Masako Nozawa rode the Kinto’un to an American convention, and I was there to cover the event. Now you can be to!
Animazement was an incredible anime convention that occurred in Raleigh, North Carolina from May 24 to 26. The convention featured many Dragon Ball focused panels, signings and events, including the first ever appearance of the Japanese Dragon Ball voice actors in the United States.
Masako Nozawa appeared at several panels and signing events. She was an incredibly kind, positive, and friendly person, and in many ways appeared to be a living embodiment of Goku’s innocence.
I was struck by Masako’s sharp intellect and continual smile, or her very Goku-esque confusion at certain moments. It felt like Goku’s spirit was manifesting through her body, especially when Goku’s voice came out of her otherwise tiny frame.
Here is her first panel that took place on Friday, May 24, titled “World of Heroes’ Voices.”
The panel was an hour long and consisted entirely of questions and answers with the fans.
Masako spoke in Japanese and had it translated by the very talented and fast translator, Takayuki Karahashi. I recorded the audio on my phone.
Listen along to feel the joy of Masako’s presence.
You can also watch the video here, provided by “theoriginalbilis”
In case you didn’t know, the world’s strongest warrior is played by a grandmother. But don’t let her appearance or gender fool you, she’s as mighty as they come!
Masako Nozawa Takes the Stage
Masako Nozawa: Shall I say hello in Goku’s voice?
Masako Nozawa: Ossu! Ora Goku! (Translated: “Hi! I’m Goku!”)
Question: Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z ran a very long time. Goku faced a lot of very memorable and amazing opponents. Is there anyone you thought brought out something special in you and the character? Someone you really enjoyed interacting with?
Masako Nozawa: Freeza!
That’s because Freeza is one tough opponent and he also transforms all the time.
Question (from me): Why do you feel that Goku is so popular across the world and across generations?
Masako Nozawa: Something that I often get commented on is that Goku is very attractive, but he’s not attractive in the modern Japanese ‘ikemen’ style, just good looking with great hair and pretty eyes. That’s not the Goku style. He’s also very strong but he doesn’t boast about it, his powers. He just trains to better himself. And whenever there is evil or a threat he comes to oppose that.
Goku’s attraction is that he is a very accessible character, he’s almost like the boy next door, and you can probably find someone like him walking down the street into town. That’s Goku’s charm.
Question: You voice all of the Son family. Does it get difficult switching between Goku, Gohan, and Goten sometimes?
Masako Nozawa: I’ve actually never been confused because as soon as I see Goku on the screen I switch into Goku. When I switch to Gohan I play Gohan. When I see Goten on the screen I switch naturally to Goten.
Question: Is there anything you to do to prepare yourself as you’re about to go into the voice recording booth?
Masako Nozawa: I know that each actor has a different way of getting into their character. For me, I do not prepare to get into Goku or Gohan’s role.
Whenever I’m in the recording booth, at my feet there are a couple of steps between my feet and the microphone. When I see Goku on screen I walk up to the microphone, and in those few steps I turn into Goku or Gohan’s role.
Whenever I do my first voice of Goku, Gohan, or Goten, the producer, the director, has never said to change my voice into something else that they had in mind, so I’m pretty sure I’ve matched what they had in mind as well. As for getting cast as Goku, it was Toriyama who said he wanted me to be the voice of Goku. So that was a casting call.
Question: Did it ever really strike you just how big the Dragon Ball franchise is? Does that move you, or has it ever occurred to you how big this is?
Masako Nozawa: I’ve often heard that Dragon Ball is worldwide popular. The characters of Goku, Gohan, Goten are beloved by many fans. That’s really the knowledge and what I hear about that that makes me happy about it. (inaudible, but sounds like, “and I like to hear that!”)
Question: *inaudible* but the question is about how she feels playing the role of male characters
Masako Nozawa: For me, it’s never been a challenge playing the roles of boys. I am female myself, but when I play the character’s it’s not something that crosses my mind.
