Blind World Magazine

Voice guides help the visually impaired to enjoy movies.

December 28, 2005.
Japan Today.

KANAZAWA - A movement to help the visually impaired enjoy movies is spreading across the country with volunteers called "voice guides" on hand to explain what is being shown on the screen.

The movement was started in response to many requests from visually impaired people for the chance to enjoy the powerful atmosphere peculiar to large-screen showings at movie theaters.

At a public hall in Saitama city at the end of last year, director Yoji Yamada's "Kakureta Ken, Oni-No-Tsume" (Hidden Blade, Nails of Devils), a story about warriors in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, was shown with a voice guide. The main characters in the movie are played by actor Masatoshi Nagase and actress Takako Matsu.

Listening to a guide with earphones, visually impaired people understood the movie's plot and at the same time enjoyed sound effects from a speaker.

For Rikisaburo Kose, 68, a totally blind man, it was his third visit to the public hall to "listen to movies." "There are many handicapped people wishing to enjoy powerful sounds and the atmosphere of a movie theater," he said.

A guide inserts descriptions of scenes lasting several seconds between pieces of dialogue. It can take several hours for a guide to select words most suited to convey scenes, expressions and atmosphere for just a five-minute scene.

Yoriko Okamoto, 63, a woman from Nagoya, became a guide volunteer 12 years ago when her husband, a city assembly member, died, to use her talents as a former TV announcer. "I had my hands clasped by a handicapped elder person, and was told, 'This is the first time in 60 years to have seen a movie.' I cannot forget that pleasure."

Five years ago, she inaugurated an organization called the "Voice Cane." Its present members number about 110. Her special lecture teaching abdominal respiration and vocalization is popular enough to attract people even from Tokyo and Nara. The organization has so far shown movies with a voice guide about 100 times in Iwate, Nagano, Aichi, Osaka and Tokyo prefectures.

The "City Lights," a group headed by Chihoko Hiratsuka and showing movies chiefly in the Kanto district, is using recorded voices. Each time, more than 60 handicapped people come to see a movie, and well-known movies, such as "Roman Holiday," attract people from such far-off places as Hiroshima and Aomori prefectures.

If requested, a volunteer sits next to a handicapped person at a movie theater and whispers in the person's ear to explain a story.

Okamoto said, "There are still only a few organizations active in Japan. Various barriers exist, but we will have to make steady efforts."

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