The Bronze Devil: Interview with a Translator, Part II

The Bronze Devil

 2. A great many idioms in The Bronze Devil—as well as the antics of some of the characters—evoke magicians and the circus. Are magicians as popular in Japan as they are in America? Do some magicians get more attention than others? That is, does Japanese culture extol the David Copperfield approach (big elaborate tricks) or the classic stage magician (rabbits out of hats) or the sleight of hand magician (card tricks) or all of them? What about Penn & Teller—or are Penn & Teller a little too ironic/cynical?

I’ve observed that Japanese don’t do the whole “dripping with irony” thing. It’s sand in the gears of a culture that depends so much on going with the flow. So I’d say the Penn & Teller approach is probably a bit too knowing and cynical. I do recall an episode of a police procedural in which the murder victim is a magician who had the audacity to reveal the secrets of other magicians.

Cyril Takayama: Japanese-American
magician: American background
meets cultural Japan. Kate thinks he'd
make a good Fiend in the movies!

In my limited Japanese television-watching experience, I haven’t seen many David Copperfield types. More old-school vaudeville-style magicians. Rabbits out of hats and simple sleight of hand and lots of banter. But the performances always seem to me as more variety show material than the main event.

That said, Edogawa’s stories very often center around elaborate David Copperfield tricks rather than “traditional” crimes. Stage and circus magic acts figure into many of his novels, where the crime is solved by figuring out the trick, not whodunit. A big part of Doctor Magic (1956), for example, consists of Edogawa explaining several stage magic and circus acts. I was familiar with the “tricks.” Though his readers probably were not.

Cyril Takayama reminds me of a certain personality type you see a lot on NHK World. The foreign hosts (varying in Japanese extraction from zero to one hundred percent) walk that fine line between being extroverted enough to attract a crowd and stand out in it but not so much that they become intimidating. It's the art of being comfortably foreign. If you can master it, it's a good gig to have.

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