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March 12, 2019

On watching "The Sea of Trees" [original English version] with [English] subtitles

I did this last week only because by the time the first words were spoken, I was perfectly situated in my TV chair with my cat asleep on my lap and there was no way I was gonna stretch for the remote and turn off the Subtitles ON setting I'd used for the previously watched "Let The Sunshine In" (skip it — I watched it so you don't have to).

It was the first time I've ever watched a movie in English with the subtitles on and it turned out to be very pleasant indeed.

1) I could keep the volume low and still understand every word the actors were saying, something that I'm unable to do sometimes with spoken dialogue alone, either because my hearing is gradually going and/or the movie's soundtrack is muddy.

2) My peacefully dozing cat is much less likely to be awoken by dogs barking or loud crashes or shots happening onscreen.

3) If someone happened to come to the door, I could instantly mute the audio and still watch in peace without having to reveal my presence. As a rule, in such cases without subtitles I have to pause the film.

The movie?

OK I guess: it consists of two stories which cut back and forth, the one taking place in Aokigahara, known as Japan's "Suicide Forest" aka the "the Sea of Trees," being more compelling than the one centered on Naomi Watts' and Matthew McConaughey's failing marriage.

Ms. Watts, usually excellent, seemed to be sleepwalking through this film, more or less just picking up a paycheck; Matthew McConaughey was somewhat more engaged.

The 2016 movie was directed by Gus Van Sant, whose oeuvre includes "Good Will Hunting," "My Own Private Idaho," "Drugstore Cowboy," and "Finding Forrester," among others.

A final thought: quiet films like this one with not much dialogue would seem more suited to the subtitle option than chatty movies like "When Harry Met Sally," where you'd have to pay close attention so as to not miss any of the rapid back-and-forth repartee.

March 12, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


When characters in TV series or movies speak English in impenetrable (to me) accents, the subtitles are lifesavers. Sometimes I mute the sound altogether and read subtitles even when actors are perfectly intelligible. Your brain gets the exercise of filling in a lot. Same with listening but not watching. I listened to the two series of 'HappyValley' before I ever saw one character. Going back for the complete audio/video experience was a delightful surprise, even though I knew everything.

Posted by: Lawrence Fechtenberger | Mar 12, 2019 5:04:34 PM


One of my current peeves is movies where the dialogue is whispered and poorly recorded, but explosions are terribly loud. There is nothing wrong with my hearing – I had an opportunity to get it checked out for free a few years ago.

The living room in my Victorian townhouse is so small I can only fit a 32 inch TV in there and no room for a fancy sound system – which I would seriously consider. Instead, I bought a pricey gadget from Bose that sits under the TV screen and really helps a great deal over the OEM speakers in the TV. (Geek Note: Current TV technology means that I can listen to the sound from any TV in my house but if I turn on a second TV I get an echo instead of simply twice as much sound. So my sound system is not additive, but substitutional. That’s just the way it is. )

Just for comparison, try this experiment sometime: Watch an old TV series from the 70s like Colombo or Bonanza or Charile’s Angels or somesuch series. You will find the sound recording is so acute that you can hear the rustling of the clothes on the characters as they move about on the screen. Something has changed in the way movies and TV are recorded for presentation. I don’t see any answer, but subtitles do help.

Posted by: PT | Mar 12, 2019 12:48:23 PM

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