July 29, 2007

Chapter 10 (The Shore in Twilight)

鳴蝕 [めいしょく] meishoku (cry of an animal + shoku)
外殿 [がいでん] Gai-den (outer palace)
内殿 [ないでん] Nai-den (inner palace)
琳宇 [りんう] Rin'u (jeweled heavens)
宣角 [せんかく] Senkaku (proclaim + angular)
路門 [ろもん] Romon (road gate)

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July 26, 2007

The Pacific War on screen

Letters from Iwo Jima is a cinematic and philosophical failure: a plodding movie with nothing interesting or insightful to say about one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. The only thing this movie made me feel was: irked. All that money and talent and this is all they could come up with? There are much better movies out there that deal with the same or similar subject matter.

The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) isn't any more complex, but then it doesn't pretend to be. It is the quintessential war movie told in Manichean terms—good guys versus bad guys. But with some conflicts, that's what it all comes down to in the end. The landscape may be gray, but there was nothing gray about what the U.S. Marines fighting there were ultimately fighting for.

However, the ferocity of the battle demands to be put in a greater cultural and political context, and the following three films do that well on the American side, especially considering when they were made.

Go for Broke (1951) follows the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Made up of Japanese Americans from the internment camps, where 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry had been forcibly relocated in early 1942, it became the most decorated U.S. military unit of its size. The perfect definition of hopeful patriotism: soldiers fighting to secure rights for others that they did not then enjoy.

The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) and Sayonara (1957), both starring Marlon Brando, take place during the Occupation. Teahouse, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is a broad comedy about attempts to impose "American-style democracy" on a small village in Okinawa. The movie correctly predicts that the outcome will be less an imperialistic imposition than a cultural amalgamation.

Sayonara is an overwrought melodrama that illuminates a startling fact: mere months after killing each other by the hundreds of thousands, the biggest problem the U.S. Army faced in Japan was "fraternization." The movie deals directly with the racism still inherent in military policy a half-dozen years after the war's end and pervasive in American society at the time.

From the Japanese perspective, director Kinji Fukasaku provides a piercing and unsentimental look at the life of the lowly WWII infantryman in Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972). The story, told mostly in flashbacks, follows a war widow investigating the truth behind her husband's war-time execution for killing a superior officer.

The final act of the war plays out in Kihachi Okamoto's docudrama about the twenty-four hours preceding Japan's surrender, Japan's Longest Day (1967). This is not a war movie, but a political document interrupted by bursts of extreme violence. The film is apologetic—even hagiographic—about Hirohito's role; nevertheless, it accurately portrays the suicidal spasm of fanaticism that ended the war for good.

To understand how Japan arrived at such an inglorious chapter, Edward Zwick's The Last Samurai (2003) accidentally ends up describing the ideology of the Shinsengumi, a bunch of fanatical dead-enders hired by the Shogunate to "defend" Kyoto from the real Saigo Takamori's troops. On the other hand, Yojiro Takita's When the Last Sword Is Drawn (2003) actually is about the Shinsengumi.

Although the attempted counter-revolutions instigated first by the Shinsengumi and then by Saigo Takamori were handily defeated, the ideology they prized would hold sway for three-quarters of a century until it was literally blown to pieces.

Another useful perspective can be found in the anime series Zipang, which looks at WWII through the eyes of the modern Japanese military. Zipang borrows directly from the plot of The Final Countdown (1980), in which a modern U.S. aircraft carrier travels back through a wormhole in time to early December, 1941.

But The Final Countdown never challenges its audience. Gee, will they rally to save their compatriots from the horrors of Pearl Harbor? It's a non-decision, except for some philosophical, science-fiction fretting about "altering the historical timeline." In the end they're saved from making any really difficult decisions by a convenient deus ex machina that comes at the climax of the movie.

In Zipang, a JDF Aegis-class guided missile destroyer is thrown back in time to the eve of the Battle of Midway. But the crew of the Mirai know their countrymen are on the wrong side of history. They are from a wealthy, democratic, post-industrial, peaceful Japan. They have no desire to see the Imperial Japan of the era and its brutal empire prevail. But neither do they wish to stand by and watch them get slaughtered.

Zipang illuminates the kind of moral and existential challenges created in the cauldron of armed conflict—also explored in Under the Flag of the Rising Sun and Japan's Longest Day—but that are nowhere to be found in the profound-looking but intellectually lazy Letters from Iwo Jima.

My final two recommendations should be watched in the following order: First is the Nova documentary, "Sinking the Supership," a straightforward account about the life and death of the Battleship Yamato.

The flagship Yamato was (and remains) the largest battleship ever built. Yet by the Battle of Midway in 1942 it was obsolete, aircraft carriers having come to dominate naval warfare. With most of Japan's naval air force destroyed by late 1944, the Yamato had becoming a floating white elephant and was retired to Kure, its home port on the Inland Sea, a dozen miles south of Hiroshima.

Then during the Battle of Okinawa, in the final months of the war, the Yamato was dispatched—without air cover—to Okinawa. The question every mother asks: "If all your friends went and jumped off a cliff, would you too?" was the exact same reasoning behind Operation Ten-Go. The Japanese military couldn't hold the Yamato in reserve while so many kamikaze pilots were throwing themselves into the abyss.