Back in the very early days of television when everything was live and there was no such thing as recorded programming, there would be foreign movies played on TV and those were dubbed live. Back then the producers decided that if there were a boy character that needed to be dubbed it would be too risky to have a child play the role live on TV. So they decided that the type of actor that would become closest to match a boy would be a woman. So they sent out casting calls for various productions and I myself went to audition. The very first role to be dubbing voices was to dub a boy live on TV. Since then I’ve been doing boys all the time, and that was the actual precedent that set the idea that young boys would be played by female voice actors in Japan. Perhaps if the very first boy that was cast was a male actor it would have been a different precedent.
Male actors of age would have their voice change, they would become much lower, and you can’t really have them voicing, “Oh, daddy,” and have them sound like a cute boy, it would be weird. So it has been all female voice actors ever since then. There are some males that are played by male voice actors these days, but the overall majority are played by female voice actors. As for myself, because of that very first casting on live TV I have pretty much been playing more male characters than female characters in my voice acting career. That’s just the way it has been. Very strange, but my story.
Question: Your work has been a great inspiration to me. I’m interested in knowing what initially got you into voice acting or acting in the first place?
Masako Nozawa: Well, I didn’t start off as a voice actor. My acting days. When I was getting started it was radio days and things were different. I started off in theater, but in Japan, theater makes no money. And so we all had to rely on media appearances to make our income. We started off by going to radio and appearing in radio shows, and that would be income that went to our theaters. When television started, all early TV was live. Back then there wasn’t anime or foreign movies that would be shown. All the content would be live action drama, that was pretty much live. That’s where I started on television myself.
Movies are always popular, and old people as well as young people love the movies, but when you get older your reaction slows down and you can’t always follow all the subtitles. There might be only two lines of subtitles but when you’re old and reading slower you may miss the second line and the subtitles would be gone. So these would be decent people who paid decent money to go to the theater and catch the movies, but they might be confused as to what they were watching because they couldn’t follow it. But eventually foreign movies got to be shown on TV, and they decided that those would be dubbed so that everyone could enjoy them without following subtitles. People started to think that ‘foreign actors these days speak very fluent Japanese,’ but that wasn’t exactly the case because it was Japanese actors doing work in the studios to redub that into Japanese. Thanks to all that work movies were always popular content to be shown on TV. Ratings would go up and we’d get more work to dub. So that’s how I entered the world of voice acting.
Back when I was getting started there was no set career for voice acting, but something that I got into along the way, as I developed along with the evolution of the media.
Question: I was wondering if there was any particular *inaudible* Galaxy Express *inaudible* feel, and why?
Masako Nozawa: Right now there are many fond memories of Galaxy Express and if I were to choose one that would be the episode where Tetsuro inherits the cosmo gun from Tetsuro’s mother.
There is the one particular scene in Galaxy Express where everyone calls it ‘the one memorable scene,’ and that would be the part where Tetsuro’s mother gets killed in the hunt by *not sure of name* and I still hate that guy myself. Whenever that scene is shown, *inaudible*, us voice actors say, “and this is the memorable scene that you will all recall.”
Question: I’m very excited to meet you. When you first started in Dragon Ball in 1986, what kind of character were you shooting for at the time? And how did that change from Dragon Ball all the way to GT?
Masako Nozawa: Well, when the story starts out Goku is a boy who is very much naïve about the world. He has grown up by himself, only with his grandfather, in the mountains. We on the other hand know a lot about the world. We aren’t naïve or a blank slate like Goku. So when I go to the studio I always go in there with a blank state of mind so that I can be just like Goku. It was much easier in the beginning because he’s such a cute character and you could just get into the role of Goku. But this is a show where when you go from Dragon Ball to Dragon Ball Z, Goku suddenly has a child. This happens almost in a day, maybe in a week. It’s very different from how things happen in the real world, and you need to keep up with that.
I don’t really like to make up my mind about how a character I play should be like because if that ever deviates from how the actual character develops, then that would be a very big liability for me. So I still and always have been walking into the studio with a blank slate of mind so that I can follow and recreate the character that way. That’s how I play Goku.
Akira Toriyama himself has said that Goku lives forever and will always continue to train to improve himself, not for anyone else’s sake, but to perhaps uphold peace and justice in the world. I’m a woman myself and I don’t know if I can conjure up the same kind of strength if I were to fight in the real world, that’s not something I can do. But there are some things that I can do myself, such as to give voice to the character of Goku and enable him to uphold justice and peace in the world.
