Since so many English-language programmes are dubbed in Japan, the voice-acting industry is much better established than in the UK. This has led to an international variant on stunt casting, whereby certain actors can trade off the reputation of the Hollywood stars whose voices they replace. NHK has done a superb job of translating British sci-fi caper Doctor Who into Japanese, with former Fellowship of the Rings translator Katsushige Hirata handling the script, alongside a string of notables from the voice-acting world.

Tenth Doctor David Tennant is voiced in Japanese by Toshihiko Seki, whose most prominent recent live-action appearance was voicing Arthur in the recent Mists of Avalon series. His has dubbed both Pierce Brosnan in Remington Steele and Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands. Often typecast as suave, dapper and youthful, Seki’s anime roles include Alexander the Great in Reign: the Conqueror and a cameo as Asuka Langley’s father in Evangelion.

The 45-year-old Seki takes over from the voice actor playing 9th Doctor Christopher Eccleston in season one – 53-year-old Kazuhiro Yamaji, whose soundalike achievements include Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. In the anime world, Yamaji has played roles in Master Keaton and Case Closed, but is better known outside cartoons, not only for his physical appearances in many live-action serials, but for his powerful performance as Wolverine in the Japanese X-Men movies.

Meanwhile, Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler is replaced in Japanese with the voice of pop idol Maaya Sakamoto, who has spoken Natalie Portman’s Japanese lines on several occasions, as well as starring in anime such as Escaflowne and Wolf’s Rain. 51st century time traveller Captain Jack Harkness is played in Japanese by Takuma Takewaka, voice of both Eric Delko in CSI: Miami and Kyosuke Takahashi in Initial D. And in the coolest casting decision of all, Sarah Jane Smith is played by Fumi Hirano, the smooth and sexy voice of Lum, the invader girl from 1980s anime classic Urusei Yatsura.

However, not everything has gone according to plan. Broadcast in a relatively late-night slot, Doctor Who has mystified adult viewers who do not realise it is a children’s show. And on Japanese SF message boards, uncouth posters have been taken aback by some of the cast.

“Billie Piper is so fat,” opines one pundit, “and she has a face like a hippo.”

“Ah,” answers another. “That is because she is English.”

(This article first appeared in Neo #30, 2007)

5 thoughts on “Soundalikes

  1. I almost snorted out my cereal reading “and she has a face like a hippo”. Thanks you very much. Since I am a geek on anything Maaya Sakamoto (yes, I’m cool.) I knew about the dub but I had no idea there was so much effort put into the cast and script rewrites when they take things over to Japan. I’m quite curious to watch it now, I do love a bit of Dr. Who.

  2. I wonder, does this make some of the English dubbed shows more consistent since it’s probably easier to keep the same Japanese voice actor. For example, the would Padmé’s voice actress, Maaya Yokamoto presumably voice her in the CGI Clone Wars series? or would Kazuhiro Yamaji provide the voice for Logan in Wolverine & the X-men?

  3. Chris: Yes, Maaya Sakamoto provides the Japanese voice of Padme in the live-action Star Wars films and in the animated Clone Wars series. Wolverine, however, has been voiced by several Japanese actors. In the X-Men and X-Men: Evolution cartoon series he was played by Daisuke Egawa, but his two-episode cameo in the Spiderman TV series was voiced by Takashi Nagasawa. Wolverine and the X-Men doesn’t appear to have a Japanese cast yet.

    What voicing *does* do is add invisible resonances to anime characters. When you know that Lupin III sounds like Clint Eastwood or the Yu Ominae in Spriggan “sounds” like Johnny Depp, it adds a whole new level.


  4. I have to say that its slightly funny that he had to be voiced by another VA in the Spiderman cameo, especially when you consider that in the american version, the production team originally wanted to include more X-men cast but couldn’t afford to fly the voice actors over from Canada, as a result Wolverine and Beast were the two they went with. I like playing voice association too, I think Cam Clarke and Rob Paulsen are the two I’ve noticed in productions dating as far back to my early childhood.

  5. Chris, you should play Grandia II, which has cam clarke voicing the hero, and another small role as a priest… and yes, they do speak to each other, and its rather blatant they have the same voice. I burst out laughing at the conversation

    I remember watching gaiarth and going ‘hey, wait, isn’t that Noriko?’ when Sahari made her appearance, and was rewarded to see yes, it was indeed miss Hidaka, upon carefully reading the credits. This really added to my enjoyment of the show, and marks the first time I actually recognized a Japanese voice from another show.

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