Meet Totuta

If you’re like me and can’t watch a kdrama without English subtitles, you’ll rank fansubbers way up high on that totem pole called “The People Most Deserving Of Blame For My Kdrama Addiction.” Said pole also nicknamed “Kdrama Folks That I Lurve The Most Who Aren’t Actors.”

Fansubbers. What will we do without them?

Long before the emergence of major fansubbing groups like WITHS2 and Viki, one lone person was quietly translating Korean dramas for a small but growing community of international viewers. This was back in the days when downloading a drama was as familiar a concept as wearing flip-flops on our head. (The next step—joining subtitles to raws—even caused the technically-challenged among us to cry.)

Totuta, who was attending graduate school in the States, ran a one-man show. Not only did his website provide the raw videos and English subtitles, there was an array of articles that helped non-Korean viewers better understand the real world depicted in the dramas he translated (for example, the oktapbang, soju, ramyun, Korean bar exam, garlic, and cohabitation in Attic Cat). All of the articles written by Totuta himself.

I do not know what magic dust Totuta sprinkled on his subtitles, but the first two dramas he subbed were also the first dramas I watched thrice in quick succession. I was in kdrama heaven. I was also in trouble. I had discovered quality fansubs (aka subs-by-people-who-really-know-their-stuff) and would henceforth refuse to accept anything less.

As one of my first kdrama enablers, Totuta is a legend in my books. His pioneering work will always have a special place in the annals of kdrama fansubbing; many of us, whether as fansubbers or just appreciative viewers, owe it to him for our foray into the world of fansubs. I’m thus thrilled to bring this interview to you, and also highly embarrassed that my interview questions are so unwieldy and wordy. No wonder (and thank goodness) I’m not a journalist!

Would you like to tell TP readers something about yourself? Hi everyone. I am TOTUTA. You can just call me ‘T’, if you want, and it’s a great honor to be interviewed here on THUNDIE’s PRATTLE, nice to meet you all. Currently I’m working in Japan as a hardware engineer/manager for a Korean company. I was born in Korea, and educated mostly in Korea, partly in U.S… And last but not least, I’m a Korean citizen.

How long have you been watching Korean dramas and are you still watching them as avidly these days? I’ve been watching Korean dramas since I was very young (around 6?), but recently have no time to watch them, because my life is getting busier and busier all the time.

Do you have a keen interest in history and languages because I notice from your writings that you are also fluent in Chinese and Japanese? Yes, I do. Although my job is engineering, history (and culture too) and languages are my love.

Back when you first started, the fansubbing of Korean dramas hadn’t taken off in a big way yet. What made you decide to take a leap into what was (and still is) a tedious, time-consuming and often thankless endeavor? My first fansubbing project was Ruler of Your Own World (2002). The reason why I dived into the job was very simple. I loved ROYOW. And I like the dialogues which I thought were very much modern, great and cool. Many Korean people insisted this kind of Korean language cannot be translated into other languages, not even into Japanese (which is very close to Korean in a grammatical sense). What a pity only Korean people can enjoy this great drama! So I decided to give it a try myself, hoping many people in the world will love this great piece.

Was ROYOW one of the early mania dramas and have you loved others that were similarly underrated but critically acclaimed? Yes, ROYOW is one of those dramas with fandom. I don’t exactly know how it became one. It just ‘clicked’ with young Korean people back then. I remember everyone was talking about this drama, saying ‘Oh, this one’s different. I loooove this one.’ And as for me, I know no drama other than ROYOW which is underrated but great. But it doesn’t mean that there are none. There must be many. It’s just that I’m not watching a lot of dramas.

What was the fansubbing landscape like when you started? As far as I know, there was no one fansubbing Korean dramas back then.

Your Sentimentalism piece, one of the thirteen articles that you wrote for Sandglass, is a fascinating insight into the historical and cultural background of the drama. It’s especially eye-opening because you make a strong and startling assertion: “Sentimentalism has been the dominant trend of South Korean culture so far.” Do you find this to be still true of Korean dramas? That is, are the “make us cry” weepies outnumbering comedies? No, it’s gradually going away now.

