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'What are Nazis?' Today's kids can't handle movie subtitles

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The first Hollywood film shown in Japan to carry subtitles on the screen was the Gary Cooper epic “Morocco,” released here in 1931. Up to that point, distributors had dubbed the actors’ lines in Japanese. But the talkies had only been around for a few years, the Sankei Shimbun (May 11) points out, and facilities for voice dubbing could not keep up with demand.

Fortunately, the Cooper film turned out to be a major hit, and audiences came to accept subtitles on foreign films.

More recently, however, film distributors have become increasingly aware that younger audiences are unable to comprehend subtitles on current films. To simplify things, subtitle producers have been ordered to reduce the number of words flashed on the screen to the bare minimum, and use of Chinese characters has been cut.

But the comprehension problem may also be indicative of the dumbing down of the nation. Young adult moviegoers’ lack of familiarity with many basic historical facts, says the Sankei, in some cases has not progressed beyond middle-school level.

As a result, distributors are rapidly switching over to voice dubbing -- not only for animated cartoons, but also for conventional cinema.

The Sankei notes that up to the end of the Pacific War, Japanese subtitles appeared vertically on the screen’s right, with up to 13 characters per line and a maximum of three lines. After the war, the rule of thumb for reading speed was set to 4 characters per second, resulting in the maximum characters per line being reduced from 13 to 10, with a maximum of two lines.

Partly due to the boom in home video, around the mid-1980s, the characters per line -- by this time appearing horizontally in the center of the lower screen -- reverted to 13. The maximum of two lines remained unchanged.

More recently, however, many young viewers are finding this speed to be too daunting for their reading comprehension, and voice dubbing is making a comeback.

“We are devoting the utmost care to provide the highest level of voice dubbing,” says a spokesperson for distributor Toho Towa, which will be releasing three films between August and October. A spokesperson for Warner Brothers was quoted as saying that demand for dubbed versions of the “Harry Potter” film series has outstripped those with subtitles by a ratio of 60 to 40. “This trend has been increasing year by year,” he adds.

Subtitle length, however, is just one of the problems related to viewer comprehension.

“After a preview test showing of a certain spy film, members of the audience really surprised me by posing questions like, ‘What is the Soviet Union?’ and ‘What are Nazis?’” a production manager tells the newspaper.

“It appears that growing numbers of young people are unfamiliar with names and words that most Japanese take for granted,” remarks Koji Kikuchi, a veteran subtitler who has worked on some 1,000 films.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Needs sources, evidence and proof to be believable.

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‘What is the Soviet Union?’ and ‘What are Nazis?’”

are people serious?? they don`t teach any of this at schoole here?

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I've spoken to quite a few Japanese people about this topic just by chance recently. Most of those people told me that they preview dubbing.

Rjdsr, how many newspaper articles ever get sources? If you want proof and evidence for every online and offline newspaper item, there'd be no space for the actual story. Who has ever done that?

Anyway, your comment is completely irrelevant and off-topic. I know it's difficult for you to post relevant comments, but if you could just even try, the JT would be a better place.

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But the comprehension problem may also be indicative of the dumbing down of the nation. Young adult moviegoers’ lack of familiarity with many basic historical facts, says the Sankei, in some cases has not progressed beyond middle-school level.

Seems obvious, but it's not just Japan.

Being an American and a movie geek, I'm used to people being unable to handle subtitles. And it is worth noting that Chinese characters are MANY times more complicated and compact than the simple 24 letter alphabet the West uses. Two lines of kanji is a bit more information than two lines of English.

The whole "what are Nazis" thing though...

This anecdote might be relevant: recently, an American friend's band toured over here, and naturally, we hung out the few days they had off. They had a handful of rabid fans, and the band had befriended one.

We're obviously both music fans, so we started talking. He knew Western music inside out: names, dates, albums, etc. But when I mentioned a Japanese band...one that was not only in the same vein and had collaborated with many of his Western heroes, but was absolutely enormous here in Japan...he had NO IDEA who they were. NONE. Even pointing them out on billboards solicited no recognition.

My rather long winded point is this: I've met many Japanese who hyperfocus on one topic, and seem bizarrely oblivious to other things that might seem to be common knowledge, even things that may be directly relevant. This isn't everyone, of course, but I've never seen this anywhere else. They aren't ignorant (in the general sense,) and they're certainly not stupid, they just don't retain information that isn't of immediate interest.