The Yamato was sunk by American aircraft before getting anywhere near Okinawa. Fewer than 300 sailors out of a crew complement of over 2700 survived when its magazines exploded and it sank, one of the worst naval disasters in history. The resurrection of the Yamato in popular culture—the anime series Space Battleship Yamato in particular—I believe reflects a desire to inject meaning in the pointless demise of such a grand vessel.

The Yamato is spiritually resurrected in "The River of Time" episode of Kamichu! (DVD 3 episode 9). Kamichu! is an anime series about Yurie, a junior high school student living in a small fishing village in Hiroshima Prefecture, who wakes up one morning to discover she's been turned into a minor Shinto deity. Think of it as a Shinto version of Touched by an Angel.

In Shintoism, every unique object or thing in the universe has its own god (Miyazaki's Spirited Away is a good primer on the subject). In "The River of Time," the spirit of a sunken fishing trawler makes its way to Yurie's house (shades of Finding Nemo) to ask for her help—as the local Shinto deity—in escorting the spirit of the Yamato back to Kure.

Along the way, Yurie meets one of the Yamato's few surviving crew members and shares with him a vision of the ship before it was sent to its death. It is a simple and sentimental story that speaks with no political or ideological agenda, a sad and moving requiem asking only, in the words of Shakespeare's Henry V, that this "band of brothers be in their flowing cups freshly remembered."

Related posts

Japan's Bond legacy
Letters from Iwo Jima
Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

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July 24, 2007

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

Chapter 41

1.  TP: People say it's a lot like Over There. Of course, that makes sense with the king being from Over There himself."
      "By that, you mean he's from Wa, or Kan?"
      "Where you're from--Wa.[1]"
      "So . . . That's it? You're coming with me for a little sightseeing?"
      Rakushun looked up at Yoko. "Still don't trust us, Yoko?"
      "It's just that you're too kind. It's hard to believe."
      The rat scratched at the fur on his chest and shifted the weight of the large cloth satchel swung over his back. "Well, we're floating in the same boat, as it were.[2] As you can see, I'm a beastling."
      "A what?"
      "A beastling, or half-beast--we're called hanjyu [3]. Our kind isn't favored by the king here in Kou, just as he doesn't like kaikyaku. Tell you the truth, he doesn't like anything out of the ordinary, really."

      EW: It's like that other world, probably because that's where the king is from."
      "Like Yamato or like China?"
      "Like Yamato. The Royal En came from Yamato."
      "And that's your only reason?"
      Rakushun looked up at Youko. "You still don't trust me, do you, Youko?"
      "And perhaps you've been overdoing it a bit?"
      The rat was carrying a knapsack on his back. He scratched the fur on his chest. "Well, look at me. I'm a hanjuu."
      "A hanjuu?"
      "A half-beast, a chimera. The Royal Kou doesn't like hanjuu, either. He hates kaikyaku, hates anything that is different."

1.1. As noted previously, I decided to resolve the Wa/Nippon/Hourai references as Yamato only. I find it a little odd that TokyoPop would go with the straight furigana reading here and yet literally translate the name of the Royal En elsewhere.

1.2. Additions not in the original.

1.3. I don't like this translation. My rule in cases like this is to define the word in context, and then use the original term (though I have gone back and forth between kijuu and pegasus). I'm also dead set against using Kunrei-shiki romanization in popular literature. Kunrei-shiki is useful in linguistics, but is confusing to the casual reader.

2.  TP: Not that it's me fault."
      Yoko nodded. So, he sympathized with her because they were both discriminated against. That made sense, though Yoko still doubted that was the whole story.

      EW: Not being able to do anything about it doesn't make it my fault."
      Youko replied with a slight nod. Though she vaguely understood what he was getting at, it didn't assuage any of her misgivings.

TokyoPop is stretching out this passage a bit much.

3.  TP: Rakushun gave the fur under his ear particularly good scratch. "You know, I went to the top school in the region. And I was top in me class. They even selected me as a scholar of the state, recommended me for the Lesser Learning. That's the top school in Jhun.[1] If you go there, you can even become a regional official."
      "And a region is larger than a prefecture, right?"
      "Yeah, it goes prefecture, then territory, then region, see? Every province's got a few regions. Though the number differs by province. Now, a region's got 'bout fifty thousand households in four territories. Each one of 'em's got 'bout twelve thousand five hundred households and five prefectures. Political geography was me specialty," Rakushun explained with a twinkle in his eye.[2]
      Yoko merely nodded. She had trouble envisioning fifty thousand households. How many households did Tokyo have, anyway?[3]
      "Of course, they weren't even supposed to let me into the regional school. But Mom fought for it hard. 'Get good grades, you can go to an even higher school and become an official of the kingdom', she'd say.[4] Because I'm a beastling, I could never get land, but if I got rank, well, I could be the keeper of some measly little farm,[5] at least." Rakushun sighed. "They stopped me at the doors. 'No hanjyu in the Lesser Learning,' they said."

