Why do moviegoers in English-speaking countries tend to avoid foreign movies with subtitles, while in Japan, for example, it’s just the opposite?

  • -2

    MoBass4u

    My personal reason is the distraction from seeing the movie. Doesn't matter it the titles are on the bottom, left or right of the screen. It always manages to block a good scene.

  • 3

    Brainiac

    I prefer seeing a subtitled movie than one that is badly dubbed. However, to answer the question, I think it's because audiences in English-speaking countries just don't like foreign-language movies. It's probably just a cultural quirk. There are too many other movies to see at the multiplex theaters. Foreign-language movies are usually confined to small arthouse cinemas and have short runs.

    Subtitles don't distract me. After awhile, I don't even notice them. And they certainly do not block a scene as the reader above seems to think. Certainly, Japanese filmgoers don't find that so.

  • 3

    mitoguitarman

    Huh? Have you seen homegrown movies here?!?

  • -1

    tkoind2

    Coming from Seattle this is really not the case. We have and active international film market that brings far more global cinema to the screens than Tokyo every does. And with greater broad public interest. In my experience Japan has far less selection of global cinema than even quiet places like Salt Lake City, Utah.

    As for Japanese tolerance for subtitles, have you been reading the press about this? Japanese young people are often unable to read subtitles because of the kanji used. And more films are now being dubbed than before.

    So not sure what Tokyo the writer is living in, or what foreign countries he/she is referring to, but Japan seems to be the place without much tolerance for global subtitled cinema. But then again it could just be the local film industry folks trying to protect their very frail and quality weak domestic film industry.

  • -1

    susano

    Not sure that it is so true for all English-speaking countries.... the U.S. for sure.... also, a year or so ago they ran an article on the huge reduction in subtitled movies in Japan.....

  • 3

    lucabrasi

    Because 95% of all "hit" movies are in English (though popularity's no reflection of quality). So English-speakers just aren't used to seeing sub-titles and find them distracting.

  • 0

    marcelito

    I don,t think Japanese are exactly lining up for subtitled movies...as susano points out it was reported not long ago that there has been a big reduction is subtitled movies in Japan. My opinion is that majority of people are a bit lazy and can,t be bothered with subtitles. Personally I really enjoy watching movies in their original language rather than having them dubbed. It often adds a lot more to the movie`s emotion and depth - something dubbing can not replicate.

  • 0

    japan_cynic

    Japanese TV is commonly subtitled.

  • 0

    slumdog

    Japanese TV is commonly subtitled.

    That's mostly for emphasis.

  • 1

    oikawa

    Simply because the biggest, most mass-appeal and most well-marketed films are usually made in English, and marketed by the conglomerates. People in every country in the world want to see Star Wars, or DIe Hard, or Saw, or whatever, not only in English speaking countries.

  • 0

    AKBfan

    No choice. anyway, Japanese are used to subtitiles. even Japanese tv writes just about everything that is spoken - and it is spoken in Japanese. all those shocking pink and orange written captions all the time - often with some kind of swooshing or ringing noise....

  • 0

    y3chome

    Japan prefers their dubbing to subtitles........ the subtitles seen on TV are mostly as previous commenters have said, for emphasis.

  • -2

    Zen student

    English speakers avoiding foreign movies? Hmmm, that's news to me. While there are some people who don't like to watch movies with subtitles, I do think that foreign movies have become MORE popular these days as countries like France are producing (and have always produced) movies which are, in general, FAR BETTER than anything Hollywood spits out, IMO. Hollywood used to make great movies but recently the quality if rather poor.

    I recently say "Les Intouchables" (In Japanese 'Saikyo no futari') (a French film) and was completely blown away. Best movie I have seen in years!

    So my point is I think the argument that 'foreign speakers avoid foreign movies' is just another generalization, and not that accurate either.

  • 0

    GaroJ

    When was the last foreign language blockbuster 'Zen student'? For England and the US at least, foreign movies definitely remain a minority interest, even if their popularity has grown. And I say that as someone who has no problem at all with watching subbed French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, whatever, movies.

  • 1

    wipeout

    tkoind2: "Coming from Seattle this is really not the case. We have and active international film market that brings far more global cinema to the screens than Tokyo every does."

    That's rephrasing the question (though it was badly expressed) to your convenience. In Japan "foreign movies with subtitles" include English-language films, and there is clearly a large market for that here, so Japanese are quite willing to watch subtitled movies.

  • 0

    wipeout

    Personally I really enjoy watching movies in their original language rather than having them dubbed. It often adds a lot more to the movie`s emotion and depth - something dubbing can not replicate.

    It doesn't add anything at all to the movie's emotion and depth, but dubbing sure as hell strips it away...

  • 1

    Serrano

    Kung-fu movies are required to be shown in dubbed English voices. They wouldn't be nearly as funny with English subtitles.

  • -1

    LiveInTokyo

    Why would they want to go and see movies that are subtitled? It would have to be a really special movie for people to go and see a subtitled movie, and there arent that many. Hollywood and other places in the English speaking world make enough movies that are of a suitable quality for their peoples needs, so why would they go to see movies that need subtitles?

    And I doubt in many cases that movies from non-English speaking countries have big budgets either. Im not saying that low-budget movies arent good as that is not the case, but they need money for translating the movie, plus it needs to be marketed to an audience which also takes money.

