Interview with a Translator: Edogawa, The Story

Kate: Torai’s assistant is a beautiful, mysterious, faintly sardonic young man wearing possible military garb. These young men populate manga and anime! What is the fascination? Why do they show up so often in Japanese art? (As opposed to the big, tough, rough & ready young men in British/American adventure stories who wear lots of guns and safari garb?)
Eugene: There is no shortage of muscled tough guys in manga and anime, especially those aimed at the Young Jump demographic. Sports series like Ashita no Joe in the 1960s and 1970s and action series like Fist of the North Star in the 1980s were so over the top that their over-the-topness has become iconic. Today, One Piece and Dragon Ball are two of the most popular anime in Japan and around the world.

And yet, as you observe, the inverse is just as true. I haven’t formulated a good theory to explain this.

As during Shakespeare’s time, men played women’s parts in traditional Kabuki (called onnagata or oyama). They still do today, and draw legions of loyal fans.
Also true of the lower brow Taishu Engeki (“popular theater”), vaudevillian troupes that feature both female leads and oyama. And then there’s the Takarazuka Revue, the famed all-female theatrical group, where the women play men.
Kate: Apologies occur in the story. Are apologies—versus lawsuits and jail time—a typical Japanese plot device?
Eugene: I think this is more reflective of Japanese culture itself. More recently, these cultural expectations have run headlong into “modern” legal principles like substantive due process, which in Japan can seem stuck back in the Edo period. A current example concerns the travails of Carlos Ghosn, the once savior and now fired CEO of Nissan/Renault. In the fallout of a boardroom coup, his involvement in a number of financial shenanigans came to light.

In the U.S., he would have paid a hefty fine to the IRS and SEC and gotten a few slaps on the wrist. In Japan it’s become the crime of the century. Except he won’t apologize!!!! Or confess!!!! He insists he is innocent!!!! Carlos Ghosn refuses to play by the “rules.” This attitude is obviously driving the prosecutors nuts. “But we’ve got you dead to rights!!!!” To western observers, on the other hand, the whole thing is starting to look like Javert obsessed with Jean Valjean.


Matthew said...

I have to wonder about the sincerity of those apologies by Japanese CEOs and politicians or are they just going through the motions.

Joe said...

I agree with Matthew. There is a YouTube video of a Japanese man apologizing profusely and it quickly becomes a "give me a break, enough already" moment. Do native Japanese ever have that reaction to official apologies?

Matthew said...

I finished The Space Alien (and enjoyed it) so I read the part where everyone apologizes. It's certainly different than the climax of a American or British mystery.

Pro Bono a novel by Seicho Matsumoto, I believe actually has a character apologize for a murder committed by another person. I believe he was the boss of the man accused of murder.