Darryl Kurylo is an actor and voice actor with decades of experience across different media, from television to video games. Notable roles include Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, Prototype 2 and, more recently, Destiny 2. However, if you are reading this, chances are you heard about him because of his role on the western release of Yakuza, as he was Kiryu Kazuma’s voice actor. Mr. Kurylo was kind enough to answer some of our questions about his work on Yakuza - keep reading for an interesting and never before seen insight of the localization process for the first game.
As a disclaimer, the localization process of the US PS2 release of Yakuza was handled by a completely different team, long before anyone currently handling the series in the West, from localization to marketing to PR, was even part of SEGA of America.
During the interview, there might be spoilers about the ending of Yakuza/Yakuza Kiwami. Read at your own discretion.
TojoHQ: What was your first impression of ‘Yakuza’?
Darryl Kurylo: My very first introduction to Yakuza was as a partial 5-line script for Kazuma which I auditioned for at my agent’s studio. They had a small black and white thumbnail and described him as serious, deep voice, smart… you could tell immediately it was a badass character and a lot of actors wanted to do it. It was interesting to us that they weren’t asking for accents of any kind. The lines given showed he had some depth and not just some thug. I never got to see the actual gameplay or the script until minutes before recording. My jaw dropped at the detail – it was cutting edge at the time for 2004. Just a brilliant design, realistic movement and the first real attempts I’d seen at intricate mouth movements matching the words spoken. Unfortunately those words were Japanese and we would have trouble matching the translations. I had to think of or alter many of the lines myself in order to match the mouth movements. I really appreciated the art of the game designers , their incredible effort, you know? And I wanted to try to be as perfect as I could. A third of the time we were only given an approximate time for the line read and couldn’t even see the actual cut scene. We had to just lay down various takes and just give our best ‘guess’. We got to see the whole script dialogue though. It was a great experience.
“I remember while we were recording talking with the Japanese contingent from Sega, who attended all of the recording sessions, about what was coming up in the sequels. I was looking forward to it.”
Q: For the second question, have you played ‘Yakuza’ or kept up with the series once the voiceover process ended for the first game?
DK: I received a copy of the game. Very generous gesture from the publishers. My son, Bailey, and I started the game. I wanted to get the feel and see a cut scene or two. He went ahead and finished it in just a few days. He went non-stop. He loved it. He still views it as one of his favorite games. I remember while we were recording talking with the Japanese contingent from Sega, who attended all of the recording sessions, about what was coming up in the sequels. I was looking forward to it. However, Sega executives decided that they didn’t need voices to dub in English for the sequels. They were correct. The gamers here that wanted more Yakuza already knew the story lines and would be fine with subtitles. Sometimes the translations they gave us to read sound silly. It’s why I was given leeway to change the dialogue. But dubbing is a huge expense and delays the release of the games. I was disappointed and put it behind me. So no, I never followed what happened to Kazuma and everyone. My son went on to be obsessed with other titles [of the series].
Q: That’s really interesting insight about the development process of the localization, and it’s great to hear your son enjoyed the game. A question more related to the cultural side of things this time. What was on your mind when you used Japanese honorifics such as “San”, “Chan”, and “Oyabun” to address other characters in ‘Yakuza’? Did you feel awkward doing so?
DK: Not at all. We get it. There were times the guests from Japan watching would say to the director we should put that in. They did make a note of translating phrases to be relatable to English audiences, like saying Omi ‘Family’ instead of Omi Alliance, or something. We’re used to Sicilian-American mob stories calling each faction a ‘family’. The bigger hurdle was pronunciation of names and places. We tend to place emphasis on middle syllables of Japanese words. Like: Ya KOO za, and Ha ROO ka. The director had to keep a keen ear to when we messed up. I have to say, I very much appreciated how the writers retained a more accurate portrayal of Japanese culture and didn’t ‘over-Americanize’ things. Does that make sense?
Q: Yes, of course. But I’m really curious now. In your opinion, what was your best delivery in the game? Your performance when Kiryu declared himself 4th Chairman is memorable for many fans, and personally one of my favorite scenes from ‘Yakuza’.
DK: Ha. The fight scenes afterwards made me laugh because most of those goons’ grunts and groans are me…I’m sort of fighting myself. I had forgotten that scene. Thanks. I’ve never actually seen it. They picked the speech they liked best afterward. I recall performing it five or six different ways–little changes here and there to fit the mouth, but it was written and translated very well. Nice crescendo to it. Fun for an actor. I did 7 4-hour sessions. It was intense sometimes. So we’d fool around while the Sega crew was talking to Japan. I would do some of Kazuma’s lines in Haruka’s or Yumi’s voice and dub their characters in my voice. Or other characters in celebrities and cartoon voices. Like Bad Lip Reading. Then play it back. Good times. Wish we had kept those!
“It’s unfair to judge acting performances when faced with this scenario. It’s usually like this: You receive “script” a few days ahead. When you get to the studio–it’s changed. There is no rehearsal. You never hear the other actor’s performance in the same scene. It’s a cold read with little to go on.”
Q: I’m really surprised you also voiced the goons, I honestly had no idea! Since you mentioned the other characters, were you recording alone during the sessions? Or were you joined by other VAs who were part of the project like Mark Hamill(Majima’s voice actor) and Debi Derryberry(Haruka’s voice)?