      EW: Rakushun scratched the bottoms of his big ears. "Do you know what a joushou is? It's a district academy. I was first in my class and was recommended by the dean to the provincial university. If I had gone to university, I could have become a local government official."
      "Is a district bigger than a county?"
      "Bigger than a prefecture. There are a handful of districts in a province. How many's a handful depends, though. Each district has a population of fifty thousand households. Each district has four prefectures with a population of twelve thousand, five hundred. There are five counties to a prefecture."
      "Huh." She had a hard time wrapping her head around a number like fifty thousand.
      "In fact, I only made it to the district academy after my mom petitioned over and over, and she was finally able to get me admitted. If my grades were good, I knew I could go to the university and become a government official. Because I'm half-human, I won't get an allotment. But even without an allotment, I could make a decent life for myself. As it turns out, though, hanjuu aren't allowed into the provincial university."
      Well, I tried to mark up the most differing parts to be as specific as possible. I'm not sure I've succeeded. Again, most of this passage here not for the "correction" purpose.

3.1. This is another case where I don't think a literal translation is at all useful. The author does makes things difficult by using medieval Chinese terms, but educational systems are pretty much the same everywhere, and in the Twelve Kingdoms it's based on the Chinese meritocratic system that still dominates most of Asia. This is case of finding the best word to fit semantic categories that already exist.

national university
provincial university
shire prep school
elementary school

3.2. The addition is not in the original. I worked out the specific geographical terminology a while back with immi.

3.3. The addition is not in the original.

3.4. There isn't an embedded quote in the original, but I would strike "knew" from this sentence: "If my grades were good, I knew I could go to the university and become a government official."

3.5. This addition doesn't make sense. Rakushun says that by getting an education he could make a life for himself without an allotment.

4.  TP: She works the private fields for a rich man who lives nearby."
      "Private fields?"
      "Aye. The land the officials assign you is called granted land. The land you cultivate yourself, with permission of course, is private land. Me mum is the only one in the family who works; I don't. I want to work, but I can't. No one will hire a beastling. They lose too much on taxation."

      EW: She farms land rented from one of the richer homesteads in the area."
      "Homesteads are granted by the executor for public lands. After getting permission from the government, the newly cultivated land is called a homestead. Still, my mom can work the land, but not me. People don't hire out hanjuu. The taxes are too high."

The term "homestead" I use here comes from American geography. A homesteader would earn title to a plot of public land by farming it continuously for a certain number of years. This needs to be distinguished from the allotment granted by the kingdom to every eligible citizen, as explained in chapter 25 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind. Rakushun's mother sold her allotment (to pay for Rakushun's education) and is now a tenant farmer on a privately-held homestead.

5.  TP: "Well, some beastlings are like bears or oxen. They're stronger than average people, you see, so having them seems an unfair advantage, and the farmer gets taxed more. Of course, that don't mean much when you're born a wee ratling, but the officials don't bother to make distinction when it comes time for taxation. The long and short of it is that the king here just dislikes beastlings."

EW: "Among the hanjuu, there are also those of us who resemble bears or cows. They are more powerful than ordinary humans. But what it comes down to is, the king doesn't like hanjuu. That's all."

The addition is not in the original.

6.  TP: That's why we're so poor."
      Yoko nodded. It seemed lots of things in this world weren't fair; but then again, she couldn't claim that things had been fair where she came from either.

      EW: That's why we're so poor."

The addition is not in the original.

7.  TP: This is all the money Mum saved to put me in a Lesser Learning in En, where beastlings can go all the way the top, to the Great Learning.[1] They can even become officials of the kingdom. They are treated like people, and can have fields and their own family estate.[2] I thought, maybe, if I brought you along, I might be able to find a place for me in En."
      There we go, thought Yoko cynically. Now we see the real reason for Rakushun's eagerness. Surely he didn't mean her harm, but it hadn't been pure goodwill either. When did he first get the idea to use me as an escort to En? When he saw the sword?[3]

      EW: "This is all the money my mom saved up so that I could pay the tuition at a university in En. In En, even hanjuu are admitted to the best universities in the country and become important statesmen. I'd be recognized as a legal adult, given an allotment and included in the census. I thought that if I went to En with you, I could get myself a job, too."
      So it wasn't all out of the kindness of his heart, Youko thought cynically. There was no malice in it, but this was no altruistic act, either.

7.1. See 3.1.

7.2. Okay, "every man's home is his castle," but "family estate" is a bit of an exaggeration. In chapter 25 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind, Enho compares the average home to a small 2LDK (two rooms, living room/dining room/kitchen). Moreover, houses are located on the commons, not on the allotments.

7.3. The addition is not in the original.

The online and offline browser versions have been updated.

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July 22, 2007

Chapter 9 (The Shore in Twilight)

The terms used to describe the military organization of the Imperial Army are a little different than those I used in A Thousand Leagues of Wind. I think these are more accurate. The Imperial Army consists of six divisions: three (right, left, center) belonging to the Palace Guard, and three (right, left, center) belonging to the Provincial Guard under the command of the Taiho.

大司馬 [だいしば] Daishiba, head of the Ministry of Summer
芭墨 [はぼく] Haboku (banana + India ink)
承州 [じょうしゅう] Jou Province (acquiesce)
巌趙 [がんちょう] Ganchou (craggy + nimble)
英章 [えいしょう] Eishou (heroic + composition)
霜元 [そうげん] Sougen (frost + origins)
轍囲 [てつい] Tetsui (furrow + enclosure)
正頼 [せいらい] Seirai (correct trust)

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July 18, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

With the The Last Samurai (2003), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Hollywood has gone on something of an Orientalist tear over the last half-decade. Oddly enough, all three have featured Ken Watanabe in a starring role, quite aptly portraying the comforting stereotypes (comforting to the Occidental mind) of the aesthetically superior Oriental, even when what he is doing is morally reprehensible.