    And how many movies does Japan make that are of great quality? Not as many as it used to, thats for sure. It makes a lot of stuff that (in my opinion) wouldnt make it overseas. Who would want to go and see movies about a guy who makes a cyborg girlfriend? They would never grab the overseas market`s attention.

  • 2

    Aliasis

    If this question is being snide to America, well, the answer is obvious. Most American movie theaters don't show any foreign films, considering Hollywood makes enough to fill all the screens, foreign made movies aren't very competitive, even if they are from the UK. Therefore, first off, movies that NEED subtitles are few and far between. Most people aren't used to having to read subtitles, and though I doubt most people care a great deal, Americans are used to not having to read during a movie.

    On the other hand, in countries like Japan, everything is going to be foreign language, so it's more assumed. And I'm not sure, where's the data that says Japanese people prefer subtitles over dubbing? I'd question the authenticity of that, all of my local movie theaters have showings both dubbed and subbed.

    If I watch a foreign film, I'd probably prefer subtitles but I'm not against dubbing if it's done well. To some extent, subtitles are annoying because you've got to focus on them instead of the actual picture, and the lines carry less drama because you read them before the sentence is finished yet.

  • -1

    sidesmile

    I reckon it's because many westerners don't like foreign movies.

  • 0

    WilliB

    Dubbed movies are horribie, and especially so in Japanese. The voices, the rhythm, the language structure simply don´t match. If the Japanese audiences prefer subtitled movies, it gives credit to them.

  • 0

    USNinJapan2

    I absolutely hate having to watch an English language film that is subtitled in Japanese because 1) being bilingual I just can't help but glance down to see how the English dialogue was translated in the subtitles, which is really distracting and annoying, and 2) all too often the Japanese subtitles of the English dialogue are horribly translated, sometimes bordering on the criminal. I find the translation to usually be too frugal on details and focused on the generalities of the plot, leaving out the colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies of the English dialogue (which I argue can be translated/expressed) that often make up the distinct flavor and feel of the characters and the film as a whole. Some of the worst subtitles I've seen even perfectly mistranslated some of the most key lines in the film and made me doubt that the translator understood or 'got' the film him/herself.

  • -1

    smithinjapan

    This is a really stupid question, quite frankly, and for two reasons:

    • LOTS of people in English-speaking nations watch movies with subtitles, and in fact prefer them -- I mean, many of the bigger film festivals and awards come from English-speaking (or French) nations. Second, a lot of these movies don't appeal to people who prefer the more mainstream, Hollywood style movies with big budgets, huge actors, and stories that appeal to them (again, not everyone by any means). It just so happens that in Japan, for MANY people, the same latter group of movies appeal to them -- especially coming from English-speaking movies like the US, that Japan glorifies and looks up to and aspires to in many regards (pop-culture in particular).

    And sorry, but while many other non-English speaking nations' movies find their way into English-speaking nations to be watched and loved, very, very, very few Japanese movies do because most simply lack the quality that even neighbouring Asian nations put out (especially Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and South Korea).

  • 1

    wipeout

    And sorry, but while many other non-English speaking nations' movies find their way into English-speaking nations to be watched and loved, very, very, very few Japanese movies do because most simply lack the quality that even neighbouring Asian nations put out (especially Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and South Korea).

    I doubt most people could name a single Korean, Hong Kong, Taiwanese or Chinese animator, animation studio, or animated character. Here in Japan, they have Studio Ghibli knocking out films that find an international audience and bring something to the table that is completely different from Pixar and the other US outfits, and that's one tiny part of the animation scene in Japan. Which is just one part of the movie scene in Japan.

  • -1

    theFu

    I can only speak for that little part of America where I've lived (9 states and 12 cities) in the south, eastern and midwestern USA.

    Americans are not used to seeing subtitles in movies, so we never look for them. We aren't trained to read AND watch a movie at the same time. I routinely set a movie to playback, then only listen to the dialog, not watching it at all. I can't do that with subtitled movies in a language I don't know well. I think this explains why most native English speakers don't bother with subtitles.

    Other comments here cover that aspect.

    A few movies have made it do the USA that are subtitled. These are usually the best of the best - before an American conversion is applied. Often local cultural norms are part of those movies, which have to be lost or changed for an average American audience. The Ring or Missed Call series fail with that change attempt. Some British shows are converted drastically losing the funniest parts, IMHO. Coupling was great, before they attempted to Americanize it for a US audience and removed the explicit sexual humor.

    Americans, including myself, are used to having things only in English. I can't imagine buying toothpaste with a foreign language on it as the main language. More and more, household items come with both English and Spanish on the box here, but I always have to check for the English instructions before buying.

    Most Americans don't know any foreign films besides Crotching Tiger or whatever Jackie Chan did. Subtitles are just too much work for us. "If I wanted to read, I'd read a book" is a common quote from my family when I suggest a foreign, subtitled film. They prefer terrible dubbing over reading subtitles. I have to agree.

    The IFilm and Sundance channels have been showing great subtitled films on US cable for years from around the world. I've enjoyed the Korean and Japanese films more than most others, I must say. A few mainland Chinese films have made it and are extremely entertaining, but I find the cultural divide much greater for historical or non-urban films. I simply do not have the life experience and cultural background to appreciate or understand some of those films.

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