Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor

A Comparison of Japanese and English Language Versions

By Reito Adachi (Kurashiki City College, Japan)


This paper aims to examine how the acoustic nonverbal elements in a particular Japanese live-action film are dubbed in the US English version. The focus is on the aural modification of sound effects, background music, and paralanguages in Yoji Yamada’s samurai movie Bushi no Ichibun (Love and Honor). The two versions are compared to examine the dubbing process in terms of deletion, addition, amplification, and reduction. Although the dialogue and visual images in the English version are generally faithful to the original Japanese version, sound elements have shown a notable tendency to undergo changes, including omissions, as a strategy of dubbing a film from a high-context culture to a low-context culture. These findings indicate the importance of studying audiovisual translation not only from the verbal and visual perspectives but also from the acoustic perspective.

Keywords: dubbing, sound, audiovisual translation, Japanese film, Love and Honor

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"Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor"
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1. Introduction

The present paper intends to contribute to the advancement of audiovisual translation (AVT) studies by casting a new light on the aural aspects of dubbing between what Edward T. Hall (1976) calls high-context and low-context cultures. He states that “a high-context (HC) communication is one in which most of the information is already in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicitly transmitted part of the message. A low-context (LC) communication is just the opposite; i.e., the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code” (p. 91). Countries like Japan, Italy, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have high-context culture while countries where low-context culture is dominant include the United States of America, Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia.[1] This paper is designed to investigate how acoustic elements in the Japanese samurai movie Bushi no Ichibun (Love and Honor)[2] are adapted in the process of dubbing into English in the USA. The acoustic elements studied here include background music, sound effects, and paralanguages such as sighs, laughter and silence.[3] AVT deals with multimodal information, which is broadly classified into screen images and sounds. Audiovisual text can be further classified into four basic elements: visual verbal (e.g. subtitles), visual nonverbal (e.g. images), acoustic verbal (e.g. dialogue), and acoustic nonverbal (e.g. background music and sound effects) (Delabastita 1989; Zabalbeascoa 2008: 24). Dubbing is the act of maintaining a balance between adequacy and acceptability of what Oittinen (1993: 85) calls the “whole situation”.

Acoustic nonverbal elements are generally considered to play a peripheral or, at most, supporting role to the other three elements, which mainly convey and represent information and ideas to the audience. Background music and sound effects work most effectively when they act in harmony with visual and verbal information. However, acoustic nonverbal elements have distinctive characteristics that can create an atmosphere without relying on words or even visual images, appealing strongly to the emotions of the audience. Moreover, according to Hall (1976), while high-context cultures tend to concentrate more on nonverbal elements, the latter are less important in low-context cultures where most contextual elements require explanation. This can cause confusion or misunderstanding to people who are unfamiliar to the unspoken rules of a given culture. Thus, the effects of acoustic nonverbal elements on a context should not be overlooked in AVT studies.

2. Previous Studies

According to Chaume (1997), nonverbal elements were strongly disregarded in the field of Translation Studies, “as if translation of verbal utterances took into account every single paralinguistic, kinetic or semiotic sign which cohesively complements verbal signs” (315). However, the 21st century has seen a growing number of studies on acoustic nonverbal elements in AVT, such as voice quality, vocalization, and vocal qualifiers (e.g. Braun and Oba 2007; Palencia Villa 2002; Pennock-Speck and Del Saz-Rubio 2009). More recent studies include Sánchez-Mompeán (2020) which carried out a comprehensive examination of prosaic features of dubbed dialogue from the perspective of both theory and practice, as well as Bosseaux (2019) who pointed out the importance of appropriately choosing of voice actors in the French dubbing context. More obviously relevant to later discussion in the present paper are investigations that deal with background music, sound effects and paralanguages, such as silence. Building on the studies by, for example, Susam-Sarajeva (2008), Bosseaux (2008) and Minors (2013), De los Reyes Lozano (2017) focused on how translation plays a variety of roles within a musical context and analyzed translation strategies and techniques adopted in the process of dubbing animated films. Other insightful views include Dastjerdi and Jazini (2011) and Ranzato (2011; 2013) who examined how acoustic elements, such as off-camera sound effects and live laughter, are eliminated or manipulated in subtitles and dubbing.