This coincidence as well illustrates the parallels that can be drawn between the noble stupidity of Saigo Takamori's suicidal civil war (portrayed by Watanabe in The Last Samurai) and the noble stupidity of Tadamichi Kuribayashi's suicidal defense of Iwo Jima seventy years later (portrayed by Watanabe in Letters from Iwo Jima).

Kuribayashi's death was one of the final mile markers along an ideological line of succession that ended with Japan's surrender and 2.6 million dead.

I call it "Orientalism," but what is portrayed especially in these latter two movies puts a self-loathing spin on Edward Said's original term. In Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood, like Edward Zwick, succumbs to a rosy, well-intentioned Orientalism that attributes to his protagonist the best of intentions and leaves unexamined the motivations and belief systems that placed such a seemingly reasonable man in such a morally untenable position.

The west, to be sure, has a long history of finding artistic value in pointless sacrifice, most notably in Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade." However, the modern artist--if he wished to be accepted by the greater artistic establishment--could not do so without casting a cynical eye on the total meaninglessness of the exercise.

(To clarify the difference, the sacrifice of the three-hundred Spartans at Thermopylae was not pointless. It was instrumental in giving the Athenians enough time to stop the Persian advance.)

Witness any contemporary rendering of General Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn. In The Black Adder and Gallipoli, the officers sending the soldiers "over the top" are depicted as imbeciles at best, murderers at worst. Tennyson called the British cavalry at Balaclava the "noble six-hundred" and asks us to "Honour the charge they made!" Well, no, it wasn't "noble"; it was dumb as war gets.

As dumb as what war historians now call the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot," a series of air engagements during the Battle of the Philippine Sea (alluded to in the film). American Hellcat pilots downed 400 Japanese aircraft, losing only 20 of their own in the process. The battle destroyed Japan's naval air fleet and left Iwo Jima defenseless. The Japanese high command didn't trumpet this "noble sacrifice"; they pretended it didn't happen.

One-sided competitions surely don't make for good drama. As the British say, it isn't "sporting." So while the Battle of the Philippine Sea was a far more strategically important engagement to both sides, the attention falls instead on Iwo Jima, where 20,703 Japanese died after killing 8,226 Marines. Morally repugnant though it may be, that it was a more "even" fight makes it more interesting.

The military value of Iwo Jima to the American forces was probably not worth the price it extracted in blood (though this would have been difficult to anticipate beforehand, unfortunately true of many of the targets selected during Nimitz's "island hopping" campaign). In the final analysis, Iwo Jima was valuable to the Japanese only because the Americans valued it. It was a battle for an existential cause.

Tadamichi Kuribayashi was asked to sacrifice the lives of 21,000 men in a massive "suicide-by-cop" in order to make a philosophical statement. A goal with which he enthusiastically complied. The comparison is often drawn in these instances to the (real) legend of the Forty-Seven Samurai. The difference is, theirs was not a wanton act of frustration or desperation. It was a carefully planned and executed act of revenge. They succeeded completely.

The only discernable goal that can be taken from the defense of Iwo Jima--also articulated during the Battle of Okinawa--was to make the Americans pay such a high price that they would think twice about invading Japan proper. The saddest irony of the Pacific War was how convincingly this argument was made: the horrendous body counts from Iwo Jima and Okinawa left Truman eager to utilize any tool at his disposal that would obviate the need for invasion.

But Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima is not a movie about the wider war. In fact, the ill-informed movie-goer could be excused for not being at all sure what war it is about. The title of the movie promises a kind of memoir, a first-person account probing the thoughts and sentiments of the soldiers fighting and dying there. What we are given instead barely hints at the magnitude of human life Kuribayashi wasted there.

The character of Saigo (unintentional irony?) adopted as the primary point of view throughout the movie represents nothing if not the 21st century outlook of its American director.

The film could have worked as an abstracted, three-act, three set play in which the "enemy" remains always off-screen, leaving the principles to face their fate on their own terms. Yet Eastwood continually errs by pushing fictional and theatrical "realities" into the picture. His cast is so small, the scope of his vision so limited, that when the Americans do arrive, it looks as if the entire U.S. Army decided to invade a Boy Scout camp.

But Kuribayashi was not a scoutmaster. He was a general commanding 21,000 well-armed, fanatical, and dug-in soldiers. Eastwood's account is useless in explaining why he did what he did to them. There is no moment of existential clarity or reflection, as when Alec Guinness asks at the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai: "What have I done?" Or as General Pickett was reported to have said of Robert E. Lee: "That old man had my division slaughtered at Gettysburg."

These omissions have been made all the more relevant by the Okinawan legislature's recent objections to government-dictated textbook revisions obscuring the fact that many--if not most--mass civilian suicides carried out at the end of the Battle of Okinawa were less than voluntary in nature. The motivation of the soldiers and their commanders in this light becomes critical.

The answer, strangely enough, can be found in Watanabe's first major Hollywood role. The shame of The Last Samurai, Edward Zwick's fantasy account of the Satsuma Rebellion, is that the real Saigo Takamori was such a towering figure of the Meiji Restoration, instrumental in unifying the Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa domains and overthrowing the Shogunate. Unfortunately, like Thomas Paine, once the revolution was over, he grew bored with the tedium of politics.