Are you a bigger fan of romantic comedies like Attic Cat or the knife-in-your-gut realism that makes dramas like ROYOW and Sandglass so moving and compelling a watch? I like both, but if I have to pick one, I’ll go with realism.

In one of your articles, you lumped Damo with Summer Scent in the category of “mediocre melancholy dramas.” I protest! One is far superior, isn’t it? Yes, Damo is definitely better than Summer Scent & Co. What I wanted to say is that Damo still has some melancholy flavor with all those greatness.

What makes a drama mediocre? Lack of own view. Conversely, what makes a drama great? Novel perspective. Could you give us examples of the ones that sank like a shipwreck? Recent films of Kang Je-gyu. Those that made every hour spent on them feel so worthwhile? Ruler of Your Own World!

Many viewers of Ireland (your 4th and also final fansubbing project) come away feeling befuddled and also disappointed. They are confused by the writing and let down by their high expectations following ROYOW. On the other hand, some viewers have praised the drama’s brilliance and courage. What are your own thoughts? How would you convince someone to give this drama a shot and not dismiss it as too quirky and weird? Well, to be honest with you, I myself didn’t really get the point of Ireland, either. But let me say that, if you are fed up with those same ol’ fashioned Korean dramas with triangle love and bla bla bla, give Ireland a try.

In one of your ROYOW articles, you described the Korean rock music scene. I know you dabbled in indie rock because I had the privilege of listening to one of your pieces. It was very good! How did you get started and how long have you been involved with your band? What instruments do you play and do you also compose music? I play guitar, bass, and little bit of drums, but I can’t write songs. It’s beyond my ability, I have to say.

I know work keeps you very busy. Have you ever thought of returning to fansubbing and writing (about Korean dramas) someday? Someday, yes, why not? But I’m hell of a busy these days so I can’t spare my time to watch dramas, not even subbing and writing about them.

To wrap, if you could recommend five favorite dramas (other than the four that you subbed), what would they be? Sorry, I have no time to watch dramas recently…. Nice talking to you all. Good bye!

Haha, Totuta does sound so relieved to be done, doesn’t he? But he really is very sweet to agree to this many-months-in-the-making interview. Thank you, sir! I love rekindling memories of the good ole days and I especially love the opportunity to talk about fansubbing and three adored dramas (oops, never did finish Ireland). Perhaps TP readers will use this post to sing their praises of fansubbers who dedicate so much time to helping us all enjoy dramas. If anyone wants to discuss the four dramas that Totuta subbed, go right ahead and don’t hold back!

24 thoughts on “Meet Totuta

  1. wow! thanks for this post thundie, i must admit, i never knew the man only now and it’s so amazing getting to know him here… *whistles* the first fansubber?! awesome! you started it al!

  2. Hi Thundie ” waves”
    Wow. Didn’t know he started the whole thing. Auntie Mame told me to come here.
    Actually since I am so new to KDrama haven’t watched any of the dramas mentioned. Isn’t Sandglass the one who made everyone cry?
    By the way, love love the new software that loads srt subs so easily.
    Yes, I will raise my hand up to join the legions of viewers who love fansubbers. I’ve got a whole row of DVD sets I bought 2 years ago ( when I started watching KD) gathering dust. Once you get a good fansubbed drama… one can’t go back to crap subtitles. These days prefer to watch dramas raw rather than cringe at the idiotic sentences that comes with DVD sets, How do people without access to fan subbing groups survive and even appreciate K Dramas?

    That being said.. .we have the fan subbing bloggers. I am off to read softy’s recap of RP ep 12. Thank you for the article.

    • In this case, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you, ck10z and to the team that helped out with the 9 ends 2 outs subs. I ended up with a poorly subbed copy but thanks to WITHS2 and their soft subs, I was able to understand and fully appreciate the drama..

