• Michael Jacoby

Escapades in Japanese Media Translations

Updated: Jan 16

NOTE: Some videos feature English-language parts with Japanese subtitles and others feature just the Japanese language. I won’t be mentioning the former because the translation would be redundant and I’m not fluent in Asian languages, so I’m not even going to attempt translating those parts. Additionally, not all of these translations might be 100% accurate and some are even slightly Americanized for easier comprehension, so don’t take these translations as the gospel.

The year 2020 really seems to be stressful, with the viral pandemic, a cure taking a long while to develop you’ll wonder if it’ll ever come at all, resulting damaged economy, police brutality, protesting and rioting against said police brutality, and the ongoing existential crisis of questioning your lifelong sociopolitical beliefs as a result of current events. To escape this stress and find some much needed release, why don’t we find an activity to do? Oh, I know! How about translating text screens from Asian home media releases into English? That sounds fun!

I recall developing this interest in translating Asian home media text into English ever since seeing Japanese trailers for Toy Story 3 on the Blu-Ray release I got for Christmas 2010. While they had English subtitles for most of the dialogue and text, not every single screen of hiragana, furigana, and kanji were translated. It sparked a little obsession in me as to what the other symbols and signs meant in English. I ultimately stopped caring about it and worried about other things, like college and jobs.

But then I found something on YouTube in early-to-mid 2018: the opening and closing to the Japanese laserdisc release of Brazil (1985). After that, it reactivated my interest in the Toy Story 3 Japanese trailers and I fell down the rabbit hole of not just Japanese home media text, but other Asian countries like South Korean and Taiwan! But today, we'll be focusing on Japanese home media text.

The thing that caught my eye for these screens was trying to decipher these strange, foreign symbols and squiggles into a tongue that doesn’t use them, but with Latin characters. It fascinated me. What could these odd shapes and characters mean when translated into English?

I found many similar videos, openings and closings to Asian DVDs, VHS cassettes, and laserdiscs of many Western movies, mainly Disney ones. As seen in the Brazil video above, most of the text was hard to translate due to the thickness of the characters and the less-than-stellar quality of older media. I tried using Google Translate for it, using the Japanese-Handwrite feature for translating Japanese to English, but the main issue was that most of the characters were illegible. I eventually stopped worrying about it and focused on other things in my life.

But then, recently, circa April or May 2020, I figured I would give the translation of the main screen another go. I searched online for Japanese to English translators. Among the results was a site called Yandex Translate. I discovered that you could not only translate text, but you could also translate screenshots of foreign text using the site as well. So, I took a screenshot of the opening warning from the Brazil video. It translated it, but something seemed to be off:

This warning seemed to be similar to the opening FBI anti-copy warnings seen here in the US. Why would it start with “I’m sorry”? So, I put the text in Google Translate and got this:

Something seemed to be off. What could I do? I thought for a little bit and noticed the characters were spaced apart. My knowledge of Japanese is barely basic, but I knew that Japanese characters are usually closer together; hell, it was even featured in the video above. Making this alteration in Google Translate, I managed to figure out a translation for the opening screen:


This video program is sold for private use only in the home. Therefore, without the prior written approval of the creator/author, we will not make any reproductions of the product for purposes other than personal use in the home or use it for rental purposes.

At long last, the mystery had been solved! In the meantime, I managed to solve another case, too. At the end of the Brazil laserdisc, during the last bit of the end credits, some Japanese text appears below:

This bit, I managed to translate with Google Translate. It can be read as, “Japanese subtitles: Natsuko Toda.”

During the interim of the Brazil video, I discovered another video: The opening and closing of the Japanese copy of The Rugrats Movie (1998); the movie was released in the Land of the Rising Sun theatrically December 23, 1999 and on video May 26 of the following year.

The Rugrat Online site linked above says that the Japanese title for Rugrats is Rugrats: Baby Monsters, sort of like Pokémon. But the first Rugrats logo screen translates something to the effect of Rugrats: Baby Monsters Progress Gate.

