As many of you are painfully aware, most Japanese-language movies, TV dramas and animes still have no subs on the DVDs. Foreign/Hollywood movies dubbed into Japanese generally do have subs, but these are almost never exact dialogue transcripts (at least, I have never seen one), rather they are a rewording or a paraphrasing.
But why? I needed answers. So I went to my local video rental store, and asked to speak to the manager. (Names changed to protect the innocent). And I said to him, I said: “Mr Nakamura, Double-U. Tee. Eff. Why are the subs so often inexact or nonexistent?”. And Mr. Nakamura told me that the thinking in Japan’s movie industry has typically followed two distinct lines:
- Hearing-impaired people can go in the general direction of heck.
- Subtitles on foreign movies are not merely intended to repeat dialogue, but to convey, clarify and expound on dialogue — in other words, to pick up perceived slack in the audio translation.
Which is all well and good, but that kind of thing can tend to leave an avid learner like you or me…cold.
But there is hope! For there are some Japanese shows that do have exact Japanese subs; right down to the pauses and bridges (the equivalents of “um”). Here are the ones I know about from my pavement-pounding research (I seriously went in the flesh, because the information on the web was on the unreliable side).
- タイガー＆ドラゴン (plus the special extra episode「三枚起請の回」 — a 2-hour prequel that fills in a lot of details that are alluded to later in the show; it’s really essential to a full understanding of the series (and was in fact made before the rest of the series, rather than later like some kind of starwarsian afterthought), so I highly recommend getting it and watching it first).
- クロサギ (cool plot set-up, but the worst acting ever…even the subs couldn’t redeem this show for me)
- 電車男 (infinitely re-watchable dramedy geek love story..based on a supposedly true series of Internet forum posts)
- 3年B組金八先生 (exploitative, tearjerking Confucian propaganda at its worst (love and respect for the sensei), but…whatever)
- 救命病棟24時 第3シリーズ
- あずみ2 Death or Love
- 醫龍~Team Medical Dragon~
- 戀におちたら ~ 僕の成功の秘密 ~
There it is. I am quite certain that these shows have exact subs — I checked every single one at my local video store. But, just to make even more sure, you might want to check with the vendor in question, especially since at least one major vendor (Amazon.jp) has a naughty habit of not listing any info at all about whether there are subs or not. So here is a sample email you might send them:
Subject: 【確認依頼】DVD・日本語字幕の有無／「Name of show」DVD-BOX
「Name of SHOW」というDVDセットを購入しようとしていますが、
Most Japanese dramas run for a single 10-12 episode season of 3 months; this makes it so the good shows end before ever jumping the shark, and the bad shows, well, end. Some shows do have sequel seasons, but this is rare. One thing to note is that just because one season of a show has subs, that doesn’t necessarily mean that any other seasons do. Very much a case-by-case thing.
Pricewise, buying a Japanese drama TV series box set will typically run you in the $120-$150 range, before shipping. In other words, the same price 2-3 normal university textbooks (or one chemistry textbook)…it is steep, but it’s worth it. If you can only buy one right now, buy Tiger & Dragon (タイガー＆ドラゴン); I love that show! It has a really cool plot structure that makes it very re-watchable. Infinitely rewatchable. I’m watching it right now — I often just loop the DVDs.