AP: From `ER’ to `Roswell,’ Japan’s dubbers Are Heard

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From `ER’ to `Roswell,’ Japan’s dubbers make themselves heard

By GARY SCHAEFER
.c The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) – Toshiyuki Morikawa used to imagine himself anchoring the evening
news, his voice calm and smooth. His dream didn’t quite come true. Even so,
he is a television personality, and his voice is familiar to millions of
Japanese.

They just don’t know it.

Morikawa is a “voice actor,” one of about a thousand performing artists in
this country who have made a career of dubbing foreign TV shows and movies
and providing the voices for domestically produced cartoons and video games.

The job gives Morikawa a lot of exposure, if no camera time.

When Lt. Tom Paris of the starship Voyager worries out loud about crossing
the transwarp threshold, it’s Morikawa whom Japanese viewers hear. He’s the
Japanese voice of Greg Montgomery, the lawyer on “Dharma & Greg,” and he
played the aspiring American Indian filmmaker Ed Chigliak on “Northern
Exposure.”

The Morikawas of Japan aren’t as anonymous as one might expect.

They get fan letters, and there are books and Internet sites that catalog
every disembodied voice in Japanese entertainment. Japanese “Colombo” fans
say the show was never the same after Peter Falk’s longtime alter ego died.
Dubbing devotees argue about which of the seven Japanese 007s was the best.

Dubbed words aren’t cheap, either – a voice in demand can command 20 million
to 30 million yen (between dlrs 166,666 and 250,000) per year, or more.

“News readers just tell what’s happening,” Morikawa said. “Voice actors
get to create characters out of their imagination. It’s a great job.”

But not a glamorous one.

Morikawa, 34, and the rest of the Japanese cast of “Dharma & Greg” get
together once a week in a small recording studio in downtown Tokyo to dub two
episodes.

Keeping one eye on their Japanese scripts and the other on a video screen,
the dubbers have to deliver their lines in sync as well as in character.
That’s tough when you’re trying to grunt your way through an action scene or
stumble over foreign words like “aromatherapy” with no Japanese equivalent.

And almost isn’t good enough – unlike those English voiceovers of Godzilla
movies that left generations of American kids wondering why Japanese people
kept moving their mouths after they’d stopped talking. Dubbing two 23-minute
episodes takes four hours.

“The toughest thing is giving the character you’re dubbing a credible voice
and making it look natural to people watching,” said Sakiko Mizuno, a
37-year-old part-time stage actress who plays Dharma.

Of course, credibility is a culturally specific concept. Women’s voices tend
to be higher than in the original because that’s the way women are expected
to talk in Japan.

Roles for dubbers are increasing as satellite and cable TV bring more
American entertainment into Japanese living rooms. Even network TV watchers
can choose from Japanese-language versions of “Ally McBeal,” “ER” and
“Roswell,” plus weekly Hollywood movies.

That adds up to big business for Tohokushinsha Film Corp., the largest
dubbing company in Japan.

Tohokushinsha has been in the industry since 1961, when TV viewers here
marveled at the modern kitchens and endless yards of the Japanese-speaking
Andersons and Cleavers. The company started dubbing in-flight movies in 1966
and video releases in 1980.

Though dubbed TV programs are the norm, few movies shown in theaters have
voiceovers.

“In the years right after the war, film distributors in this country
couldn’t afford to dub,” said company director Tetsu Uemura. “People just
got used to the idea of reading subtitles when they went to the movies.”

Dubbing costs several times more than subtitling, mostly because of the
expense of casting voice actors. Redoing a two-hour feature film in Japanese
may require a budget of up to 30 million yen (dlrs 250,000) and take two
months.

Dubber wannabes go to schools like the Tokyo Media Academy, where 160
students pay tuition of 1.15 million yen (about dlrs 9,500) to be drilled in
articulation, pronunciation and projection. They don’t even touch a
microphone until their second year.

TMA director Mitsutoshi Ichihara estimates that only 10 of his 160 students
will be working in the industry two years after graduation.

“They all want to be Julia Roberts or some cartoon character,” he sighed.
“Very few ever will.”

AP-NY-06-14-01 2238EDT