Question (from me): My name is Derek and I’m the author of The Dao of Dragon Ball website and I talk a lot about the spirituality and philosophy of Goku, and the culture behind the show. I want to ask you, how does Goku inspire others? And how can people be more like Goku in real life?
Masako Nozawa: Goku is a character who is always striving to improve himself. I think that if everyone in the world were to always strive to be improving themselves, we would have a much better world. Because Goku is someone who travels around improving himself, if there is evil in the world he would sacrifice his own being to defeat it. But he is also an uplifting character, optimistic, he’s never self-centered. Never afraid of pain.
If there are more people like Goku in the real world I think we would have a much better world, and I hope that if even one more person would go follow his footsteps that we would be much better off.
Question: First I just want to say thank you for all your work on Dragon Ball and Galaxy Express. I’m a big fan of both franchises. I actually have two questions. First would be, of all the Dragon Ball characters you’ve played, the Son family, starting with Bardock, what is your favorite quote or moment from Goku? And can you do that in Goku’s voice? Secondly, are there any Dragon Ball related projects that you are currently working on that you are allowed to talk about?
Masako Nozawa: A lot of people find it memorable when I say, “Hi! I’m Goku!” but that’s actually not my own favorite. My most favorite moment for Goku is much earlier in Goku’s childhood when he’s still fighting Red Ribbon and he’s in Sno’s house and he’s in the bathroom. Red Ribbon comes in and then they start spraying bullets into the house, including the bathroom. I was very worried myself because here we have the main character getting shot at, and I was even worried that he might be killed. I held my breath going into that scene. It’s a long time after the bullets are sprayed into the bathroom and then the door opens, and I had to wonder myself if Goku is dead. But Goku comes out and says, “That hurt!” And that’s my favorite moment of Goku.
For Gohan, he’s the one who is being brought up as a studious boy and he always says, “Will I get to be a great scholar?” That’s my favorite line for Gohan.
For Goten, there’s only one thing for Goten. “Fusion!”
*note that Nozawa-san animates the entire scene, voicing the machine gun sound effects and the character’s lines.
Question: *inaudible* Question is about the Voltron (Go-Lion) series.
Masako Nozawa: My thoughts about what I learned from Go-Lion is that you have five lions that are combining to become Go-Lion, and that’s very different from the way of Goku. While Goku is never alone he can always still fight by himself. But in Go-Lion you have five members who need to be in sync and work in cooperation otherwise they can’t fight. The life lesson you can learn from the show is that you need to coordinate, synchronize and cooperate. That’s what you can get from the show.
In Go-Lion, if one of the lion’s decides to go their own way, you end up losing an arm or a leg, and that’s the end of Go-Lion, and that’s the end of the story.
Question: Thank you for coming here. You’ve also voiced Kure-Ha from One Piece. I’d like to know if you have any similarities to the character? And what is your overall feeling of the story arch of Chappa?
Masako Nozawa: Ah! I love my character, Kure-Ha. I love that part where she says, “So you want to know about the secret of my youth?” And everyone says, “We’re not asking that.” She says, “I am 133 years young.” I love that part because I want to live as long as she has and keep on doing Goku’s voice through those ages.
As the one who raised Chappa, she is 133 years old but she is still fashionable and still does not hesitate to show her belly button in public. That’s the kind of, well, when everyone gets older you tend to start getting a little too bashful, you start to think, a short sleeve might be appropriate but you might still get bashful and want to get into a long sleeve. That’s not the kind of fear Kure-Ha has, and I think that’s a good role model that even if you get older, there’s nothing to fear and you can still be yourself. That’s what I want to learn from her.
Question: Goku is my favorite Dragon Ball character, and I like Kure-Ha too. I was wondering if you could say something in both of their voices?
Masako Nozawa: What should Goku say?
Question: Have Goku say Kamehameha.
Masako Nozawa: Kamehameha? And Kure-Ha?
Question: Say a line like she’s beating somebody because they called her old or whatever.
Masako Nozawa: Okay, she would not hit someone but she can get angry.
*as Kure-Ha,* “My age is 133. That’s not old. That’s called 133 young.”
Okay, now the Kamehameha. Let’s do it all together.