Kinda like Americans ;)

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'are people serious?? they don`t teach any of this at school here?' Don't mention the war, I did but I think I got away with it. The youth of Japan are misled about the war when they study it at school. If they want to know what a Nazi is, they should just look at their ruling party members.

'the simple 24 letter alphabet the West uses'

Is that the simplified version of the 26 letter alphabet I'm used to?

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in Korea, not Tokyo

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Just an idea... why not subbing in the spoken language. It helps a lot for learning english... Everytime I saw japanese subbing kanjis were litterally killing the picture of the movie, but not nearly as ridiculous as japanese dubbing... The Hunt for Red October... in Japanese... dude, that was the comedy of the year...

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There is a large company in the town where I currently live called "Nachi". My (Japanese) wife seriously thought they had the same name as "Nazi" and were named for their fascist sympathies. I teach college students and their level of ignorance is quite stunning. On saying that, before I came to Japan, I worked in an office in London with strong connections to the Home Office (quite high-profile) and the level of ignorance amongst some of my colleagues, who were supposed to be on the ball, was also pretty stunning at times. It seems that a large proportion of people generally don't rise to much above kutchanekutchane.

<strong>Moderator: Back on topic please.</strong>

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Er, 26 letters, not 24...damned newfangled keyboards...

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It is certainly true that many Japanese children are unaware of the Nazis and haven't heard of Hitler. In a recent juku class of fourth grade elementary school children my Japanese wife teaches only two out of nine had heard of either.

Many kids seem only dimly aware of post-Meiji Japanese history too. No suprise there I suppose given the best efforts of the 'educational establishment' here but it is a pleasure to fill in the gaps for them.

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So the movie industry has recognised the dumbing down of the Japanese population so when will the Government?

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dubbing is just terrible. I watch movies with subtitles because even if I don't fully understand the dialogue I prefer to hear it in the actor's own voice.

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"dubbing is just terrible. I watch movies with subtitles because even if I don't fully understand the dialogue I prefer to hear it in the actor's own voice."

As a moderate movie lover, I fully agree with the above. The script read and performed inn the original language gives an atmosphere to the scene, that which acn be lost in dubbing. The movie industry should not cater to the dumbing down of todays kids, they should be forced to read the subtitles, be exposed to hearing the foreign language spoken. And as for being ignorant of history, that's got more to do with education system than the movie industry. However one thing I will say is that lately I've been watching both the English version and dubbed into Japanese versions of Hollywood movies on my flights to and fro. And I've found the translation in the dubbing pretty damn good in most cases. For those who can follow Japanese subtitles and find excessive Kanji use a pain, try watching a Chinese movie with Japanese subtitles. It's enough to cause a brain hemmorage.

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are people serious?? they don`t teach any of this at schoole here?

It never ceases to amaze me how stupid the average person is (back home and in Japan.)

I'm not at all surprised that young Japanese cannot read or write their own language: listening to 5 minutes of an average conversation is proof.

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I don't see how switching to dubbing may address the "what are nazi" issue. Without at least katakana to indicate that it is a foreign word there'll be nothing to tell the lazy kids nazis were anything different from the Nachi company somebody mentioned. Anyway, the average movie-goer is not expected to have an omnibus knowledge of everything in the world or beyond. There's this fantastic new invention called the Internet for people who haven't heard of books. Somethins spices your curiosity? Go and look it up on Wikipedia.

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Make em read! Dumbing down a movie into baby talk by the same idiots that do stupid commercials and variety programs won't help anyone. If they are confused about a movie's content on history there is a simple fix. Ask an adult or a teacher a frackin question once in a while!

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Get some perspective! Is it so bad to not want to read a movie but to just watch and listen? And why do people figure that Japanese youth are less bright than, let's say the super brilliant youth of America? Or how about those fancy talking geniuses of Great Britain? Get over yourselves. By the way, Japan is the second biggest book market in the world. Japanese people are not dumbed down more than anywhere else, it is just a changing time. I won't know most of the popular singers or actors of even my parents time, just the most popular maybe. Also I'm not sure why everyone is so preoccupied with Nazis. Let it go and let's evolve already.

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today's kids can't handle much of anything

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my first reaction: are you freaking kidding me??

How are Japanese to ever relate to anyone outside of Japan, if they don't know what happened outside, or inside for that matter.

