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Shōgun has a hidden Star Wars influence

If you ask co-creators Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo about the subtitles of their FX adaptation of Shōgun, they’re going to tell you about it in depth. As they should; like with so many decisions in making Shōgun, the details are crucial.

“Too often, as filmmakers, we like to pretend the subtitles don’t exist,” Marks says. “Like, if only we could just teleport the words into the audiences’ heads! But we can’t do that. So we have to put these words on screen — and if we’re going to do that, let’s not make that an afterthought anymore.”

Shōgun is a show heavy on translation. This is true for the English-speaking audience, as the majority of the series is in Japanese. But it’s also true for the show itself, with so much of the interplay between Japanese-speakers and foreigners being interpreted by translators. It matters how thoughts and ideas get presented, and how those words spread and inspire action. This is a war fought with the tongue as much as it is the sword or the cannon. To that end, Marks and Kondo knew that their subtitles had to be on point.

“As [episode 1 director] Jonathan van Tulleken said, there’s always this layer of, like, museum dust over stories like this. And we wanted to get to an urgency that was a little different,” Marks says.

That meant a ton of tiny changes the viewer might not think too hard about as they watch, but that Marks, Kondo, and the rest of the Shōgun team put in place specifically to engage the audience — having the words bigger, closer to the middle of the screen so the “dive” between the actors’ eyes and the words wasn’t so big, and even writing dialogue in ways that considered the amount of subtitles that would need to be on screen. They paid close attention in the editing process, like having a particular word on screen when Mariko’s face changes, as opposed to relying on a sentence structure that might deny us that moment. Perhaps most importantly, they grabbed a font that felt like it could make an impact.

“‘Let’s look to science fiction,’” Marks recalls saying, hoping to evoke the propulsiveness of the genre. “And there was a font in the original 1977 Star Wars that was used for a couple of lines, and we found this font […] that seemed vaguely similar enough to it, which was also large enough to be read — which was probably what Lucas’ intent was, to make sure it could be read by young Europeans. So it just felt more inviting.”

Image: FX
a screenshot of Greedo in the 1977 Star Wars with captions that say “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time”
The exact subtitles (and quality, and even scene) between Greedo and Han Solo have changed a lot over the years (as YouTube user Kraemer’s video can show), but the original font is what Shōgun creator Justin Marks wanted.
Image: Lucasfilm via Kraemer/YouTube

Marks doesn’t think they’re alone out there paying attention to subtitling; he shouts out Marvel as using a “cool font, and they’re inspiring a whole generation to not be afraid of subtitles,” alongside the bevy of international and translated content, like Shōgun, more readily available to modern audiences. He’s glad to be just one of many productions that seems to see this sort of accessibility as part of the overall presentation of art.

“We were shooting on these beautiful anamorphic lenses, and spherical, to get the audience real close to faces,” Marks says. “And instead of a font that felt like we pulled it out of our grandparents’ dustbin and put it on screen, [we wanted] something that would just suddenly cue the audience that we’re after something else.”

Shōgun is now streaming on Hulu. New episodes debut every Tuesday.

Via

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