REBELLING IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN –
a look at Rogue One in Japan by Dave Hackerson
I took a bit of a detour on the way home Friday evening to go see the Japanese dub of Rogue One. This viewing marked the third time I had seen the film, with my previous two viewings being in the original English. Though the movie is doing really well in theaters, it has been tough finding theaters that are doing multiple showings of the dubbed version in the evenings. Fortunately a Japanese user on Twitter provided me with a pretty comprehensive list of theaters in the greater Tokyo area showing the dubbed version, so I was able to make my mission a success.
Prior to going to see the film, I did some research on impressions of the dub and the voice actors who handled the characters. One thing that struck me was the number of people who recommended that parents wanting to see the film with their children should go see the dubbed version. Unlike English, where we learn all 26 letters we need to know and the basics for putting them together to form words in our first two years of school, Japanese uses a combination of two phonetic alphabets (which combine for over 100 characters) and Chinese characters (or kanji, with the average person expected to be able to read over 1200 by the end of middle school). Star Wars is filled with lots of specialized sci-fi vocabulary and expressions, many of them including kanji characters kids won’t learn until they are far along in grade school. The daunting task of following along with subtitles that you can only partially read would quickly dim any kid’s enthusiasm, not to mention concentration. In addition, subtitles in Japanese are generally kept short and must eliminate some information in order for people to keep up with the pace of the story. However, a dubbed version spares you all the trouble of reading and allows you to focus nearly entirely on what is transpiring on screen. I was not a big fan of dubs in the past, particularly when it came to anime, but after seeing a number of western films dubbed in Japanese now over the years, I have a greater appreciation for their ability to engage you and help you better experience a movie free of distractions.
Ultimately, the success of the dub relies on the quality of the voice actors, and fortunately for the Japanese audience there is a wealth of outstanding voice actors here in Japan. I would say that the Japanese dub of Rogue One did the original justice, so much so that I forgot I was actually watching a dubbed version at times. Here I will introduce the characters, the respective voice actors, and their profiles.
Jyn Erso: Haruka Shibuya
Veteran of numerous Western film dubs. Often handles the dubs for Keira Knightley and Rachel McAdams.
Cassian Andor: Yasuyuki Kase
Popular voice actor known for simply outstanding work. Recent dubs include Dead Pool and Captain America: Civil War.
Orson Krennic: Satoshi Mikami
Actor/voice actor that often covers parts acted by Benedict Cumberbatch. Recent dubs include Dr. Strange and Imitation Game. Rogue One marks his SW voice acting debut.
Chirrut Imwe: Yasuhiko Nemoto
Voice actor that specializes in mainly western films and animated features. Has done a lot Disney film dubs, such as Frozen, Toy Story, and Brave. Also has done many of the Marvel films.
Baze Malbus: Katsuhiro Kitagawa
Another veteran voice actor with an outstanding track record, including Transformers, Frozen, and Disney animated series.
Bodhi Rook: Takuya Kirimoto
Wide-ranging voice actor who has done many Western films and dramas. Possess a dramatic flair that he puts to good use for roles acted by Bradley Cooper and Robert Downey, Jr, as well as Asian stars such as Andy Lau and Hyun Bin.
Galen Erso: Masahiko Tanaka
Original Gundam veteran. Often handles roles acted by Alec Baldwin.
Lyra Erso: Marika Hayashi
Voice actor responsible for the dubs of major actresses such as Cameron Diaz, Claire Danes, Kate Winslet, and Mary Lyn Rajskub.
Saw Gerrera: Fumihiko Tachiki
Voice actor that has done a number of anime titles. Most recently “appeared” in Independence Day: Resurgence. Has done Forrest Whitaker roles numerous times in the past.
K-2SO: Hideki Nonaka
Best known for his dub work on the CSI series. Has covered a number of foreign films, dramas, and Japanese anime titles as well. Rogue One marks his first major blockbuster.
Mon Mothma: Ai Satou
Voice actress that does primarily anime, Western films, and foreign dramas. Wide variety of work, including the Space Ranger series, Speed series, Ghostbusters, and 007 series. She also did the voice of Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi.