The conflict Zwick portrays in such romantic terms was in fact a counter-revolution fought in the name of military expansionism and the feudal privileges of the samurai. The problem with the Satsuma Rebellion--and Zwick gets this right despite himself--was that although Saigo Takamori was soundly defeated on the battlefield, the bushido-fueled nationalistic ideology he came to represent was not.

Those impulses slowly but surely infected the body politic. A quarter-century later, a modernized Japan military struck out just as Saigo Takamori had originally urged them to. Buoyed by victory in the Russo-Japanese war, the ideology festered into a imperial manifest destiny that expressed itself through a series of failed putsches and eventually pushed the Japan into an unwinnable war in China that cost twenty million lives.

Pearl Harbor was the inevitable consequence.

To be sure, it is not impossible to see the East through Western eyes. Once upon a time, Eastwood and Sergio Leone perfectly captured the essence of Kurosawa's Yojimbo. But Mifune's character in Yojimbo is the classic representation of the cynical anti-hero. Anti-heroes aren't the problem. Heroes are. Moral superiority is.

Letters from Iwo Jima so thoroughly toes the lines of moral relativism that there must be a set of Screenwriters Guild rules demanding that all Hollywood war movies sign off on the same checklist: Their cause worthy as our cause? Check. Our soldiers more depraved than their soldiers? Check. Audience left with the impression that the world would be a better place if the United States never lifted a finger against anybody for any reason? Check.

(In the future directors of war movies should dispense with these predictable set pieces and just cut in the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Please, please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who.")

The result is an irksome, patronizing mess. Shamed into denying the heroism of the American soldier--from Dances with Wolves to The Last Samurai to Letters from Iwo Jima--Hollywood's best and brightest instead seize upon the exploits of the exotic "other." John Wayne's Sergeant Stryker in The Sands of Iwo Jima now deemed politically incorrect, those characteristics are imprinted upon Stryker's enemy. It is a bizarre transformation, to say the least.

Related posts

The known unknowns
The Pacific War on screen
Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

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July 15, 2007

Chapter 8 (The Shore in Twilight)

I explain why I use the term "duchy" here. The civil service from village level to province level is supported in such a manner, the size of each duchy diminishing in proportion to the area of political jurisdiction. The province is essentially a kingdom-in-miniature, the prefecture is a province in miniature, etc.

驕王 [きょうおう] King Kyou (pride)

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July 14, 2007

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

Chapter 40

TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

1.  TP: "I found her in the forest. She's a kaikyaku, washed in from Over There during that shoku in Shin Prefecture."
      Yoko flinched. So much for that secret.

      EW: "I found her in the forest. She washed ashore in Shin County during that recent shoku."

The additions are not in the original.

2.  TP: The woman strode over to Yoko and put a warm hand on her forehead. Yoko flinched again.

      EW: Heavens! the woman's expression said. She hurried over to Youko.

The addition is not in the original.

3.  TP: She felt she could trust Rakushun a little at least. He was a beast after all. Not human, like this woman.
      I can't trust my own kind.
      A shiver run down Yoko's spine at the thought.

      "Well he should've called his mother, the thoughtless runt," the woman declared, fixing Rakushun with a withering glare.

      EW: As she answered, Youko searched the woman's face. She was okay with Rakushun because he wasn't human. But she couldn't be sure about this person.
      "That being the case, all the more reason for coming and getting me. He doesn't always use his head."

The additions are not in the original.

4.  TP: "Well, sort of, yes. That doesn't happen here?"
      "I always wondered," continued Rakushun, not hearing her question. "Do the fruits grow . . . .

      EW: "Ah, yes. That's the normal way of things."
      "The fruit grows inside her stomach?

The addition is not in the original.

5.  TP: "Eggfruit?"
      "Yes. About so big," he explained, cupping his hands as though holding a small ball. "It's a yellow fruit with a child inside. It grows on the village tree, and the parents go there to pick it. What, you don't have eggfruit Over There?"
      Yoko put her hands lightly to her forehead. This was just too bizarre to comprehend.
      "Looks like you don't," Rakushun said, noting her pained expression.
      Yoko laughed wryly. "Over There, children are made in their mother's bellies. The mother gives birth to them."
      Rakushun's eyes opened even wider. "You mean like birds do?"

      EW: The egg-fruit. About this big around." He opened his arms as if carrying a basket. "It's a yellow fruit. Inside is a child. It grows on a branch of a riboku. The parents come and pick one. Don't egg-fruits grow over there?"
      "Well, not quite." Youko pressed her hands to her temples. What ought to be common sense here clearly wasn't. Rakushun looked at her expectantly. Youko smiled to cover her self-consciousness. She said, "Over there, a child forms in his mother's belly. His mother gives birth to him."
      Rakushun's eyes grew wide. "Like a chicken?"

In this case TokyoPop replaces a description with dialogue. The only problem is, it breaks POV. The scene is being related from Youko's point of view and the verb "noting" represents Rakushun's POV.

6.  TP: Rakushun's mother insisted that her son tell Yoko's story. While he did, she busied herself about the kitchen . . . .

      EW: As Rakushun caught her up to date about Youko, his mother . . . .

The addition is not in the original.

