8 Japanese Actors you Can’t Understand

The more you watch Japanese TV and movies, the more you get introduced to a wide range of Japanese voices. High and low, loud and soft, fast and slow, pleasant and unpleasant. It is normal to struggle a bit with picking up different speaking patterns from different people. However, there are some Japanese actors out out there that will make you think they are speaking a different language sometimes.

Even as your Japanese gets better, they will still stubbornly remain difficult to hear. And it may not be you or your lack of Japanese skill. It’s them. This is frustrating, because they may often appear in your favorite media, yet they are constant walls to enjoyment and comprehension.

Who are the worst offenders? Let’s look at them and see if we can make sense of their cloudy ways of talking.

8. 堤真一 (Tsutsumi Shinichi)
I thought he was great in: Battle Royale: Yamato Nadesiko, Space Brothers (The Movie), Maiko Haaan!!!, and Sailor Uniform And Machine Gun.

Shinichi, you usually play the calm voice of reason. A muffled, calm voice of reason.

7. 遠藤憲一 (Endo Kenichi)
I thought he was great in: IWGP, Shiroi Haru, JIN, Iryu.

Kenichi, you really like your semi-scary Yakuza sounding roles. You were less intimidating because I often didn’t catch your threats.

6. 阿部寛 (Abe Hiroshi)
I thought he was great in: Trick, Dragonzakura, The Man Who Can’t Get Married, At Home Dad, Shiroi Haru, Termae Roma.

Abe Hiroshi, you know that I love you and your ridiculous humor. Your great acting. Your perfect and in depth character creation. So I feel kind of bad for putting you on this list. But so few foreigners get to fully appreciate your great works of art.

5. 明石家さんま (Sanma-san)

I thought he was great in: Honma Deka?!

Sanma-san, you are considered one of the kings of variety shows and I’ve heard that you make $30,000 an episode (in a Japanese TV world where salaries have dropped to such significantly low levels). People adore you and your sense of humor, along with your unique speech. But I’m worried that you acting surprised at everything that you hear has caused your voice to disappear.

4. 泉谷しげる (Izumiya Shigeru)

I thought he was great in: Gachi boy, Densha Otoko, Kurosagi.

Shigeru, no matter how many TV shows or movies I see you in, I still can’t get you out of my head as the drunk guy on Densha Otoko that started the whole story. You’ve had a long career in acting and music, and always seem to appear as a drunk, a bad father, or someone’s unlikable boss. You bring life to a lot of your work.

3. ビートたけし (Beat Takeshi)

I thought he was great in: Battle Royale

Was I talking about how much money Sanma-san makes? I’m sure Beat Takeshi spends that yearly salary at a hostess club in one night.

2. 西田敏行 (Nishida Tosiyuki)

I thought he was great in: Tiger & Dragon, Unubore Deka.

You are funny. Really, brilliantly funny. And you have even appeared in multiple Hollywood movies. For a long time I missed so much of the subtleties and nuances of your humor. If you said something, I wanted to know, because it was probably hysterical. Don’t take that away from me.

1. 笑福亭鶴瓶 (Shoufukutei Tsurube)

I thought he was great in: Tiger and Dragon

Tsurube, I’m convinced you do it on purpose. And you are good friends with Beat Takeshi and Sanma-san, so I wonder if you guys decided together when you first started your career that you were not going to make it easy for people to understand you.

Will you be able to understand them?

Yes of course, eventually. Sometimes they are hard for even Japanese people to pick up, but they do. It is just another challenge for you. It will take you a lot more time to finally get the hang of their ways of speaking, but it will be worth it when you do.

From this list, who have you had trouble understanding? What other Japanese actors have you come across that you just can’t seem to understand and feel belong on this list?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


8 Japanese Actors you Can’t Understand — 7 Comments

  1. Hah, thanks for posting this. My Japanese learning mood tends to swing wildly from:
    “Yes. I am the LORD of language. None shall withstand my penetrating comprehension” (while reading Baccano), to:
    “The heck. Did my brain just flush out 8 months of material?” (while watching Trick).

    Hiroshi Abe is one of the worst offenders for doing this to me ^^ good to know I’m not (well, not JUST) being dim.

  2. I see three from this list are from Kansai. I wonder if that adds to their incomprehensible-ness. I don’t get to talk to many non-Kansai people in daily life so I’ve become more used to it than I realized but I seem to remember a time when Kansai speakers made no sense. Maybe it’s just that no one made any sense at that time in my language learning life.

    • Kansai might add some difficulty to the unfamiliar language itself, but even people who are used to Kansai dialect seem to have trouble with these guys.

    • Of course there are also difficult to understand women. Probably a lot less than men, but they are definitely out there. This post is just covering actors though.

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