By Chae Yeon Kim
The Japanese people could not join the worldwide sensation of Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” this past Thanksgiving season, due to its release at the end of the year on December 27th.
International students who are used to strolling down to the movie theaters to watch a Hollywood Blockbuster movie during opening weekend are giving out cries of frustration on the late release dates of Hollywood movies in Japan. To those international students who are shouting “Doushite?” (‘Why?’ In Japanese), here is a short and sweet article to relieve the stress of not knowing why.
Japan has the third largest movie market for Hollywood movies. This in other words, means that when a movie is not successful in the box office, the losses are quite devastating. Therefore, before Hollywood releases its movies in Japan, they often make a full analysis of how the movie does in the US market and decides from there whether it will be successful in Japan. Only after a significant time analyzing and thinking comes the decision of, first, whether or not to release the film, and second, how to market it in Japan.
Also, because of the size of the Japanese film market, the film industry tries to increase its gains by releasing films during the holiday season. This is true in almost all countries, however more so in Japan. Taking “The Hunger Games” as an example again: “The Hunger Games” was released right before the Thanksgiving holiday season in the United States. This was most likely intentionally timed. Even if other countries around the world do not share the American Thanksgiving, the film was released worldwide almost simultaneously. However, Japan’s release of the film is on December 27th, right before the beginning of the Japanese New Years Holiday.
The need for dubbed versions of Hollywood movies is another reason for late releases in Japan. Japan is the third country in which dubbed movies are becoming the norm (after Italy and France). It was found that Japanese people of all demographic groups prefer dubbed versions of Hollywood movies to subtitled versions due to various reasons.
First of all, subtitles tend to direct the audience’s attention more towards the writing than the actual action on screen, which disturbs audiences from concentrating on the movie. Also, as 3D movies become more popular, the 3D glasses become a hindrance to reading the subtitles properly.
Cultural differences also come into the picture. Since the subtitles are translations of the direct screenwriting, there tends to be a difference in levels of humor in the subtitles. For example, there are some jokes that are hard to directly translate from one language to another. When a movie is dubbed, and the dubbed screenplay is written, the translators have time to consider the cultural differences and therefore, deliver a movie that easily appeals and connects to the Japanese people.
So if you are a new international student living in Japan, who is expecting to watch a movie during its worldwide premiere, you have come to the wrong country. However if you have patience, and wait can for the movies to be finally released, you will know that it was detained for a good set of reasons that include economical and cultural aspects.