DK: Yes, in some other scene early on I’m another group of thugs ‘challenging myself’ to a fight. We were all recording alone. Only one game have I ever recorded with another actor – that was Prototype 2 with Cornell Womack. There was an entire group of us in World of Warcraft–maybe 20 of us recording cut scenes from an expansion pack all at once. That was wild. But as far as games go – it’s all done alone. Films are the same. Only in a series, since you only have a week to do 1 or 2 episodes, and in commercials will you find everyone recording together. I have had the pleasure of working with Mark on another project – he’s genuinely kind, modest, and funny.
Q: While the series has a lot of serious moments, it also has many silly scenes, like the fan-favorite Karaoke minigame. Could you imagine yourself singing, cheering for other characters, and being able to keep a straight face?
DK: Well, yes. But I’d have to be really lit, n’a mean? And you’re alone in a large booth looking at a monitor. For the encouragement sounds… they would just record a whole bunch of different cheers and “yeah” vocals in a row and drop them in where they see fit. I had no idea this was part of the game. That’s a riot! Kiryu sings? I’ve sang as other characters I’ve done… but I would never imagine Kazuma doing that. That would have been fun. Ha.
Q: Sega remade the first Yakuza from the ground for newer consoles and released it as Yakuza Kiwami. Devilleon7, a dear friend and YouTuber who usually publish Yakuza videos, picked the audio from the Western version of the PS2 version and inserted it on the CGs of the re-release. What comes to your mind when you see that? Does it bring back memories? Compared to the original, if you voiced this modern version of the game, with better graphics and facial animation, would you have changed anything on your performance?
DK: Dude, that’s is a fantastic question. And it does bring back a lot of memories! We didn’t get to see a great deal of the finished product or given time to get into the scenes we were playing. This first part of the clip you referenced – I never saw that. I had to do it ‘blind’. Didn’t know where I was or how the other actor was portraying his character. Some actors didn’t even have a complete script of the other characters in the scene, just their own lines for the most part – they were just sort of told what was going on. For games this is the norm. It’s unfair to judge acting performances when faced with this scenario. It’s usually like this: You receive “script” a few days ahead. When you get to the studio – it’s changed. There is no rehearsal. You never hear the other actor’s performance in the same scene. It’s a cold read with little to go on. The director will be on the other side of the glass and a story editor or writer from the publishing house will be patched in on the phone to try to fill you in on what is going on in this scene. The script is just a chart of your lines on a spreadsheet. One column will say attitude (Upset). One column describes intensity (Neutral), and the last will be Notes briefly describing what’s going on (Doesn’t trust him). You see nothing of the game other than preliminary screenshots or drawings. You start with a scene and read through it in different ways until the director tells you – “that’s it. that’s the character voice.” Then you record, reading each line twice, or three times if it’s short, until the end of the scene. Boom boom boom. Sometimes you are shown what was said before you speak. A lead-in line or a response. That’s it. And you have to keep on going. Booth time is big money. You can’t say… can I hear that back? “Uhhh…no. Let’s keep moving.” Only the director will stop so Blizzard or Activision people can okay something. Or you can pause when your throat needs a rest. So when you are dubbing, you get to see a whole lot more than usual. But in this case – not every scene was available. It’s hard enough to dub for the time – but to not see the mouth movements, how much to project, what state of intensity the other character is portraying… It’s very difficult. I was lucky enough to have Sega there, and a good deal of the scenes, a director who cared about what he was doing and who could tell me how the other actor was sounding so I could play off of that. Michael Madsen, for instance, was like a lot of the actors, who saw very little and heard very little. “Here’s the lines, this is the image of the guy you’re playing, you’ll only get half of the video where he’s talking to look at, do the lines in a couple different ways…and go!” 2 hours in and out and he had to go. Impossible. No rehearsal, no interaction with another actor. Crazy. So what truly matters isn’t the quality of the scene you’re looking at – you really need context, subtext, TIME, and background information to know how to play the scene properly. You get none of those things. Your head has to remain frozen in relation to the microphone. You can’t look down, up, left or right… walk around and jump like your character is doing. If you have to shout over a helicopter or talk closely into a little kids face you have to know that. If the other guy is raging at you like your having this intense argument and you have to respond in kind – you have to know that. You may think it’s more a minor disagreement. So you really have to depend on the director. These brilliant people will have the whole universe of a game in their heads. It’s ridiculous. But regardless, when you’re alone in a booth with a time limit reading from a TV screen – it hurts the performance. I see that in a lot of these scenes. They really had no idea what’s going on. When you have your role down and it’s written very well and the character is a strong archetype – it’s much easier. Subtle nuanced portrayals are so much more difficult. If we could see the cutscenes and then adjust our performances and rehearse together like a table read – we’d all be able to do this much better! Thanks for this walk down memory lane.
Q: As for the last question, do you have any special message for ‘Yakuza’ fans?
DK: Yakuza was such a great concept. It was supposed to raise the bar in order to get the player more emotionally involved in the game even if the play is tedious at times – the story will keep you entrenched. They hired a good writer to pull this all together and he gets my respect. I was proud to be a part of it. I wish I could have kept doing the sequels! Still and all, the game is what’s most important and few producers will care about story and performance as much as this. Anyway, keep hope – it’s the greatest thing we got going for us as people. Be good humans… and “don’t die!”
We would like to thank Mr. Kurylo for the time he took to answer our questions in such depth. It was a new and amazing insight to how the localization process of the first game unfolded and how hard is the work of a voice actor.
These questions were sent a few years ago by our followers, other fansites and several members of Yakuza HQ and the now defunct official Yakuza forums, when we first contacted Mr. Kurylo. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the interview happen until now and thus we are not able to name everyone who helped anymore. Regardless, we would like to extend our thanks to the fanbase as a whole and the followers who every now and then asked if we were still planning to hold the interview.