In Japanese movies, including samurai dramas, communication via indirect or implicit messages has provided topics in film studies and other fields, such as cultural studies (e.g. Došen 2017). According to some research, a good example of Japanese communication style is the use of silence (Nakane 2007) and real-life Japanese speakers insert pauses and silences into dialogue more frequently than American speakers (Yamada 1997: 77). Pauses and silences could, therefore, provide an interesting standpoint to discuss the use of acoustic nonverbal elements in Japanese films. Jin (2004) argues that silence and sound, for example, in Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese movie Kumonosujo [Spider Web Castle] (the English title is Throne of Blood), which is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, are as eloquent as Shakespeare’s introspective speeches that convey dramatic power. These nonverbal elements communicate effectively “through the manipulation of silence and the interaction between silence, natural sound, and noh music” (2).

Furthermore, after comparing between the original Japanese versions and English-dubbed versions of Japanese animated movies imported by the USA in the late 20th century, Adachi (2013) concludes that “in the pre-2000 English-translated versions, examples of high-context communication, such as fragmented dialogue and pauses and silences, are one of the obvious targets for serious modification” (171-2). In spite of temporal and contextual limitations, the pre-2000 translations are based on word-specific communication, which is why great importance is placed on making the textual message as explicit as possible so that it can remove verbal ambiguity and enhance its autonomy.[4] Moreover, by examining the treatment of silence in the translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away released in the USA in 2003, Adachi (2016) clarifies that the US English version of the animated fantasy movie removes multiple instances of silence not by interpolating words but by “inserting fillers and by adding or amplifying sound effects” (153).[5]

3. Materials and Methods

3.1 Characteristics of Love and Honor

The Japanese film Bushi no Ichibun, which literally means “the honor of the samurai warrior,” is based on Japanese novelist Shuhei Fujisawa’s short story “Momoku Ken: Kodama-gaeshi” [blind blade: echo return] published in 1981 in his collection of historical stories Kakushi Ken: Shofusho [hidden blade: autumn breeze]. The short story was made into a movie with the title Bushi no Ichibun in 2006 by the director Yoji Yamada. Bushi no Ichibun is the third film of Yamada’s samurai trilogy, following Tasogare Seibei (The Twilight Samurai, 2002) and Kakushi Ken: Oni no Tsume (The Hidden Blade, 2004). The hero of Bushi no Ichibun is a low-ranking, blind samurai named Shinnojo Mimura (henceforth, Shinnojo). He serves as a food taster for poison for a local lord of Unasaka-han (present-day Shonai region) fiefdom in the Tohoku district around the end of the Edo period (1603-1868 AD). The movie involves many things particular to Japan, including the natural environment of the northeast region, periodical sense of feudal Japan, and social status as a samurai. Bushi no Ichibun achieved both popular and critical acclaim in Japan. It was the sixth-biggest box-office hit among the Japanese movies released in Japan in 2006. More importantly, it was so highly acclaimed for its excellent aural elements that it was nominated for the Japan Academy Film Prizes for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Recording and Outstanding Achievement in Music on 16 February 2007.

 Director Yoji Yamada (2006) discusses sounds in the movie as follows:

The novel’s descriptions of how the scenery changes delicately every morning and evening in the four seasons are very beautiful. The fact is that I considered a lot about how to express rain, mist, and wind in the movie. I guess, in the old days, people led a quiet life in the Edo period and Shonai region. I imagine that because nothing made a large noise around them, people heard sounds like street vendors’ voices, bird’s notes, chirping of insects, and the murmuring of a stream very well. (Translation by the author)

It is evident that Yamada has carefully considered the sensitivity of sound aspects of this film such as meticulously recording and reproducing a variety of sounds of nature and daily life, as well as street noises. Examples include wind, rain, thunder, bird song, insect sounds, dog howls, noises in the kitchen, rustles of clothing, the opening and closing of the fusuma (sliding door), whooshing sound of swords and street vendors’ cries. Furthermore, Bushi no Ichibun is unique in its theme and background music played by traditional Japanese instruments such as a Japanese bamboo flute called shakuhachi, a Japanese lute called biwa, and a Japanese wind instrument called sho, accompanied by newly created or modified sounds of a modern synthesizer. It is interesting to add that the rare sound of hibashi or metal chopsticks for handing hot charcoals is also used as a musical instrument in this film (Myochin n.d.). Throughout the movie, these sound effects and music are used almost without a break, giving a vivid and convincing impression of scenery, sentiment, and characterization in the work.