I had trouble translating the introduction screen here using Google Translate due to the video quality problems mentioned earlier. Using what little I could make out (and later Yandex), I managed to translate it as “Family, Introduction to Entertainment, Books are recorded after the end [whatever the hell that means].” The description on the video said it was the logo for Family Entertainment, so I’m just gonna go with that.

The teal screens at the end of the preview, featuring the Rugrats tapes feature the Japanese titles of notable Rugrats tapes, such as “Tommy Troubles,” “Chuckie the Brave,” and “Phil and Lil: Double Trouble,” most likely featuring the same episodes as on their US equivalents (though some titles seen here have updated artwork).

The opening copyright section for this video translates to something like this:

The use of video and audio in this video cassette is licensed only for sale and rental for domestic use.

Any reproduction, modification, or use of this video cassette or any part thereof, including, but not limited to, screenings, performances, cable broadcasts and broadcasts, is strictly prohibited by law.

Two screens appear at the end of this tape. The first one I translated around October 2019 as “Selling agency: CIC·Victor Video Co., Ltd.”, or simply, “Distributed by: CIC·Victor Video Co. Ltd.” The second one is a much more interesting find. It appears at the tape’s closing, during the ending tone which in America is accompanied by a black screen or gray screen of death. The Japanese get this tone as well, but it’s accompanied by a black screen with characters that read, “Notice: This audio signal is for quality control. (It is not abnormal.)” A similar text would’ve been much more useful here in the States than minutes of a shrill tone against a background of a solid color.

I also found openings to Japanese VHS copies of movies, mainly Disney movies. As per usual, many, from the mid-to-late ’90s of them open with this warning:

This video program has been released for the purpose of enjoying in your home.

Therefore, it is forbidden to use it for other than personal use in the home, such as reproduction, broadcasting, or public screenings without permission.

Many tapes, including Disney ones, feature screens where Japanese text wipes down or just appears, just before the main feature, showing “Stay Tuned” information for bonus footage after the movie. In the Japanese copy of Pocahontas, for example, such a screen appears promising a sneak preview of The Rescuers Down Under (and according to that tape, Toy Story was released worldwide on video on November 1, 1996).

The Japanese 1998 release of The Little Mermaid has this:

After the main feature, a trailer for Disney’s latest animated feature, Mulan, coming to theaters Fall 1998, is included. [Stay tuned after the feature for a preview for Disney’s latest animated feature, Mulan, coming to theaters Fall 1998.]

The release for Hercules features this:

At the end of the main feature is [Japanese singer] Fumiya Fujii’s “Go the Distance” music video is included. [Stay tuned after the feature for the “Go the Distance” music video performed by Fumiya Fujii.]

The Japanese edition of the Chinese-set Mulan includes:

After the main feature is Stevie Wonder’s music video for “True to Your Heart.” Stay tuned!

Additionally, before the previews, the 1995 Japanese tape of 101 Dalmatians started off with a message about applying before the New Year’s Eve 1995 (a Sunday) deadline for a lottery where either 101 dogs will win trainers or 101 dog trainers will win copies of the movie. For details, we have to check a pamphlet in a physical VHS copy not everybody has.

As the years passed, additional information was added to the opening screens, where it seemed that Japanese media was still reeling from the effects of another December event involving an electric rodent. This extra info stayed on warnings long after the incident, like on My Neighbors the Yamadas (2000 VHS) and Stitch! The Movie (2004 VHS).

Please note the following when viewing.

  • Please take a good break while watching. In addition, if you’re tired, do not see it for a long time in a week.

  • Please look away from the television screen as much as possible.

  • Please watch in a room with moderate brightness.

  • If you are a small child, please watch as much as possible within the eyes of a parent.

The copyright screen was also altered and added to, now reading:

Our program is not to be reproduced or broadcast without permission. It is strictly forbidden to screen. It is also specified for general sales, rental, commercial use, etc. Please note that any use other than the designated use will constitute an act of copyright infringement. If you find illegal activities such as the sea version or unauthorized screening, please contact the following.

