The prolific voice actress dishes on her experiences dubbing the Japanese-language version of Venom and in the anime voice acting industry.

Venom, the newest Sony Marvel film, was released in Japan on November 2. After taking his daughter to Tokyo Disneyland, our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun somehow found himself invited to record two lines for the Japanese dubbed version of the film alongside Shoko Nakagawa, the actress who provided the Japanese voice of heroine Anne Weying. Known as “Shokotan” by her fans, the multifaceted 33-year-old has been in the voice acting business and singing industry for over ten years (and appears to have a penchant for some strange fashions as well). She has starred in every theatrical Pokémon film since 2007, portrayed Rapunzel in 2011’s Tangled, and has even contributed theme songs to internationally popular anime series such as Gurren Lagann and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

▼ P.K.: “I tried my hand at voice acting with Shoko Nakagawa for the Venom film! Her face was so small!!” [Note: having a small face is often viewed as a sign of beauty in Japan]

While it actually wasn’t P.K.’s first time trying his hand at voice acting, it was still much harder than he expected. At the same time, he was also blown away by Nakagawa’s apparent ease and professionalism while recording her own lines. Following the recording of their dialogue exchange for the film, the two sat down for a short interview about her experience being a professional voice actress in Japan.

▼ Shoko Nakagawa

P.K.: “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Your face is 10 times smaller than I was expecting! First the size of your face surprised me, and then your skills as a voice actress.”

Nakagawa: “I’m a little nervous now because you praised me too much! Haha”

P.K.: “Your career as a voice actress is quite long, right?”

Nakagawa: “In terms of anime, I’ve been involved with Pokémon for over 10 years now. It’s also been about seven years since I did Tangled. I’m nothing but thankful for these opportunities. And now to be involved with something Marvel-related is like a dream come true.”

P.K.: “Got it. By the way, do you happen to like Marvel films?”

Nakagawa: “I’m not as familiar with American comic books, but the first Marvel film I saw was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002).”

▼ P.K. and Nakagawa in the recording studio

P.K.: “That one’s definitely a masterpiece.”

Nakagawa: “The whole world went crazy over a hero with his backstory, and I was also blown away by the mind-bending action scenes. To top if off, the director was Sam Raimi of The Evil Dead fame. I thought that the scope of it all was amazing.”

P.K.: “Sam Raimi’s definitely a genius director.”  

Nakagawa: “On my way home I bought an illustration board and an air compressor at Sekaido [an art supply store]. I’ll never forget how excited I was when thinking, ‘I want to draw a picture of Spider-Man flying through the city!'”

P.K.: “That’s right, your pictures are also incredible. However, since Venom is Spider-Man’s strongest enemy, didn’t everything more or less work out as you desired?”

Nakagawa: “Yes, it did. There are also a lot of women around me with interests outside of the mainstream who say things like, ‘I haven’t gotten a chance to see any Marvel films yet.’ I think that Venom would be the perfect film for them to see.”

P.K.: “Venom definitely makes a cool entrance in the film. He’s strong and dark after all. And of course, it’s Tom Hardy!”

Nakagawa: “Totally! Even though Venom is the worst there are times when he comes across as cute. Coupled with the love and action scenes, all of these things fulfill the prerequisites to make it an interesting film. In any case Tom Hardy is insanely cool…”

▼ “Insanely cool” Tom Hardy

P.K.: “Yup, Tom Hardy is extremely cool.”

Nakagawa: “His expressions in unexpected moments and when he’s panicking while turning into the symbiote were amazing. I was fascinated by them being a voice actress myself.”

P.K.: “This time you were playing the heroine role, so you were basically dating Tom Hardy.”

Nakagawa: “Yeah…it was the best.”

P.K.: “Speaking of which, have you played any characters in the past that resembled Anne?”

Nakagawa: “I’m extremely thankful to have served as a voice actress for some Korean films and a Transformers film, and I think that all of those roles were tested while playing Anne.”

P.K.: “Are you the type of voice actress for whom the characters come naturally to you? Or are you the type who really thinks deeply about them and how to bring them to life?”

Nakagawa: “Anime and live-action films are different for me, and so are Asian vs. Western ones. The tone of voice and breathing patterns are the same way. At any rate, each time I keep recording until I’m satisfied…and while enduring the relentless criticism of the director (haha). I felt a need for Anne to speak with a voice that she hasn’t used before, so I searched for it within myself.”

P.K.: “‘A voice that she hasn’t used before.’ I like that!” 

▼ Anne Weying (Nakagawa’s voiceover role), portrayed by Michelle Williams in the film

Nakagawa: “I don’t think that celebrities should necessarily be voice actors just because they’re famous, so I wanted to erase any presence of Shoko Nakagawa in Anne. Becoming her completely without a trace of Shoko…it is easy to get lost though.”

P.K.: “Wow, that’s great. I really think that’s significant. By the way, the two times I’ve tried voice acting I got about 200 ‘no-good’ comments from the director. How about you?”

Nakagawa: “I’ve gotten used to characters with a lot of spoken lines now, so it actually goes pretty smoothly. Characters with only a word or two are the hardest.”

P.K.: “Oh, so it’s harder when there are fewer lines.”

Nakagawa: “In the past, I was recording a line for ‘Worker B’ in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood that was only two words long. It became really difficult when it occurred to me that this person’s life now existed because of my line.”

P.K.: “Yeah…I may not have fully become a policeman during my turn…”

Nakagawa: “The very first line I recorded for Pokémon was ‘Honchkrow! Use Defog!’ Even though I practiced it at home dozens and hundreds of times, it didn’t go well on the day of the recording.”

P.K.: “Why do you think that was?”

Nakagawa: “I was told not just to take the line at surface level, but to practice it a lot in order to really become a trainer and join in the battle…all to be true in the moment. It was like culture shock.”

Nakagawa: “It can be hard to discern, but the sound director and the translators, and in the case of this work, Michelle Williams [Anne’s actor], all imbued some of their feelings into this movie and spent millions of dollars on filming it. The Japanese dub actors are now all that’s left at the very end. Taking everything into consideration, it would be quite easy for me to slip into darkness…haha.”

P.K.: “But you were perfect in this role.”

Nakagawa: “This time I tried my hardest using everything I’ve learned up until now, so I’d love for you to see the Japanese dubbed version of Venom. It’s OK to forget about me being Shoko Nakagawa while you watch it.” 

P.K. truly thought that Nakagawa was incredible to witness in action. Or should he say that he was incredibly inspired by her–before he knew it, goosebumps had appeared on his skin. Just as she had intended, there wasn’t a trace of herself in Anne’s voice. He felt very privileged to have seen the dubbing process in person and watch as all of the voice actors, no matter how small their roles, fell into character. He reaffirmed his belief that not just anyone could become a great vocal performer.

If you would like to hear the results of P.K.’s and Nakagawa’s efforts, be sure to check out the Japanese dubbed version of Venom, playing in Japanese theaters now.

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