Darth Vader: Taiten Kusonoki
The second person to voice Darth Vader after Toru Ohira. Pretty much handles all of Darth Vader dubs today. He’s done a tremendous job in Rebels.
I was fairly impressed with the job that Disney did on the dub for The Force Awakens, but it pales in comparison to the job they did with the dub on Rogue One. As I mentioned earlier, the quality of the dub made me forget that I was actually watching a dubbed version for 95% of the film. One aspect in which the Star Wars franchise may have an advantage when it comes to dubs is that the films take place in a “galaxy far, far away”, so our willing suspension of disbelief makes it easier for us (or me at least) to further separate what we see on screen from every day life. I knew we were in for a great ride upon taking in that opening dialogue between Galen and Orson. Actors Mikami and Tanaka did a fantastic job of producing the same gravitas as the original characters, but almost perfectly matching the tone and delivery. Galen holding Jyn and then looking at Lyra and saying “Ike (“Go” in Japanese) sounded exactly the same. Time and again throughout the film, I found the Japanese in the dub matching how I imagined things to be translated from English, and that made it all the easier for me to fully immerse myself within the experience.
Shibuya’s portrayal of Jyn was excellent, and while the standard Japanese she spoke lacked the atmosphere we get from Jones’s British accent, her voice conveyed all the nuances of the character quite well. Indeed, I could sing the praises of every voice actor, but there are two that I believe are worthy of special attention: Nonaka (K-2SO) and Kirimoto (Bodhi). Nonaka’s portrayal of K-2SO was simply sublime, and sounded exactly how imagined the character would have sounded in Japanese. Nonaka produced the same dead-pan delivery that Alan Tudyk perfected for the character, and I found myself laughing at all the same lines as the English original. In a certain sense, the different levels of honorifics used in Japanese helped to further enhanced the character, adding another dimension that made his lines work even better. The language and expressions he used clearly indicate that K-2SO is there to serve Cassian and others, while at the same time the over-the-top politeness made his initial encounter with Jyn all the funnier and goofy. As for Bodhi, Kirimoto’s work on the dub made appreciate that character’s transformation all the more. In fact, and this might sound strange, but the dub left me more impressed with Riz Amed’s performance all the more. His performance provided the template for Kirimoto to work off of, and he did that and more. The sense of confusion and fear when he first meets Saw’s men, the growing confidence he gains as he interacts with the other members of the rogue motley crew, and the ultimate sense of assurance he exudes by the end of the film… each of these small elements were perfectly captured within the dub Japanese, and fully conveyed by Kirimoto’s delivery of the characters’ lines.
There are only two major gripes I have with the dub. The first is that dub removes the added flavor we enjoy from the accents of the truly global collection of actors, many for whom English is not their first language. Their performances lend a sense of authenticity to our beloved galaxy far, far, away, where many of the humanoid and alien characters speaking a first language that is something other than Galactic Standard. This is lost in the Japanese dub, where all the characters sound like native Japanese speakers and speak in a natural tone. I loved Kase’s work on Cassian in the Japanese dub, but I must admit I was momentarily taken aback when I first heard him speak at the beginning of the film. The second is the translation of one single line of dialogue. It may sound trivial, but Bail Organa’s response to Mon Mothma regarding Leia’s capacity to handle the mission to find Kenobi could have been handled much better. In English, Bail says “I would trust her with my life.” The Japanese translation contains far less gravity, and reduces this weighty line to “She’s more than up to the task (literal translation: “She’ll be fine”). Considering how well they did with the translation for the dub, I wish they could have done a little more to capture the implied meaning of Bail’s response in this scene. Again, a minor gripe, but reflecting back on the dub I can’t get this one point out of my mind. On an interesting note, I think they created a Japanese dub for the Death Troopers as well. I listened really close, and I swear I heard them utter things that sounded like Japanese, such as garbled “stop right there” to Lyra when she approaches Galen and Orson. Finally, and this will probably come as no surprise, but Two Tubes and all the other characters who spoke a dialect other than Galactic Standard sounded just as they did in the English original
Well, there you have it. In conclusion, I give the Japanese dub two very big thumbs up, and may choose to watch it again when I take my son for another viewing of the movie (he’s eager to watch it again, and now claims it’s his third favorite of all the films).