*as Goku,* *everyone in the audience does it along with her*
Audience: Wooooh!!! *applause*
Question (from me): After Goku hits his head he becomes a very simple minded and pure boy, and he stays that way his entire life. But he also grows up and becomes mature and strong as an adult. So how do you feel about the dynamic of being an adult with an innocent, child-like mind? And do you think that this is really possible?
Masako Nozawa: Hmm. That’s a very difficult question and a very difficult way of life, too, I think. All of us have some type of desire. We can start with money. If you need money then you have to come up with a way to earn money, and that in itself kind of voids your innocence.
Goku doesn’t have those kinds of obstacles. He’s always void of desire. And perhaps that is something you could do, because you could still live a life without being filled with various temptations and desires. It might be possible, still a difficult thing to do.
Hope that answers the question.
Question: Thank you so much for coming all this way. Do you have any close friends or family members who are also fans? Do they ask you to do the character voices for them as a favor? And also, is Piccolo or Goku a better driver?
Masako Nozawa: As for driving, Goku is a better driver. I’ve never seen Piccolo drive (*note: I think she meant outside of the famous drivers’ license episode itself*). Goku doesn’t drive in front of people, but I’m pretty sure he does drive in private.
Thankfully all of my family members are big fans of Dragon Ball, and I’m very grateful for that. But I have a story about my niece. She was in the 6th grade when she told her classmates that her aunt played Goku. No one believed her. There was one day during break when she used the payphone and called me up. This was my day off so I just happened to be home and I answered the phone. I said, “Momoko, what’s wrong? Aren’t you at school?” She said she is, but she said, “Auntie, no one believes me at school that you play Goku. Can you please help me?” I asked her if everyone was there around the pay phone and she said yes. So I asked them all to line up at the phone. There were plenty because they were all her classmates. I spoke over the phone to each individually saying, “Hi! I’m Goku!” Each student would say, “Thank you very much.” And then pass the phone to the next one. I would do, “Hi! I’m Goku!” and they would say, “Thank you very much.” There were many students and I did that every single time for every single student. I was very happy that I could help out my niece there.
Question: I was wondering if you had any favorite part of the Dragon Ball series to watch, not a most difficult opponent, but a favorite part? And who are your favorite 3 voices to act?
Masako Nozawa: Not including Goku, Gohan, Goten?
Question: Right, aside from those.
*Note that the translator misunderstood the question as “Who is your favorite character aside from the Son family boys?” because it was asked in an unclear manner*
Masako Nozawa: Aside from the 3 Son boys, that would be Piccolo. Mr. Piccolo. Mr. Piccolo starts off as a very unlikable character, but he does raise Gohan and teach him skills.
My favorite part is actually about Goku’s character. When he’s fighting a bad guy and say, the bad guy just stumbled and falls, Goku has the perfect chance to kill him, but he doesn’t. He always wants to face his opponent on fair ground. When we were dubbing Dragon Ball in the studio, my fellow voice actors would ask me, “Masako, you had the perfect chance, why didn’t you kill him?” I said, “Well, I’m not Goku, I just play Goku. And thanks for saying that, but I fully agree with how Goku wants to play fair.”
Question: I grew up watching the Dragon Ball series and also the Digimon series. *inaudible* I was wondering if we could hear *inaudible* Digimon evolution cry. *inaudible*
Masako Nozawa: Gyuuuuuuuk-mon!
After the evolution cry, for some reason the Digimon evolves into a very good looking fellow.
Only the Beginning
What a panel! So many great answers and so much new information.
I really liked her answers to the importance of Goku’s character, why he’s so popular across the world, and how we can all strive to be more like Goku in real life.
It’s also fascinating that she was the very first female voice actor to play a young male character, and thus set the precedent for decades to come. Way to go Masako!
This is only the beginning of the Animazement convention and I have several more posts with the Dragon Ball voice actors lined up.
The guests included Masako Nozawa (Goku, Gohan, Goten, Bardock, Turles), Toshio Furukawa (Piccolo), Ryusei Nakao (Freeza, Coola), and Yuko Minaguchi (Videl, Pan).
The American voice actors were also guests, including Sean Schemmel (Goku, North Kaio), Kara Edwards (Videl, Goten), and Kyle Hebert (Teen Gohan, the Narrator).
So stay tuned for more DBZ action!