When Japanese people hear the word “subtitles”, usually a single name pops into mind: Natsuko Toda. Natsuko Toda is the most famous moviesubtitler in Japan, having worked in the industry for almost 40 years and usually being employed to take on most major Hollywood films that are released in Japan.
Her big break came almost purely by accident in 1979, when she was chosen at the last minute to take over the job of creating the Japanese subtitles for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” when the original subtitler was forced to bow out due to health issues. According to the story, Coppola took a personal liking to Toda, and her reputation as a charismatic subtitler spread quickly throughout the industry.
Since 1979, Toda has been consistently put in charge of subtitling a large chunk of English-language movies released in Japan, including E.T., Titanic, the Harry Potter and Indiana Jones series, and the last three installments of the Star Wars series.
Toda’s success, however, has come in spite of her fair share of trouble and criticism. In 2001 Toda was hired to oversee the script translation and subtitle creation of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings”. Upon the film’s release, backlash from fans regarding Toda’s use of abbreviation, apparently arbitrary translation, and blatant mistakes and/or unwarranted additions and omissions from the film’s dialog was significant. In May of 2002, 1281 people signed a petition to be sent to Herald Pictures Japan demanding that Toda be dropped from the remaining installments of the series. In December of the same year, filmmaker Peter Jackson himself made an announcement that he was unsatisfied with Toda’s translations and would refuse to use her for the remaining two films.
Although Toda is widely considered among English-speaking Japanese cinema fans (and non-Japanese Japanese-speaking cinema fans as well) to be considerably lacking in translation skill, she has managed to find success mainly through her personal charisma and connections with major Hollywood actors, producers and directors, and through her numerous appearances on English educational televisions shows in Japan. Regardless what sort of opinion you may hold of Toda and her work, one can’t help but admit that she has made a lasting name for herself – and probably a pretty substantial amount of money – in the world of translation.