  3. Thundie, welcome back to the blogging world, how much we have missed you and your eloquent writing!!!

    Thanks so much for doing this interview. If Totuta wanted to spread the love for ROYOW, he has succeeded remarkably. How many years now that I’ve been watching Kdramas, yet ROYOW’s still ranked one of the tops on my list. I remember I learned about Totuta’s site from soompi and jumped right in to download the drama and indulge myself many many rewatch after that. And then came Sandglass. (Like you, thundie, I could not finish Ireland though). Mr. Totuta, I can’t say enough how thankful I am for your free service. You humbled us all with your passion and generosity!!! Thanks so much!!!

  4. What a pioneer! Thank you for all your hardwork and effort that goes into subbing as well as explaining cultural notes. I didn’t even know you were the (only) guy who subbed Ruler of Your Own World and Sandglass back in the day.

  5. I didn’t watch Ruler of Your Own World nor Ireland, but I loved watching Sandglass. My dad’s side of the family used to be in-laws with Joseph Kapzon. I don’t know too much about him except that he’s Russian-Jewish and was considered a really great singer. He didn’t write or create Cranes song. First singer was Mark Bernes in late ’40s or ’50s.

  6. As an Englsh speaker I am eternally grateful to fansubbers and while I am not the most patient person in the world I willing wait months for subtitles on shows that are not the current favs but ones I would love to watch. Thanks subbers you guys rule!!!!

  7. It’s so interesting to know the background of subbers and their motivation. If it were not for these brave people who give up their hours of rest and have made an art out of sleep-deprivation, non-
    Korean speakers might not be able to enjoy k=dramas or other dramas as much. Hail to fansubbers who make our lives a bit more joyful. We appreciate you all and may the drama gods bless you now and always.

  8. Thank you very much for that interview. I LOVED LOVED LOVED ROYOW! That is one of my favorite dramas. I did watch Ireland. The first time I gave it up and FF through much of it. But I liked Lee Na-young so much in ROYOW that I decided to go back and watch it all the way through.
    I truly appreciate the work of subbers so that we can enjoy the dramas with some understanding of what’s going on.

  9. Fabulous! Thanks for this, thundie and Totuta!
    Sandglass and ROYOW both make my Top 10 list. I’ll take realism (the more gut-wrenching, heartfelt, tear-jearking and totally absorbing the better) — any day of the week, sil-vous plait. I mean, sentimentality is great! I just wish Koreans made more melodramas like they used to. And I don’t mean PD Yoon’s overstated Seasons Dramas.

    Funnily enough, the first kdrama I was suckered into watching was Attic Cat and it was quite possibly the first and last time I was so engrossed and in love with a rom-com. (Kim Rae-won! *thud*)

    Oh and I fully intend to watch and love Ireland, since it’s the ROYOW writer; In Jung-ok. Though I’ve been put off watching it (and Damo) all these years since I heard they feature a certain theme I find off-putting. (hint: like Oldboy and the jdorama Million Stars Falling…)

    • Hi antoniazc, I have it all on file, let me know if you’re still interested.If so, drop me an email (click on my author username you’ll see an email link) and i’ll send you the links once I upload the episodes. 🙂

  10. Oh. My. God. I think I’m having a fangirl moment. I got started on kdramas because of the Seasons series (didn’t we all? 😉 ) but the first time I thought kdrama was more than just melodramas and romcoms was when I saw Ruler of Your Own World, which coincidentally, I followed up with Sandglass. This was waaaay back in 2004 (or 2005? can’t remember) and since then, I’ve learned that there was a such a thing as a mind-blowing, intellectually rewarding, and emotionally gut-wrenching kdrama experience. So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Totuta for evolving my outlook when it came to dramas, in aiding me to never to settle for the mediocre, when there is so much greatness to be had. And thanks, Ms. Thundie, for the interview! 🙂

  11. Thundieeeee,

    You came back with a bang! I was missing you like hell, you never left our thoughts for a moment! I would be commuting to work, thinking about the latest drama I’m watching, simultaneously holding imaginary discussions with drama chingus over it, including you. Our conversations are very mature and insightful like “who mine-ed whom?” 🙂 I have assigned a dress, a voice, a personality to all of you even without ever having met you, all based on the words you choose to put out here!