In Bushi no Ichibun, acoustic elements are worthy of attention not only for the audience but also for the main character, Shinnojo. For the audience, the sound serves as a means to enhance the effect of the dramatic presentation. For Shinnojo, sound is a vital source of information about the surroundings in which the blind hero lives. He always keeps his ears open, which is emphasized in the original short story that ends with the sentence: “Samazama na oto o kikinagara Shinnojo wa cha o susutte iru” [Listening to various sounds, Shinnojo is sipping tea] (Fujisawa 2004: 382). Shinnojo’s trust in his finely honed sense of hearing is especially obvious in the duel scene, where it helps him to avenge his wife’s dishonor by defeating Toya Shimada, the chief duty officer and master swordsman. Simultaneously, however, he gets into predicaments when he cannot take advantage of this outstanding listening ability. In the duel scene mentioned above, the rumbling roar of fierce gusts that are blowing intermittently drowns out all other noises, including the subtle sounds of Shimada’s footsteps and breathing. The original short story does not mention any sound of the wind; it is unique to the movie. In addition to the wind, many other sound effects in the movie are not described in the original short story, including birds’ cries, temple bells, and thunderclaps. It can be assumed that the extensive use of sound effects relates to director Yamada’s remarks quoted above, providing strong evidence of the great importance he places on the acoustic aspects of the film.

3.2 Production of the US English Version

Love and Honor, the US English version of Bushi no Ichibun, was released in 2007. It was dubbed and distributed by Funimation Entertainment, which produces merchandise and releases entertainment properties in the USA and international markets. Funimation was founded as an entertainment company predominantly focused on licensing Japanese anime. It is known for producing re-dubbed versions of Japanese anime that were so heavily Americanized by other production companies that they garnered significant criticism from anime fans. In contrast to those first dubbed versions, Funimation attempted to translate anime fairly faithfully to the original Japanese versions (Adachi 2012: 194-5). These animated works include popular titles such as One Piece, Dragonball, Pokémon, Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh! Funimation then expanded into distributing live-action movies from Asia. Love and Honor was one of the first live-action films that Funimation brought into the USA. According to the CEO of Funimation, Gen Fukunaga who is a Japanese-born American entrepreneur, there are three reasons why Funimation picked up Bushi no Ichibun: (1) it is artistically excellent; (2) it was expected to cultivate new audiences by winning over fans of samurai movies, including those of Akira Kurosawa, and (3) the first film of director Yamada’s samurai trilogy, The Twilight Samurai, was so critically acclaimed in the USA that it was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards (Interview 2008). Love and Honor was expected to have similar recognition.

3.3 Study Methods

To begin with, the author extracted the sound data from the Japanese film Bushi no Ichibun and the US English film Love and Honor in the AC-3 file format from the DVDs released in Japan and the USA, respectively. The sound pressure levels of each dataset were adjusted with the loudness-matching function of the audio editing software Adobe Audition® in order to standardize the audio levels between the two files. Next, silences in the Japanese and American versions were measured in terms of number, duration, and location and analyzed from a quantitative angle in the Results section. Silence is defined here as a period during which sounds are lower than –40 decibels relative to full scale (dBFS) for longer than 10 seconds.[6] Algorithms to measure audio program loudness and true-peak audio levels are based on ITU BS1770-2, an international loudness-measurement standard defined by the International Telecommunication Union. Then the two sound data were listened to and compared with the change in silence as a clue, and major adaptations of acoustic elements, such as sound effects, background music and paralanguage, were classified into reduction, deletion, amplification, and addition in Results. Finally, a descriptive analysis of concrete cases was conducted, considering how and why acoustic modifications were made in the process of dubbing of Love and Honor.