Japan Film Copyright Association Piracy Hotline

Toll Free: 0120-110-397

At least, they didn't compare movie piracy to stealing cars or claim that video piracy supports terrorism.

Note to readers: Please do not try to call this phone number as I don’t know if it’s in service or not now and I don’t want a lawsuit on my hands or anything.

Notably on some previews, there’s a line or two of text scrolling at the bottom. Two examples of these I found are from the Aladdin Japanese tape and the aforementioned 101 Dalmatians tape. The former features a Snow White preview with this text that appears twice: “Snow White’s available on October 28, 1994 for a limited time only this year! Don’t miss this opportunity!” This proves that Disney’s guilt-tripping you into buying their products just isn’t American. The latter contains an ad for The Lion King VHS release with this: “The blockbuster The Lion King is finally on video. The story of love and courage is now at home. (For a limited time only, within the year).”

Searching for openings to Japanese DVDs in non-smartphone quality produced surprisingly sparse results. I managed to find a few examples, though.

These open the 2006 Japanese DVD of Titanic. The first one at left reads: “The video programs included in this DVD are sold for private use only for private viewing at home. Use for rental, sale and sale of used goods, and other purposes requires the permission of the copyright holder.” The second one at right reads: “It is strictly prohibited by law to copy, modify, screen, perform and transmit the video and audio recorded on this DVD to the public through broadcasting, cable broadcasting, etc., without the permission of the copyright holder.”

I also found the opening of the 2005 DVD release of In the Cut (2003), albeit in a decent camera-recording quality. This one also opens with two screens. The first one in blue says: “This product is released by Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc. for home purposes. It is strictly prohibited by law to use this DVD and its packaging for other purposes (rental, screening, broadcast, reproduction, modification, adaptation, etc.), and other commercial activities (distribution between vendors, etc.) without the permission of the copyright holder.” The second one in black reads this: “Note: This DVD contains interviews and commentary by the directors, producers, and actors. The content of the interviews and commentary recorded express the personal views of each speaker for the purpose of enjoying the work and do not represent the views of Sony Pictures Entertainment or Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Please enjoy it after understanding beforehand.”

The release for The Green Mile has two screens, one at the beginning and one at the end. The first one translates as, “Warning: All rights to this work are copyrighted by law. Therefore, except for private viewing for individuals, if a part of it used for screening, broadcasting, reproduction, rental, etc., without permission from the rights holder, it may be punishable by law.” The second one, at the end, after the movie’s end credits, reads as: “This videogram is sold for private use only in the home. Unauthorized duplication, broadcasting, cable broadcasting, public screening, and commercial lending are prohibited by law. Please note that violators will be punished by law.”

Finally, we end at the beginning, with the translations for the Toy Story 3 Japanese trailers.

The ending tagline translates similarly to the subtitles on the Blu-Ray: “If that’s our destiny, what should we do? [What can I do if this is our fate?]” The second screen reads: “July National Roadshow (Subtitled Super Version/Japanese Dubbed Version).”

For the second trailer, the ending tagline translates just like the subtitles on the Blu-Ray: “I can’t say goodbye…” Interestingly enough, you finally get to see the saying sayonara in Katakana if you haven’t before. Cool!

The penultimate screen is, for the most part, readable: “Saturday, July 10 Roadshow (Subtitled Super Version/Japanese Dubbed Version.” The very bottom is the trickiest: “Original Soundtrack: Walt Disney Records. Novelization: Published by Takeshobo. Junior Novel: Published by Shinseisha.” The biggest mystery here is how Disney Japan managed to have a defunct publishing company release their junior novel of Toy Story 3. The last screen, admittedly easy in comparison to everything else, says, “Disney Digital 3D & IMAX 3D Simultaneous Release.” Releasing movies in 3D was a popular trend for movies in the early 2010s, even an R-rated remake of Conan the Barbarian got one. Remember that?

Closing out, the TS3 trailer features flashes of Japanese titles of many other Pixar films. In the Land of the Rising Sun, Up is known as something like Grandpa Carl’s Flying House.

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