    Remember how few months back I had badgered you to discuss about Totuta – The Lone Subber from East and you told me that coincidentally you were corresponding with him at that time. Ah, now I know what fruits it bore 🙂

    Attic Cat came very late in my drama viewing experience after co-habitation dramas lost its novelty for me. I dropped it unceremoniously only when it was 2 or was it 3, episodes to finish!

    Other 3 dramas have been only my Must-Watch list for SO long that they have become WILL-YOU-WATCH-IT-BEFORE-YOU-DIE-I-HIGHLY-DOUBT-IT List!

    But I will watch Ruler Of Your Own World even if it means I have to reincarnate^^

    Okay, now a fangirl shout-out to Totuta! – This might seem a bit weird, but I was talking to Thundie a few months back about you! I had just found out that you subbed some great dramas back in early 2000s & then completely disappeared from the scene. Now, I am intrigued by cloaked individuals – superheros or ordinary men and this piqued my curiosity.

    I love the fact that you (1) fansubbed, when fansubbing was rare, hell, non-existent, especially (2) K-Dramas. Some people faint at the sight of immeasurable wealth, I squeal like a little girl when I meet pioneers and you are one.

    Appreciate your selflessness and the effort you put in bringing to us, so thank you for the eureka moment that made you decide to do this! Btw I hope your self-imposed drama exile will not stop you from watching some great dramas that have aired /airing

    -Conspiracy In The Court
    -Flames of Ambition
    -The Duo
    -Evasive Inquiry Agency
    -Joseon X-Files
    -Bad Family etc just to name a few.

  12. hello touta, i remember downloading ROYOW from you (a long time ago), and i really loved the drama too, i remember being told by krn friends the drama was really well written, i went on to download your other works too.

  13. To all fansubbers out there I give you my sincere thanks. I try to give a shoutout to subbers whenever I watched a good subtitled film. Case in point Arrow the Ultimate Weapon, I really appreciate the hard work done by the Subber in being true in translating the dialogue, the experience was ten times more enjoyable. I would also like to thank people who translate song lyrics I’m a die hard fan of Korean alternative music, to all of you thanks for your hard work.

  14. hey, welcome back Thundie!!! I really like this post of yours . . . i have seen ROyOW, Sandglass and Ireland (I, too didn’t finish that one) and I remember seeing the name of this subber before . . . too bad he is too busy . . . but still, great JOB on the article and great interview . . . again, WELCOME back to the k-drama blogger world 😉

  15. Thank you so much Thundie!
    Your post really amazing,i have no idea and even never know about Totuta before.
    Totuta and many others people who give their time to make subtitle…they deserve our gratitude.

  16. Hello– I wondered where the “Totuta” went cause one day he just quietly disappeared from the forums. Thank You for finding Totuta !! I have been a fan since 1997. I asked him a few questions that I now know were pretty dumb but all newbies ask “stupid” questions, right?
    I agree Totuta was THE MAN !! Today I can get the jest of the drama w/o subtitles but when I first discovered k-drama I knew nothing but was hungry to know everything. I love all things Korean… anyways… clicked your site by chance… found you were posting again…
    Thank You for returning!! I have health challenges also– Keep strong!! Take care !!!

  17. I agree the subbers are the greatest asset in spreading Korean dramas and others too (maybe, but since i dont watch them, i dont care as much) the 1st drama that I bought on dvd was Jewel in the Palace and the tranlations fell apart at about episode 34 with a lot of mumbo jombo that i couldn’t make sense of. It ruined my enjoyment until i found a site streaming the drama with English subtitles. Right now i am watching Queen Insoo and The Great King’s Dream; the unavailbility of english subs for the more recent episodes is slowly driving me mad. I’ve lookes at both Iljimae shows, Baek Dong So, Emperor of the Sea, Conspiracy in the Court and relooked at Jewel while waiting for subbing to catch up. Subbers are unsung heroes.

  18. When I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new
    comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with
    the same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service?
    Many thanks!

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