7.  TP: " . . . maybe I could take Yoko as far as Kankyu. Will you help me [1] pack?"
      Rakushun's mother gave him a stern look. "Well, now . . . don't you think that's a little rash? Are you sure you're ready for such a trip?" [2]
      "Nothing to worry 'bout! It's just a little ways. Fairly little. Yoko's not familiar with the local land; she needs somebody to show her 'round. You'll be fine by yourself, right?" [3]
      His mother stared at him for a while, then nodded. "Fine. I suppose this was coming sooner or later. Goodbye, Rakushun! Best get ready, then." [4]

      EW: With that in mind, I'll take her as far as Kankyuu. We'll need to get her some clothes she can bring with her."
      His mother looked Rakushun in the eyes. She said bruskly, "You're going to do what?"
      "There's nothing to worry about. I'll be there and back before you know it! She doesn't know where anything is, so I'll show her the way. You're being too overprotective. I'll be fine on my own."
      His mother gave Rakushun a long look, then nodded. "Well, all right, then. You be careful, though."

7.1 I'd be happy to be corrected here, but I'm pretty sure the auxiliary verb "give" in the original suggests that the unstated object of the verb is Youko. I'll double-check, though. [update: I've double-checked, and stand by my version.]

7.2 This is another example of "Sonna." In fact, the entire sentence consists of "Sonna . . . you." So it comes down to how much you can read into "Sonna." I don't think the TokyoPop version is entirely out of bounds.

7.3 A mistake on my part. It should read: "You're tough as an ox, Mom. You'll be okay on your own, right?"

7.4 The additions are not in the original.

8.  TP: Yoko thought deeply. Why was he doing this for her? Finally, she nodded. "Thank you," she said at last, glancing at the wrapped bundle of her sword out of the corner of her eye. "I accept."
      She probably would be better off with Rakushun as a companion on the road; both he and his mother seemed genuinely interested in aiding her. But there was something else going on here that she couldn't quite put her finger on. She didn't think her unease was just a case of nerves.
      Still, an inner voice murmured, be they friend or foe, I cannot simply leave them here, knowing my purpose and destination as they do.

      EW: Youko thought about it. After thinking it through for a while, she said, "All right."
      As she spoke, out of the corners of her eyes she caught sight of the shrouded sword. Perhaps it would be better to have Rakushun along for the journey. Both he and his mother seemed ready to give her what help they could, though that wasn't necessarily the real truth. Whether friend or foe, she couldn't know for certain.

The verb "nod" is correct: After thinking it through for a while, she nodded. "All right."

The additions are not in the original.

9.  TP: This is the only way, she thought, trying to ignore the sudden, sharp pang of self-loathing that twisted inexplicably inside her.

      EW: Thinking this, she was struck by the feeling that she truly had become a pathetic creature.

The addition is not in the original.

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July 13, 2007

Man, it's hot!


July 11, 2007


The Korean folk tale that the screenplay is based upon begins as a Cinderella-type love story about young love conquering class, in this case between Chunhyang, daughter of a courtesan, and the son of a local governor, Master Lee Mongryong. When Mongyong's father is promoted to a position in Seoul, he orders his son to accompany him in order to prepare for his civil service exams.

And so the lovers must part, though not after consummating a common-law marriage. At this point the story grows more serious. In theme it resembles Fidelio, Beethoven's paean to marital devotion, though is closer in tone to Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (Mongyong's servant Pangja providing the comic relief), including the sharp turn from light to dark melodrama. Though where Shakespeare focuses on the balance between justice and mercy, the Korean version makes central the conflict between competing Confucian loyalties to state and spouse.

A new governor has been installed in the province. Hearing of Chunhyang's famed beauty, he orders her to appear before him. She rebuffs him, telling him that she is already pledged to another. But he ranks the privileges of class over the promises of the heart. Confucian order demands her obedience to his office. She again refuses. The governor jails and beats her, but she does not relent. Could a man serve two kings? the faithful Chunhyang asks. Better that you kill me instead.

The governor is unmoved, but the commoners, who had initially expressed some glee at her plight (she was disdained for thinking herself above her station) are deeply moved. When at last Mongyong returns (incognito, another parallel with Measure for Measure), having graduated with honors and now carrying a royal inspector's mandate in his back pocket, they are ready to rally to his side. Not to spoil the suspense, but things do end very much happily ever after.

Apparently, Korean audiences have reacted to the film as would we to yet another retelling of Cinderella. It is a simple story simply told (the governor has only a vaudevillian depth as a villain). The rest of us unfamiliar with the story, though, should be entranced by its operatic excesses, director Im Kwon-Taek's vivid use of vibrant color and sound, and the breathtaking scenery. Chunhyang breaths new life to the period costume drama.

What uniquely sets it apart, though, is the film's narrator, Cho SangHyun. Chunhyang is one of the five extant Pansori operas, an school of traditional storytelling in which the balladeer (or soriggun) is accompanied by a single drummer. Watching his energetic live performance—often stirring the audience to call and response outbursts—convinced me that this is how the Homeric bards must have sounded to their ancient listeners.

The movie begins with Cho SangHyun alone on the stage, and his narrative is threaded into and through the film's narrative, even echoing, overlapping, or answering the dialogue on screen. The scene of Chunhyang being beaten by the governor's guards, for example, is depicted stylistically, almost as a dance. Even so, the camera cuts away to show the soriggun reciting the story to the audience. This third-person description is no less intense, and perhaps truer to its emotional depth.