Reminds me of the fashion industry in the '90s or so coming up with Jewish holocaust clothes as 'new' fashion only to be hounded down by foreign media that this is 'bad'. This is just a continuation.

What qualifies for modern international education these days? If not respect for history or languages, are we just reduced to beer commercials? This is getting worriesome.

For Japanese readers here, you have a deep culture and tradition with many interesting stories and dramas. It's not all scary but would be rewarding as it relates to other stories around the world. That's what international people's education creates. Then bridges are made in everyone's perspective, thus creating a kind of shared humanity.

I decry the loss of education here. I hope things get better, also so that when important world anniversaries occur they get noticed and remembered on their own merits. (ie: Israel's 60th bday)

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the nazis thing was a European war .. no surprise Japanese don't know much about... again no surprise not much is also known about Japan or Asians (not just Indian if you a certain breed of brit) during that same period and today by some countries in europe.. it certainly is not on the news or history channels or taught in some European lessons anything like as much compared to the nazi history thing is rammed down your throught... not difficult to find many ignorant people regarding Japan knowledge in the UK for example as another poster mentioned... so anyone for a helping of double standards? Sure Japan seems different to home and you may be surprised by what the locals dont know.. but hey exactly the same thing is being said by Japanese visiting your home country about a variety of things you properly have no idea about.

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The correct response to the question, "What are Nazis?" is, of course, that they are one of a select number of perennial movie villains whose badness is immediately evident and who are essentially immune from assaults of political correctness. Also the original players fully dressed the part, with monocle, riding crop, and swastika armbands. They snapped out sharp fascist salutes, goose-stepped in parades and sang lots of stirring songs, like the Horst Wessel Lied. The wardrobes at Hollywood studios are full of uniforms and 1939 Benz limousines, just awaiting the next blockbuster production. I can hardly wait for the next TV re-run of "The Great Escape".... Surely Japanese kids will have no trouble figuring out that Steve McQueen is the protagonist -- he throws a baseball and rides a motorcycle.

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Did Hogans Heroes ever play in Japan?

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I don't recall offhand, but "Combat" was one of the most popular imported shows in the old black and white TV era (NHK satellite still shows re-runs) and I think Rick Jason made several publicity trips to Japan. But TV in those days seldom used subtitles, partly, I think, because the average home telly back then was pretty small -- 14 or 19 inches.

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the nazis thing was a European war .. no surprise Japanese don't know much about... the nazi history thing is rammed down your throught

please tell me you are not serious

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I'd like to know how many Americans (for example) would know who was Hiro Hito or General Tojo...or something more easy, that the Magnificent Seven or High Noon are remakes of Japanese Movies (stories, in fact). Even Star Wars is a kind of samurai story...American public know about Nazis mostly because of Hollywood movies (everybody knows why). What about other fascist parties, like those in Italy or Spain, or the atrocities committed by Stalin in the Gulag, or the Turkish and the Armenian...Less in the media, less knowledge among the common people. Most probably even ignore the massacres in Nankin or others of the kind.

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You're right kagunlapell, when I was a child I knew nothing of any of the topics you mention. When I was in highschool however, I was taught about all of them, in great detail. What the story fails to mention is the age of the young people in question. If it's a group of 13 year olds then I'm not surprised they have never heard of Nazis. If it's a group of 20 somethings, then there is most definately a problem.

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With the way the J-Government whitewashes Japan's war guilt and responsibilities for World War II in the Pacific, I can't say that I'm terribly surprised to learn that Japanese Youths (and really, whether they are 20-somethings or pre-teens is irrelevent: I knew what a nazi was at age 13) have no clue as to what a Nazi is, or anything about the Soviet Union....and it goes much, muuuuuuuuch deeper than mere subtitles on a movie screen.

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I remember the original version of Star Wars where Obi-wan disembowelled himself upon his lightsaber after admitting defeat to Darth. Shouldnt the Japanese history classes be a bit more detailed about the Nazis considering they were ALLIED with them? I would like to know how many Americans in any marketable demographic have ever seen High Noon or the Magnificent Seven?

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I saw a semi-complex attorney movie recently, Michael Clayton. It is a great movie with great dialog. Although it was a law movie, it was engaging and hopefully not incomprehensible to layman English speakers.

I could only think of how it would be butchered by Japanese subtitles or voice overs replacing three sentences of meaningful dialog and outright prose with Sagoi, Hai, Saicou, Warui, Hidoi, Kakoui, etc.

