Talking with Niina Taniguchi, you feel transported to a different world where everything seems easier, freer and fraught with possibilities. We were in the Tokyo offices of Sony Interactive Entertainment in the heart of Shinagawa, where Taniguchi works in the International Software Development section, but the experience felt like being in a Hollywood movie scene. Was it the office’s ambience or Taniguchi’s aura of independence and freedom? Probably both.
Taniguchi has always lived life on her own terms, an outlook she said stems from a “deep love for music and movies from the West. I learned English so I can sing Michael Jackson songs, for example, and watch movies without the subtitles.” It’s like she was a U.S. culture nerd who wanted to know all that was going on there.
Taniguchi attended International Christian University in Tokyo, a mecca for the liberal-minded and with a strong English-language program.
“In my senior year, others were making plans to start work after graduation but I didn’t really have any career plans,” said Taniguchi. So she went to study filmmaking at the San Francisco Academy of Arts, enrolling in college all over again.
Taniguchi returned to Japan with another B.A., but she felt her skills would not be a good fit in the Japanese film industry.
“I did some freelance translating for Sony Computer Entertainment (the predecessor of SIE), before the job offer for my current job came along,” she said.
This was in 2007, and from there on Taniguchi became fully immersed in the PlayStationc world. Now a senior localization specialist — someone who retools the games developed in studios abroad to fit the tastes and sensibilities of Japanese users — her work involves much more than straightforward translation. It calls for being completely bicultural as well as bilingual, and working with actors to dub the dialogue.
“Translating the dialogue can be hard,” said Taniguchi. “A lot of English jokes won’t fly with a Japanese audience because of the cultural references.”
At the time of the interview, Taniguchi’s latest work, “Detroit: Become Human,” was out on the shelves.
“Users can engineer the characters’ fates and control plot twists. They can really participate in the story, making the experience special,” she said of the game.
The rewards of localizing are ample. And who knows, games may even provide an incentive to learn English.
Only two decades ago, games were the realm of male software engineers and it was hard to find a woman in the field with skills and decision-making powers. Taniguchi says that part of the reason she has gotten to this place was “luck.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I had shaped my life to be like everyone else’s, by going to work right after graduating from university,” she said. Taniguchi certainly appreciates the rewards of her work. She summed it up like this: “Films tend to be linear arbiters of entertainment, but with games, the player can have control over what goes on, and participate.”
Taniguchi says that as game development becomes more global, English has become more important. “Computer games originated in Japan but these days, offshore game developers are gaining a bigger foothold. It’s becoming an age of cooperation and co-prosperity. If you have the skills to communicate with those foreign developers in English, it can only work in your favor.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words to remember
谷口新菜 (たにぐち にいな)
1978年北海道札幌市生まれ。国際基督教大学教養学部卒業後、米サンフランシスコで映画のVFXを学ぶ。2007年にソニー・コンピュータエンタテインメント（現ソニー・インタラクティブエンタテインメント）入社。「Detroit: Become Human」「HEAVY RAIN」「BEYOND: Two Souls」「Everybody’s Gone To the Rapture」などのローカライズを担当。