4. Results

4.1 Visual Nonverbal and Acoustic Verbal Elements

Before examining the adaptation of acoustic nonverbal elements, it is helpful to look at the state of visual nonverbal and acoustic verbal elements in the translation of Bushi no Ichibun. In visual images, there are no differences between the original Japanese version and the English version. Furthermore, the spoken dialogue is generally faithfully translated with few, if any, minor additions or deletions.[7] In fact, the translation of dialogue is so consistently faithful to the original version that even culture-specific words, which may seem too foreign for most American audiences to understand, are used as loanwords in the English-dubbed version, borrowed directly from Japanese without translation. Culture-specific Japanese words that appear in Love and Honor include Japanese honorific suffixes like -sama, -tono (-dono), -san, -han, and -sensei. In Japanese, the use of such honorifics functions effectively as an indicator of differences in the relationships between the speaker and the person being addressed or referred to. However, it is doubtful whether they make sense in this way to an audience who are unfamiliar with Japanese language and culture. In fact, in the subtitles, almost all such honorific suffixes (with the exception of one use of -sensei) are deleted or replaced with English equivalents and alternatives such as lord, counselor, and squire. Many other Japanese words are taken as loanwords from the original Japanese version, such as koku (a unit of volume of rice), dojo (a hall for the practice of martial arts), tsubugai (Japanese whelk), fugu (blow fish), katana (sword), and hakama (traditional Japanese trousers). As a result, some lines in Love and Honor contain multiple Japanese words that are probably unknown or unfamiliar to most of the American audience. The following are two random examples: answering a question about the food he is tasting, Shinnojo says succinctly, “Some red tsubugai sashimi” (01:12:14); and Shimada boasts that he practiced at a prestigious Japanese fencing school, saying, “I am Shimada Toya who trained at Naganuma Dojo in Koishikawa” (01:37:05).

4.2 Acoustic Nonverbal Elements

With those points in mind, we can now consider how acoustic nonverbal elements are dealt with in Love and Honor. As Adachi (2010) shows, there is a strong tendency to decrease the instances of silence in Japanese movies in the process of translation into English. However, Love and Honor is an interesting exception to this tendency: The English version has more instances of silence than the original Japanese version, which is summarized in Table 1 in the Appendix. There is an increase of 38% in the total instances of silence, from 13 in the Japanese version to 18 in the English-dubbed version.

Moreover, comparisons of acoustic elements between the Japanese and English versions reveal that, in contrast to the faithful translational attitude toward the spoken dialogue, the English version has various adaptations, including deletion, reduction, amplification and addition of sound. The main examples are listed in Table 2 in the Appendix. It is important to point out that regarding sound effects, deletion and reduction far exceeded addition and amplification both in number and time length. There is no doubt that the tendency toward subdued sound effects resulted in the overall increase in the instances of silence in the English version.

5. Discussion

5.1 Amplification and Reduction of Sound

Adrian Cook, a mixing editor for Love and Honor, has provided basic information for the present study.[8] According to him, sound adaptation is strictly limited not only due to temporal and contextual limitations of AVT but also out of the contractual obligations as well as respect for the director of the original version. He examined the audio archive for the dubbing and found that this holds true for Love and Honor. Cook states that no audio elements are added to or deleted from the original source sent directly from the studio. However, he admits the possibility that an unsatisfactory mixing environment at the time resulted in the production of an English-dubbed version in which the sound intensity of the background music and sound effects is weaker than in the Japanese version (Cook, personal communication, 30 August 2018; 8 September 2018). He also mentions that it is common practice in the process of sound mixing to change the sound pressure levels under the director’s preference in order to convey more emotion for American audiences, for example, by widening the dynamic range that can be defined as the ratio between the strongest and the weakest sound intensity (Cook, personal communication, 28 August 2018).

Regarding changes in sound pressure, the swells of the background music are noticeably used to highlight the emotions of the characters. This manipulation of background music in the movie helps to enhance expressive lyricism in key points that move the story towards the climax. Examples include the following scenes: Kayo transfers a liquid medicine from her mouth to that of unconscious Shinnojo (#19 in Table 2; the same applies hereafter); Kayo stares at Shinnojo without being able to tell him that his eyes are incurable (#20); he grows suspicious about Kayo’s infidelity (#16); he cares for his sword the night before the duel (#21); he wins the duel (#22); he burns the birdcage alone in the evening twilight (#23); and Kayo comes home at the end (#24).

