The other day I saw my wife watching an American movie that was being shown with Japanese subtitles, although I had no idea what it was because she had the volume turned too low to hear anything. When I commented on this, she said, "Oh, I didn't notice the volume was turned down. I was reading the subtitles." The Japanese consume a lot of TV and movies from the outside world and are quite at home with reading subtitles, a big difference from in the U.S. where subtitled films historically are not popular. When a Hollywood movie studio wants to make sure their film will do well in the Japanese market, they go out of their way to hire Natsuko Toda, known as the Queen of Movie Subtitles, who is so in demand that her personal schedule often determines what movies Japanese people see and when. Just about every famous film from Star Wars to Apocalypse Now to Harry Potter movies have begun with the "Subtitled by Natsuko Toda" title, letting moviegoers know they won't be confused with the flow of the story as they watch. One interesting side-effect of being so comfortable with subtitles is that the latest Will Smith film might be grouped together with, say, a French art film, since Japanese viewers are getting information through the subtitles and are not understanding the spoken lines in the film. Thus, films that might not get attention in the U.S. because they are "foreign" might have greater success in Japan.
Ms. Toda loves her Hollywood stars, and is always on hand whenever they visit Japan.