Of course, keep in mind that this is a fairy tale and not so much concerned with historical "realities" (the downtrodden peasantry manage to not be unaesthetically downtrodden). This treatment of violence contrasts interestingly with an earlier series of love scenes between Mongyong and Chunhyang, which are sufficiently explicit as to leave little to the imagination. (The soriggun's verse at this point is filled with delicious double entendres about honey, watermelons, cucumbers . . . . )

It's sweet and clever and hardly gratuitous in its context. After all, the whole movie is gorgeous to look at, and Hyo-jeong Lee ( Chunhyang) and Seung-woo Cho (Mongyong) are plenty beautiful without their clothes on, too, and photographed so magnificently. Okay, it would be shocking to many good folk if Disney came out with an R-rated version of Cinderella, but I have the sinking feeling that it would end up being rated R for language and violence instead.

Movies like Chunhyang or Tampopo that are rated R solely because an attractive actress (true, usually an actress) spends a few minutes of screen time undressed are inexplicably rare. Part of this trend I blame on movies like Saving Private Ryan for again conning the viewing public into believing that graphic violence is not only "realistic" (a laughable assertion, if it weren't taken so seriously), but somehow "bold" and "artistic."

Though I suppose you could trace it back to Sam Peckinpah, or when the Hollywood horror community discovered latex, as in Cat People (the objectionable thing about Cat People is Ed Begley getting his arm ripped off—and various other people eaten by Malcolm McDowell—in living color, not Nastassja Kinski naked). But that's not it, alone.

Consider what meets the current standards for broadcast television in the United States.

First of all, you can intimate anything about sex on broadcast TV, and come close to showing it, as long as everybody stays dressed. And most such intimations about "normal" couples with "normal" sex lives are found in sit-coms about mostly normal people (The Simpsons, for example). Otherwise, sex is the province or the juvenile, or the perverse, or the insipid (Sex and the City qualifies as all three). There is an entire series, Law & Order: SVU, that is only about sex crimes. Why anybody watches it is beyond me.

In other words, showing horrible and ugly things about sex is acceptable. Showing naked bodies on CSI is okay as long as they are disemboweled on an operating table (and mostly not even then). I blame it on our Victorian forebears. This is a rhetorical stretch, I know, but the kind of society that produced Jack the Ripper is also the kind of society that sits down to watch Law & Order: SVU every week. Yet would be shocked! shocked! if Jolene Blalock took her top off on Enterprise.

[Sorry for the dated pop-culture reference, but it makes the point. And besides, I consider Enterprise the best of the Treks.]

I'm referring to a giggle-inducing scene in which T'Pol and Trip are supposed to be decontaminating their skin of nasty alien pathogens. Of course, they've still got their underwear on, thus leaving swaths of themselves un-decontaminated. The nitpicker in me says: do it right or don't do it at all. Though I suppose there's a certain logic to the argument that a fine-looking Vulcan woman shouldn't mind spending more time than the rest of the cast in her skivvies. Not that I'm complaining.

But my original point—and I'm finally getting back to it—is that, watching Chunhyang, it was very nice to see, for once, the metaphor—the aesthetic distance—being used to depict the violence, and not (the euphemism is appropriate here) the love scenes.

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July 08, 2007

Chapter 7 (The Shore in Twilight)

I think thanks mostly to Kung Fu films, ki (気) is close to becoming an accepted English word.

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July 06, 2007

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions

TP is the TokyoPop translation. EW is my translation.

Chapter 39

1.  TP: "Those ones are protected by the higher-ups. There are [sic] allowed to live here. Maybe . . . ?"
      Yoko smiled wryly and shook her head. His idea made sense. But she had no particular knowledge . . . . .

      EW: "They can survive with the protection of powerful patrons."
      But of course, Youko thought, an ironic smile coming to her lips. She didn't know anything worth anything in this world.

The exchange begins with Rakushun's excited [hopeful?] reaction to Youko's statement that she is a student, which suggests he sees her student status a possible solution, except that Youko knows she doesn't possess any practical or valuable knowledge.

A literal "Maybe" is not in the original, but the sentence does end with one of those untranslatable colloquial adverbial expressions ("'n da ga naa") that Japanese use when their thoughts wander off into space mulling over the possibilities of something. Equivalents might be: "Hmm . . . ?" or "You know?" or "Don't you think . . . ?" I've added a "Don't you think?" of my own to the end of this sentence.

2.  TP: Rakushun's whiskers drooped, and he made a sad, whining noise in his throat. "People can't cross the Void Sea, Yoko."
      "But I did cross it. That's how I got here!"
      "I don't think it works both ways. I've never heard of a kaikyaku, or a sankyaku for that matter, who made the return journey."
      "But that's not fair," Yoko declared fiercely, knowing perfectly well that no one had ever promised her that her life would be fair. Nonetheless, somewhere inside her she still clung to the hope that she might someday be able to return.

The addition [in bold] is not in the original.

      EW: At the tone of Youko's voice, Rakushun's whiskers drooped. "No mortal being can cross the Kyokai, Youko."
      "But I crossed the Kyokai. That's how I got here in the first place."
      "Even if you were able to arrive here, there's no way to leave. I have never heard of a kaikyaku or sankyaku returning to his home country."
      "That can't be right." She simply could not accept that it was not possible.