As the mixing editor suggests, the pressure of the sound effects in the English version is generally kept far lower than in the Japanese version. This is evident in many parts of the film, including the last 20 minutes from the duel scene to the happy denouement where the young couple is reunited. These parts have minimum dialogue, causing the audience to pay attention to its visual and nonverbal aspects. In the supper scene, Kayo is so quiet that Shinnojo asks her jokingly if she has lost her tongue; she expresses her fear, sadness, and joy eloquently using gestures and facial expressions as well as sobbing a few lines. The background sound effects for the last 20 minutes are various, such as the cawing of crows and barking of dogs, but the most impressive is the gusts of wind that rage during the duel and shake Shinnojo’s house until he forgives and receives Kayo back. During the supper scene at home, the winds outside are clearly heard in the Japanese version. They produce the effect of an uneasy and threatening atmosphere in which Shinnojo and Kayo find themselves. However, that atmosphere is barely audible in the English version (#2–#6, #12–#15). The English version lowers the deafening sound of the winds in the duel scene, which becomes especially noticeable while Shinnojo and Shimada are speaking: a sudden hush falls over them as if the storm has calmed down for a while (e.g. 01:45:15–01:46:25 and 01:47:49–01:48:00). Obviously, these frequent fluctuations in sound pressure are made deliberately so that dialogues can sound clearer for the audiences. As a result, the silent aspect of the film becomes more obvious in the English version.

5.2 Deletion and Addition of Sound

As Table 2 shows, the English-dubbed version has a lot of acoustic deletions and a few sound additions. This is an important point that the mixing editor did not mention because there is a significant difference between reduction and deletion as well as amplification and addition. These differences are not just a matter of degree but also a matter of intrinsic quality. Reduction and amplification of aural elements are applied to the sounds that are deemed acceptable and desirable enough to be adjusted to the taste and expectations of American audiences. However, sound deletion is performed on the aural elements that are judged to be unacceptable or inappropriate for the English version and added sounds are quite new to the original version, reflecting deliberate consideration of the characteristics of the target language and culture. The question of why some of the sound effects, background music, paralanguage, and even dialogue are deleted or sometimes, very rarely though, added in the process of dubbing Love and Honor will be discussed from the three viewpoints: (1) heterogeneous sounds, (2) lip-synchronization, (3) consistency between image and sound.

5.2.1 Heterogeneous Sounds

In the scene where the feudal lord receives Shinnojo in the audience, the English version erases the cries of a bird of prey called tobi, a black kite. The shrieks ring out unexpectedly when the lord comes in and immediately leaves, saying a curt “good work” to Shinnojo who sacrificed his sight to save his life (#8). The same sound of a black kite is also deleted in several scenes, including the duel scene (#13, #14). The screams of black kites were removed in the English-dubbed version simply because these birds do not inhabit North America and their unique cry could be unfamiliar and confusing to American audiences. In addition, Japanese temple bell tones are also deleted from a couple of scenes in the English version (#10, #11). In the Japanese version, the sound floats from the distance when Kayo confesses in tears to her old servant Tokuhei that she has provided sexual favors for Shimada in exchange of continuing Shinnojo’s samurai stipend. The sacred bell sound strongly implies Kayo’s profound penitence and repentance for her indiscretion. In the English version, however, the toll of the temple bells is erased while other sound effects, including the chirping of insects and the cawing of crows, are left unchanged. It is clear that the peal of the temple bells was intentionally eliminated to avoid the risk of misinforming American audiences, who might be unfamiliar with the low, lingering sound coming from nowhere. A negative effect of acoustic elements is that sounds familiar to the audience in one country can be unfamiliar to the audience in a different country. In this case, the acoustic elements used in a movie are likely to be an obstacle to intercultural communication, which prevents the audience from enjoying or even fully understanding the translated version.         