I have never subscribed to dumbing down society. If they don't understand it, get the dictionary out. Otherwise, the addage "you are what you eat" will apply.

Unfortunately, the movie distributors are in the business of selling; the consumer are not willing to educate themselves; and the picture based written language doesn't lend itself to readily communicating new information.

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Just a thought, but I wonder if the trend toward dubbing has to do with the amount of information on-screen. Most movies these days, esp. action films, are a fast-paced montage of images to create excitement (sometimes in lieu of actual excitement). It's hard enough to see what's going on without trying to read subtitles at the same time.

But I agree with most posters here that subtitles is the way to go. For me, dubbing loses not only performance, but often there is an effort to try to "fit" the dubbing into the mouth of the person talking and a proper translation often won't work in that case.

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kagunlapell: I am an American and I know who they are. I did not get my information from movies. I am not a great fan of the movies but I do love to read. (I do not limit my reading to pro-American views. )

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Well, I can belive this without the documentation due to knowing some kids who are in school now. They have a terrible understanding of comon history events, how things work and worse of all, nobody seems interested in teaching them different! I also am a anime fan and find dubbing and subtitling are bothersome, unless you know the language. I'm trying to work on that, but till then, I can live with sub titles as long as they don't completely change the story.

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Somebody should also tell the kids that after WW2, millions of German civilian were starved and frozen to death in open camps. Guards who gave them food were punished. Let history be known from a factual perspective, not only from the victors perspective. As general Eisenhower said after the war. I hate Germans. Was not the whole point of the wars and post war dramas simply to destroy the proud German race? Of course we cannot question the holocast, as we may be put in prison. Is that not strange that examination of a so called historical fact is a crime. Are they hiding something? The nuking of the civilians in Naga, and Hiro, when Japan had already offered to surrender, were war crimes. As senseles as that seemed, was not the motive to instil fear in future generations, to be very afraid of those who wield the big stick? So Nazis? Why not tell them the whole story, unless the US is still censoring Japan Today.

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It's not just history. A lot of my students lack basic geographic knowledge of the region. Most can't find Micronesia on a map (= ex-Japanese colonies, very close Pacific neighbours) or even the Ogasawara Islands (Japanese since the Meiji era). These came up in a discussion with my 3rd year uni students last week. Of course, this dumbing down isn't limited to Japan, but all of these things, plus the Nazi and Soviet histories mentioned in the article, are mandatory topics in the Japanese senior high school syllabus.

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A lot of my students lack basic geographic knowledge of the region. Most can't find Micronesia on a map

Well duh. It's Micronesia!

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Wow! How intelligent. Instead of educating the youth to read properly and/or study more of world history, let's cater to their ignorance and stupidity by making it easier for them to remain that way. Typical Japanese solution to a major problem. Indeed the future of Japan certainly looks bright. NOT!

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Maybe, call me weird, "reading" may be a good way to learn instead of films and T.V.

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no way, with the reading of more junk on the internet and mobiles as well as Manga speed reading kids of this age should be reading 200% faster.

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no way, with the reading of more junk on the internet and mobiles as well as Manga speed reading kids of this age should be reading 200% faster.

Trouble is the laguange used on the internet. My native language is Spanish and English is my second language, I do participate in forums either in Spanish or English, and even though I try to use a correct language the abuse of the "LOL", "BTW", "PLZ" does not allow a young man/women to learn the language properly. I support reading, good books not junk... reading gives you velocity so the lenght of sentences in subtitles should not be a problem. Sometimes I have bought some movies in Japan, so I watch them in their original language (usually English), I don't like dubbing that much, since sometimes the emotions of the actor/actress are lost with bad dubbing.. About the Nazi thing... It is extraordinary that some can miss that since there are still people that consider themselves "Neonazis"... and there are a lot of movies that could explain the nature of that party members such a good one like "Schindler's List" (Oh wait, it cannot be dubbed because they can't pronounce the name of the protagonist - pardon my sarcasm)

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NorikoT:

As general Eisenhower said after the war. I hate Germans. Was not the whole point of the wars and post war dramas simply to destroy the proud German race?

Say what? Don't you realize that Eisenhower is a German name? He said he was ashamed to be German, not that he hated Germans. Do you really think he was out to destroy his own race? Or are you so racist you can't comprehend that the war was against a hideous ideology of ultranationalism?

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