最初から 番号を振ったものを作業所に送って通し番号と それぞれの長さを表にしたスポッティングリス トを作ってもらいます。このリストに従い、そ れぞれのハコに日本語字幕を作っていきます。 伝統的に、観客が画面で読める日本語の字数は 1秒あたり4文字とされていますので、字幕の 文字数は制限されます。今は私も試写室でなく 自宅のコンピューターでハコ切りの作業をして います。字幕制作の過程は技術的には変化して いますが、翻訳そのものに変化はありません。

TJ: 字幕翻訳者はもう試写室に“缶詰め”にさ

トダ: 事前の情報の漏洩を防ぐため、スピル バーグからハリウッドの一室で字幕を作るよう 頼まれたことはありますが、それは一度だけで す。今は台本と映像がデジタルで送られてきま す。細かい部分は変わりましたが、仕事そのも のの質は変りません。私は今も以前と同じよう に家で仕事をしています。今は手作業でなくコ


トダ: 正直言って、最近は面白い映画があま りありませんね。ヒーローものなどの3D とか CG 映画は若い人には人気がありますが、私は そういう映画に全く興味がありません。テンポ が早すぎて2時間見ても後に何も残らない。ス トーリーさえ思い出せない。映画と呼ぶに値し ないと思いますが、今はそれが主流です。いい 映画は観に行きますが、若い頃のように手当た り次第に観るようなことはないですね。若い頃 にイヤと言うほど観たから、今さら子供だまし の映画は観なくていいと思っています。でもも ちろん、今もいい映画はありますから、選んで 観ています。
若い監督は若い観客向けに映画を作りがちな ので、私はイーストウッドとかスコセッシと いった年配の監督の作品が好きです。世代的に、 70 代80 代の彼らが作る映画が理解できます。
彼らの映画は3D の助けを借りなくとも非常に 質が高いですから。

TJ: スコセッシ監督の3D 映画「ヒューゴの不

トダ: すばらしかった。3D かどうかに関わり なく、映画の歴史を教えてくれるすばらしい作 品です。若い監督が嫌いだとは言いませんが、 見ごたえのある映画はなかなかないですね。

TJ: これまでのキャリアの中で一番大変だった

トダ: 仕事が順調になる以前でしょうね。コッ ポラ作品の字幕をやらせてもらって、ハリウッ ド大作の字幕を担当できるようになるまでに、 20 年も待ちましたから。だから振り返ってみ ると、私のキャリアの中では待っていた間が一 番試練の時だったと思います。20 年はそれほ ど長かったんです。 もちろん私はパイオニアではありません。清水 俊二先生はじめ偉大な先輩が確立してくださっ た字幕の仕事を継承したわけですが、女性とし ては私が最 だったから注目されたのかもしれ ません。でも、この仕事に男女差別はありませ

TJ: これまでのキャリアで一番エキサイティン

トダ: やはり「地獄の黙示録」ですね。40 代 でようやくそのチャンスをつかむ前は、外国に 行ったことさえなかった。コッポラ監督は私を フィリピンのロケ地やアメリカの彼の家に連れ て行ってくれました。初めての海外経験で、し かも20 年待ち続けた仕事でした。さらに、そ の映画はすばらしかった。多くのことが起き、 そのおかげで私はブレークできた。だからそれ が私の人生で最もドラマチックな出来事です。tj

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Written By:

Natsuko Toda

Natusko Toda is the most renowned translator of foreign films in Japan, single-handedly creating the subtitles for major Hollywood movies, and serves as an interpreter when foreign celebrities come to Japan for publicity. After graduating from Tsudajuku University in 1958, Natsuko Toda became a secretary for a life insurance company for a year before leaving to find employment related to the movie industry. She began working as an interpreter in a cinema company and became a pupil of Shunji Shimizu who was experienced at subtitling. She made her debut as a translator in 1970 and has been responsible for subtitling over 1000 movies since then.


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