5.2.2 Synchronization

Synchronization, including lip-synchrony, kinetic synchrony, and isochrony, is an important characteristic of AVT, especially in the context of dubbing (Chaume 2004). Conversely, paralanguages, such as sounds of laughter and moans, tend not to be included in the English version when not accompanied by obvious lip movements (#25, #26, #28, #30). Following the same logic, a conversation made by off-screen characters is cut out (#27). In contrast, the English version sometimes dubs even the subtle background utterance by characters in the distance as long as their lip movements are apparent to the audiences (#31–#37). In the temple scene (#32), for example, Tokuhei at the front is watching Kayo and the monk from behind a tree. They are out of hearing distance and it is almost impossible to catch their words in the Japanese version. However, their conversation is clearly audible in the English version. Then the sound pressure of their chatting drops suddenly when Tokuhei starts grumbling. These audio manipulations may be considered unnatural but they conform to the governing principle of sound mixing that gives high priority to synchronization.

Another interesting example of synchronization effects can be seen in the scene where Shinnojo is informed about Kayo’s sexual relations with Shimada. He is too shocked to speak initially, remaining silent so that Kayo does not notice that he already knows about what she did. In the Japanese version, while Kayo is away in the kitchen, Shinnojo moves his lips with a distressed look, trying in vain to say something to his wife. He never pronounces the words, but his lip movement in close-up is so distinct that what he is trying to say is understandable to Japanese speakers: the phrase “aho ga” [how foolish] (#36), which he uses frequently. By contrast, these unuttered words are vocalized into his agonized sigh in the English version. Note that the word aho could have been translated directly into foolish or stupid in the same way that the word is dubbed literally in other parts of the film. It would have also been possible to keep the monologue unspoken, as in the original version. However, the English version chooses to replace the silent lip movement with the paralanguage, so that the adaptation makes it possible not only to express Shinnojo’s emotional dilemma audibly but also to comply with the general principles of lip-synchronization.

5.2.3 Message Coherence Between Image and Sound

For reasons other than synchronization, the English version tends to seek consistency in message delivery between image and sound by manipulating acoustic elements. In order to avoid causing disharmony in message with the onscreen image, sound effects and background music are occasionally edited out. The development of computer technology makes it easier to select and edit only particular parts of sound effects or background music. The sound of thunder, for example, is cut off from the scene in which poison tasters, including Shinnojo, are performing their duty (#7). During this scene, the rumbling of thunder is heard frequently, which functions as an omen of the tragedy that is about to strike Shinnojo. Visually, however, this scene involves a relaxed atmosphere with comical characters. While the poison tasters on duty are chatting about the food in a relaxed manner, their elderly superior starts snoring in front of them; he then tries to stand up, slips and nearly falls down on the tatami mat. These farcical acts do not fit with the use of thunder as a sinister symbol. The discrepancy between the visual and audio messages may enrich the multilayered structure of the original film, stimulating the audiences’ interest in the contrast displayed. Simultaneously, however, the dissonance of the contradicting visual and audio messages can make the action of the film vague and ambiguous. It may safely be assumed that the US English version eliminates the audio message that is not in harmony with its visual counterpart and prioritizes the distinct delivery of the visual message.

The same is true for another part of the film: the chirping of a pair of little birds, which Shinnojo and Kayo keep in a cage at home, is erased from the approximately 15-second shot of Shinnojo sitting alone on the veranda of his house (#9). The birds cannot be seen, but their twitter is heard clearly and constantly in the Japanese version. There is no doubt that these birds’ songs in the English version have been deliberately removed because the other sounds in the background, including smaller ones, such as an attendant’s footsteps and drawing of water, can be heard as well as in the Japanese version. In this scene, Shinnojo has a flower in his hand, around which a white butterfly is floating, but he does not notice it. Likewise, he is still unaware of Kayo’s infidelity. The butterfly here serves as a symbol of fragility and fleetingness of Shinnojo’s life. Just like the lull before the storm, this 15-second shot is one of the most static and quiet periods of time in the film. Perhaps one of the reasons why the birds’ songs from off-screen are deleted is simply that the sharp and high-pitched twitter of the birds can seem incompatible with the image of the silent butterfly. By cutting off the birds’ twitter that can distract the audience from the tableau-like shot, the English version emphasizes the quietness and tranquility of the butterfly scene more than the Japanese version.[9]

