Waiting for American Movies in Japan

Seeing American Movies in Japan

Why do American movies arrive in Japan so late compared to other countries? It’s really frustrating seeing many movie trailers online because while my excitement builds there is also a grim feeling of disappointment. I know I’ll have to wait 6-12 months longer than people in other countries to see the same movie.

"Ted" the movie took a long time coming to Japan.
Japan’s Ted marketing had to emphasize how cute he is

American Movies in Japan are usually late

Usually big blockbuster movies that premiere in the U.S. release in Japan about two months later. However, this does not happen for every movie. For example, the movie “Ted” was released in June 2012 in the U.S. It didn’t get a release in Japan until January 2013! That’s such a SEVEN month delay behind the U.S. release!

You can check the release date for Ted in Japan if you want to confirm it yourself.

Ok, let’s give media companies the benefit of the doubt and think about what is involved in bringing Hollywood movies to Japan. First, you have to decide if the movie is going to be worth the trouble of translating and marketing to an audience in Japan. Next, you have to have a translator comb through the movie and create Japanese subtitles. As someone that has (poorly) translated a 20 minute episode of an American cartoon into Japanese, I can see how the task of translating a movie that is two hours or more will take a long time. That’s about one to two months.

But wait, there’s more!

The process isn’t over yet. Even if a movie has been translated and the subtitles have been created, there is more to do. Japanese movies theaters usually show two types of the same movie. There is the original audio (usually English) version with Japanese subtitles. This has usually been the favored version. The second version is Japanese dubbed audio, so the audience doesn’t need subtitles. This is optimal for children’s movies or movies that make use of 3D technology. From what I understand, the younger generation does not prefer to read subtitles and wants to listen to Japanese audio, so there is a risk for companies if they don’t offer two versions of the movie in theaters and on DVD/Bluray.

American movie titles sometimes get changed for bizarre reasons
Everyone knows “Bus Man”! Oh, you mean Napoleon Dynamite?

 The Pace of a Snail

Once the companies finish these versions, then they have to think about marketing and promoting the movie either in theaters or the retail/rental space. It’s through this long process that movies from the U.S. get delayed and Japanese audiences end up seeing them much later than everyone else.

A good example of this is the movie “Frozen” by Disney which was a blockbuster hit that took Japan by storm. It was released in the U.S. in November 2013 and months later in other countries. While the Internet was going wild with various parodies and songs on Youtube, people in Japan had no idea. It wasn’t until March 2014 that Frozen was released in Japan. That’s quite a long gap between the releases, especially when you think about how Frozen takes place in Winter but didn’t release in Japan until March, right when Spring is on its way. I feel like it is a seasonal movie, so it would have been even better if it had released when it was much colder and snowy in Japan.

“Frozen” release dates



Can you spot the difference?  …the big difference?



Even though the delays are really long, I find the process of releasing Hollywood films in Japan quite interesting. Everything from the marketing, the drastic change in movie titles, and the translation of the movie dialogues themselves. I’ve definitely learned how to be patient and look forward to movies even more.

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