3.  TP: When you go to En, you must ask for aid from the Ever-King."
      "The Ever-King?"

Although differentiating between the kingdom name and the name of the king is a bit more tricky given the lack of kanji, I think preserving proper names as actually pronounced is better that tossing out the baby with the etymological bathwater. Or perhaps I should say the phonological bathwater. Naming conventions for royalty follow a specific pattern: regardless of meaning, the chosen kanji are pronounced the same as the name of the kingdom: Kingdom of En / Royal En / Enki. I feel it is better to preserve these pronunciation patterns and define the meaning in context than to address people by the dictionary meaning of their names, which feels to me distinctively unnatural.

4.  TP: It took Yoko some effort to keep from rolling her eyes.

      EW: You've got to be kidding! Youko wanted to shout, but held her tongue.

The sentence begins with "Sonna." One translation offered by Ejirou is: "No way!" And then continues (LIT): "Youko came close to raising her voice, but managed to restrain [herself]."

5.  TP: "A taika?"
      "Aye," said the rat, drawing the characters with his delicate paw:
      "It means someone born Over There. They say it happens, but only very rarely. Taika are really people of this world, but they get born Over There by mistake."

      EW: "A taika?"
      "The fruit of the womb, it means. Born the same way as they are in that other world. It's really rare here. You have to wonder if, in fact, he's not one of us at all, but was born over there."

      LIT: Womb [kanji]. Fruit [kanji]. The manner in which [babies are] born over there. It is very rare. In fact [it is], a person from this place, and yet by mistake born over there.

My version is clumsy, and the subject and main adverb in the last sentence are translated incorrectly: "Fruit of the womb, it means. The way children are born in that other world. It's really rare here. A taika is a person from this world that is born by mistake in that other world."

6.  TP: Yoko's eyes went wide. "That happens?"
      "Aye, very rarely, but it does. That said, I'm not sure whether it's them getting born Over There that's rare or the ones that get born Over There managing to come back Here, if you follow."
      Yoko nodded.

      EW: Youko's eyes opened wide. "What are you talking about?"
      "It really is rare. Though perhaps I'm mistaken. It might be equally rare over there as well, or rare that anyone over there would return here. It's hard to know which."

      LIT: Youko's eyes opened wide. "Things like that happen?"
      "It really is rare. But even then, whether it is being born by mistake over there that is rare, or that returning here that is rare, hard to say."

I got the (same) adverbial wrong again: "It really is rare. But even then, I'd be hard-pressed to say whether it's being born by mistake over there that's rare, or just returning here that's rare."

7.  TP: "There's three famous ones – famous taika, that is. One's the Ever-King of En, like I said, another's the minister of En, and another's the minister of Tai."
      "Aye. They're sort of advisors to the king, you see. Though I heard the minister of Tai passed away not long ago. And the Peace-King of Tai's gone missing, which has sent the whole place into turmoil, as you might expect. Yes, you'd best head into En. Try your luck there."

Again, I prefer to keep names the same as they would be pronounced in Japanese (unless they are identifiably non-Japanese names). Additionally, it's important to distinguish between the Saiho and the other ministers. There actually is a "Minister-in-Chief" (which could be translated "Prime Minister," but I avoided that because of the modern implications), and the various cabinet ministers of the Rikkan. The Saiho, if anything, is more of a vice president.

8.  TP: Yoko's head swirled, in part from all the information she'd absorbed in such a short time, and in part because in a few moments she had gone from feeling she had no future to having a journey of months laid at her feet – a journey to meet a king!
      Talking to a king was probably like talking to a president or prime minister in her old world. Is it even possible? She asked herself. At the same time she wondered if her situation really was as unique as Raskushun said it was.

      EW: Youko found herself a bit overcome, partly because her brain was suddenly crammed with so much new information, and partly because all at once a whole new view of things had appeared before her.
      Going to visit the king, that was the kind of thing prime ministers and presidents did. Was it even possible? At the same time, the prospect of becoming caught up in such weighty matters left her lightheaded and confused.

The addition in the first paragraph is not in the original. I stand by my translation. But I missed an obvious object marker in the second paragraph:

      LIT: Going to visit the king--that was on a par with visiting a prime minister or president. At the same time she wondered whether that was even possible [embedded question], also came the confusion: was she getting herself involved in something so weighty [embedded question].

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July 04, 2007


The two dictionaries I use the most are WWWJDIC (as implemented in JWPce) and EIJIROU. Both are the product of collaborative efforts. Anybody can submit entries to EDICT; EIJIROU is hosted by ALC and maintained by the Electronic Dictionary Project. Both databases are available online free, and in a number of desktop apps and handheld devices.

The EIJIROU database is downloadable for a nominal fee, except that the order pages are in Japanese and you have to have a Japanese address to process the order.

Peter Rivard at Japanese Language Tools will process the order (PayPal works fine--just select Japanese Yen). For another 1000 yen he'll convert the EIJIROU files to the EPWING format, compatible with many desktop and Windows Mobile apps. He includes the EDICT data and latest version of EBWin, a free dictionary reader for Windows.

To order the EIJIROU files for desktop use, go to the Japanese Language Tools order page, scroll down to "Eijiro only (for download)," and click on Eijiro only/EPWING format.

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July 01, 2007

Chapter 6 (The Shore in Twilight)

垂州 [すいしゅう] Sui Province (suspend)
紫泉 [しせん] Shisen (purple fountain)
藍州 [らんしゅう] Ran Province (indigo)
飛燕 [ひえん] Hien (swallow in flight)                                  

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