When a written media is translated from a high-context culture to a low-context culture, it is possible to add more words in order to convey an explicit verbal message in a plain and easily understandable manner, incorporating explanations and comments as necessary into the original text. In AVT, however, dubbing is subject to severe constraints of time and synchronism with visual signs such as lip movement, gestures and camera blocking. Moreover, as Japanese animated works started to gain recognition in America as their fansubs and fandubs (subtitles and dubs created by fans) were circulating among eager anime fans, if not the general public, during the 1990s (Díaz Cintas and Muñoz Sánchez 2006), the tendency toward a faithful translation strengthened and became practically predominant in the 2000s (Adachi 2012: 194-231). This tendency is observable in the translation of verbal and visual elements in Love and Honor. However, as far as acoustic elements are concerned, its dubbing strategy’s noticeable characteristic is that a lot of acoustic non-verbal elements have been deleted because not only dialogue but also sounds can be a major cause of frustration and confusion in intercultural communication.[10] In spite of the loss of information, the removal of sound is the simplest way to make a translated film accessible to a target-culture audience, avoiding the potential dissonance and irrelevancy of audio messages to visual and verbal messages to the audience.

6. Conclusion

On the basis of these findings, it is suggested that, of the three codes of audiovisual texts that fall within the scope of this article, the acoustic verbal and visual nonverbal codes proved faithful to the original Japanese version of Love and Honor. In contrast, the observations of specific cases showed that the acoustic nonverbal code such as background music, and sound effects, as well as paralanguages as a form of acoustic nonverbal code, had a marked tendency to undergo adaptation, most interestingly, by the means of omission in the US English version of the samurai movie. It demonstrated high value and positive attitude toward words and images at the cost of simplifying the rich layers of meaning and implication provided by nonverbal sounds even though the original version of the film was highly acclaimed among Japanese critics for its sound elements. The mixing editor of Love and Honor may have been correct when he said that new sound was not added to nor substituted from the original source that was sent directly from the studio. However, as this study revealed, the method of auditory deletion was used as a strategy for dubbing a film in a high-context culture to suit the needs and preferences of audiences in a low-context culture. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suppose that acoustic elements are not just a major component of a film, but are an equally rich and diverse object of AVT study.

There are some limitations in this present study. First of all, this research is intended to be exploratory with a case study of the English translation of a Japanese film. Future studies can explore some of the issues identified in this paper using a larger and more representative sample of Japanese films that were translated into English. Second, in order to do so, it is necessary to establish methods that enable us to accumulate acoustic data more efficiently and analyze them from more diverse angles. The present study deals with an aspect of the acoustic elements focusing on silence so it may be too early to generalize from these results. Lastly, a more empirical approach to clarifying the process of decision-making in sound operation should be pursued. The mixing editor for Love and Honor provided useful firsthand information, but professional dubbing projects follow a complex and multifaceted process.[11] To investigate the process as a whole is beyond the scope of this brief paper and remains as a matter to be discussed further. Therefore, the findings of this present study need to be carefully interpreted with these limitations in mind.

Despite its preliminary character, however, this research contributes to a growing literature that suggests the importance of examining sound elements to obtain a better understanding of AVT between high-context culture and low-context culture. A further direction of this study will be to provide more evidence for these results.


This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 15K02374.


Table 1


US English

Starting time


Starting time


























































































Table 1. The instances of silence in the Japanese and US English versions of Love and Honor.

Table 2

Audio elements




Starting time

Ending time

sound effects








Sound of the chief poison tester opening the front of his kimono.


Chirping of birds


Household sounds

Barking of a dog























Thunder during Shinnojo’s tasting for poison

Sounds of a black kite

Chirping of birds while the butterfly flits around Shinnojo

Temple bell during Kayo’s visit to the temple

Temple bell during Kayo’s confession

Cawing of crows

Sound of a black kite

Sound of a black kite

Cawing of crows





















Chirping of insects while Shinnojo’s doubt about Kayo’s fidelity is growing.



background music




Sound of the Japanese drum

Sound of the Japanese drum












Main theme (Kayo nursing Shinnojo.)

