On the Netflix original series “Tidying Up,” Marie Iida is Marie Kondo’s interpreter.
Iida said an important part of her job on the unscripted series involved blending in and translating Kondo’s tone and facial expressions.
She noted that she thinks the tidying process usually takes much longer to complete than the show suggests.
The Netflix show “Tidying Up” has transformed the idea of cleaning one’s house from drudgery to an exercise in mindfulness. The series follows Japanese organizational guru Marie Kondo as she helps families across America cope with clutter and let go of things that don’t “spark joy.”
Even though the show was filmed and aired in the US, Kondo communicates primarily in Japanese. This means that English-speaking viewers of the show rely on the skill of a live interpreter to better understand Kondo.
INSIDER spoke with Marie Iida, Marie Kondo’s interpreter on “Tidying Up,” to learn what it was really like filming the hit show.
Marie Iida has been interpreting for Marie Kondo on a freelance basis for about three years
Marie Iida was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan and she first moved to the United States at the age of 6. She began interpreting (i.e. translating spoken sentences from one language to another) after graduating from New York University in 2006.
Iida has since worked with legendary Japanese filmmakers, architects, and artists and has interpreted for esteemed organisations like the Japan Society, MoMA, Cannes Film Festival, and New York Asian Festival.
Iida remarked that interpreting for decluttering master Marie Kondo on “Tidying Up” was a thrilling experience.
“It was an adventure, a completely new challenge. I like to think we were emboldened by each other’s presence – I certainly was. Every day, no matter how gruelling the shoot, I was always proud to see a fellow Japanese woman at the helm of her own Netflix show and I wanted to live up to the opportunity we were given,” she told INSIDER.
Iida said this was her first experience working with an unscripted show
Unlike many reality shows, the interactions on “Tidying Up” feel natural and off-the-cuff. That’s because the show is completely unscripted, with Kondo and the families working together organically to tackle piles of clutter and learn more about each other.
“This was my first brush with an unscripted show and I was touched by how warm and friendly all the families were. The show would have never worked had it not been for their candor and willingness to challenge their own perspective and mindset,” Iida said.
Of course, the lack of a script means that Iida needed to go with the flow and be in the thick of the things. That sometimes meant pitching in with the work of tidying.
“I never expected that I would have to fold so many clothes in addition to interpreting!” she added.
She said of the most challenging parts of her style of interpreting is beating the clock
There are actually a few different types of interpretation. On “Tidying Up,” Iida practices what is known as “consecutive interpretation.” This means that she listens to a few moments of what the speaker says in one language before immediately translating it into the target language for the listener.
In simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter begins translating a sentence as it is being spoken by the other person, interpreting in real-time while also listening to and comprehending the next sentence.
“It’s always a race against time. As a consecutive interpreter, you are only given a few seconds to come up with the best words to convey the message – the pressure is much higher if you are a simultaneous interpreter,” she told INSIDER.
Iida had to interpret Kondo’s facial expressions and tone as well as her words
Although it’s obviously important to accurately translate a person’s words, Iida pointed out that it’s also important to make sure you’re conveying the right tone and mood. After all, it’s often the subtle nuances of inflection, expression, and humour that can change the feel of an entire conversation.
“A challenge while interpreting for this show was representing Marie’s personality and character accurately. I tried to pay attention to her tone of voice, posture, and even facial expressions in addition to her words,” explained Iida.
Part of working as an interpreter on the show was making sure to blend in rather than stand out
Although Iida’s work on “Tidying Up” was crucial to making English-speaking audiences feel like part of the action, the mark of a good interpreter is actually their ability to fade into the background.
“I don’t like to draw attention to myself. I think you are doing a good job as an interpreter if people forget that you are there and the rapport between the speaker and the listener feels immediate and organic,” she told INSIDER.
She said working with (and not against) cultural differences is a key part of translating
Communication is about so much more than vocabulary. Many elements of social interaction are informed by culture and social expectation, from how much eye contact is appropriate to the best way to smile. While working with Kondo, Iida had the chance to observe these cultural differences in action.
“In the West, we have a natural inclination to avoid awkward silences during conversations, but sharing a quiet moment with her client is part of Marie’s process. I think working with a TV host who does not always dominate the conversation and feels comfortable with prolonged stillness was a new experience not only for the families but also the production crew,” she said.
Live translation on a major show like “Tidying Up” is actually a pretty big deal. It allows the audience to see the interplay between the families, Kondo, and Iida as they overcome communication barriers and forge friendships despite cultural differences.
“The way this show incorporated interpretation through filming, sound, and editing is pretty innovative. And hopefully I was able to do my job in a way that proved to the audience that this format can work,” Iida told INSIDER.
Iida’s work also allowed Kondo and her methods to be portrayed as authentically as possible, rather than glossed over with the addition of a voiceover in post-production.
“Interpretation and translation allow for a more diverse, multicultural perspective to be shared on a global scale, and I hope they will continue to be incorporated in creative ways in streaming TV,” Iida said.
Iida said she thinks the tidying process usually takes much longer to complete than the show suggests
If we’re not careful, the magic of television will have us believing that a family can transform their house from a chaotic mess to a neat oasis in just a few days. In reality, Iida revealed that the Kondo’s clients usually take a bit longer to tidy up their lives than the Netflix filming schedule allowed show participants.
“I think the tidying process generally takes longer to complete than the time we were allocated to film this show. It took an extraordinary amount of dedication and commitment for the families to go through all the steps in such a short amount of time. I tip my hat to them!” Iida said.
Iida believes people love “Tidying Up” because it shows a uniquely human way of dealing with clutter
Rather than advocating extreme minimalism, complicated colour-coding, or a radical overhaul of a person’s lifestyle, Marie Kondo’s KonMari tidying method asks people to connect with each of their belongings and examine how those items fit into their lives, if they do at all.
“I believe Marie’s approach to tidying highlights what we share as human beings. To feel safe and comfortable in our homes – that is a universal desire we all have no matter where you come from,” Iida told INSIDER.
This means that in order for the process to work, it’s important to recognise the emotional and symbolic attachments that we sometimes develop with our stuff.
“With the KonMari method of tidying, understanding that the process is just as emotional as it is practical seems to make all the difference. The method asks you to be introspective and the time it takes to be honest with yourself depends on each person,” she added.
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