Main theme (Chat about fireflies between Shinnojo & Kayo)

Main theme (Night before the duel)

Main theme (Shinnojo’s victory)

Main theme (Shinnojo alone in the evening twilight)

Main theme (Kayo’s homecoming)













dialogue, paralanguage









The chief poison tester’s sigh before committing hara-kiri (suicide)

Shinnojo and Kayo’s sighs

Kayo’s off-screen voice and laughter

Children’s laughter in the background

Reverberation of Shinnojo’s roar in the duel

Shinnojo’s sigh




















Off-screen dialogue between Kayo and Tokuhei

Distant dialogue between Kayo and the monk

Shinnojo’s moan in the duel

Shimada’s groan after the duel













The vassal’s whisper to the lord in the distance

Shinnojo’s silent lip movement

Shinnojo’s moan in the duel







Table 2. Major adaptations of audio elements in the dubbing of Love and Honor


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[1] However, overgeneralization and stereotyping should be avoided. According to Krizan et al. (2007: 36), for example, although American culture is considered a low- context culture, communications among family members tend to be high-context.

[2] The official English titles of Japanese movies are shown in italics in the text or in parentheses, and word-for-word translations of original Japanese into English are provided within parentheses.

[3] Paralanguage, including silence, is considered here as the non-speech sound to modify, limit or enhance the meaning of speech.

[4] Adachi (2013: 170) points out that the pre-2000 translations often displayed a tendency to swing between excessive interpolation (e.g. large and extreme modifications to fill in pauses and silences in The Castle of Cagliostro) and excessive deletion (e.g. more than twenty-one minutes of footage cut from the original Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in its first US English version Warriors of the Wind).

[5] In contrast, according to Adachi (2013, p. 83), the translation of American movies into Japanese is relatively faithful to the original text as a whole.

[6] In Adobe Audition®, the maximum possible amplitude is 0 dBFS; all lower amplitudes are expressed as negative numbers. A sound intensity level of 0 dB is the maximum amplitude possible; –20 dBFS is the reference level to which broadcast engineers in North America usually adjust their audio equipment (a status known as “broadcast safe”). The loudness level of spoken dialogue in a movie is required to be a minimum of –31 dBFS, according to the dialnorm parameter, an indication of the average volume of normal speech within an audio program (Williams et al. 2007: 1324). The term “dialnorm” is an abbreviation of dialogue normalization. It is a parameter within the Dolby Digital (AC-3) system that identifies the area of normal speech in an audio program.

[7] Although visual verbal elements, such as subtitles, do not come within the scope of this paper, it may be worth pointing out in passing that the subtitles were generally faithful to the source Japanese lines. One notable exception, however, is the title of the movie: Love and Honor. The original Japanese title, Bushi no Ichibun, literally means the honor of the samurai. In comparison with the Japanese title, the English version adds and emphasizes matrimonial love.

[8] Adrian Cook, who is known for his work on many Japanese anime and live-action films, worked with all the sound elements of Love and Honor, especially the final theatrical sound mix for the US English version.

[9] It is interesting to point out that Funimation produced a fairly free translation on rare occasions where it emphasized fidelity to the source Japanese culture. In the Japanese anime Dragonball, for example, the hero, Son Goku, practices the martial art of kung fu in the original version, but it is replaced with karate in the American version simply because Goku is Japanese (Okuhara 2009: 204). In this respect, it is difficult to escape the criticism that cultural stereotypes have been reinforced in the process of translating Dragonball. In a similar vein, there is a possibility that the sound manipulation of Love and Honor could align with the stereotypical image of silent Japanese.

[10] This view is supported by the difference in the treatment of sound effects that can be found in website design for the global marketplace. For example, based on the analysis of the fast-food company McDonald’s websites in countries belonging to high-context and low-context cultures such as Japan and the US, some researches show that the company’s websites in high-context culture have more sound, including the “I’m lovin’ it” jingle and background beat, than those in low-context cultures (Würtz 2006). Compared with the website design in a high-context culture, the website design in low-context culture tends to prefer using verbal elements, both in speech and writing, to relying on aural elements.

[11] The needs, demands and expectations associated with each step are fulfilled by individuals with various skills, including translators, adapters (dialogue writers), synchronizers, dubbing directors, producers, voice actors, dubbing companies (automatic dialogue replacement productions), distributors, and the producers of the original version (Chaume 2004; 2012: 29–39; Martinez 2004).


About the author(s)

Reito Adachi is President and Professor of English language and literature at Kurashiki City College, Japan.  He holds M.A. from Hollins University in the USA and received his PhD degree from Okayama University in Japan. His current research interests include audio-visual translation studies and translation of children’s literature.

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"Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor"
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