January 31, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (15)

Unlike Chinese, which pronounces a kanji only one way, kanji in Japanese can have multiple on'yomi (Chinese) and kun'yomi (Japanese) pronunciations. If that wasn't bad enough, as Peter Payne explains, "There's another way to read any kanji, and that's basically anyway you like, thanks to something called ateji (当て字)."

Ateji are denoted by superscripts and sidescripts (furigana) that provide substitute phonetic readings. See more examples and illustrations here.

For "passport" (旅券), the author substitutes the first kanji (旅), meaning "travel," with similar but obscure one (旌), meaning "flag tassel." When Rikou asks Shushou if she's seen traveling entertainers, the author creates another word (朱旌). Based on the antecedent, it means "red tasseled passport." The accompanying ateji spells out the word for a traveling entertainer.

Shusei (朱旌) lit. "red tassel"
Shushi (朱氏) lit. "red gentleman"
Shumin (朱民) lit. "red people"
Goushi (剛氏) lit. "strong gentleman"
Koumin (黄民) lit. "yellow people"
Koushu to tami (黄朱の民) lit. "people of the yellow and red"

A rokushoku (鹿蜀), lit. "Szechwan deer," is a creature that in Chinese mythology either resembles a zebra or a cross between a tiger and a horse. Shoukei rides one in chapter 21 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind.

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January 28, 2013

Transporter 3

Transporter 3 is the kind of movie that convinces me that the best James Bond movies being made these days don't have James Bond in them.

The Bond franchise grew silly and self-referential during Roger Moore's waning days, and has now swung to the opposite extreme. It doesn't help to have your lead actor running around trashing the role. First and foremost, Bond is good at his job and enjoys it. That means the actor has to enjoy it too. No angst, please.

As a case in point, no Bond flick since the demise of Sean Connery has outdone Cars 2. A car co-stars in the Transporter 3 too, an Audi A8 W12. Finn McMissile would see in it a kindred spirit. Though by the end of the movie I was thinking of Tom Hanks's indestructible luggage in Joe Versus the Volcano.

A reliable thriller formula is to stick two people together against their will; things blow up if they wander apart. In this case, the two people are stuck to each other and to the aforementioned Audi. The steps Frank Martin (Jason Statham) must take to stay with his car create the most entertaining scenes in the movie.

It's a total gimmick. Whatever proximity device this bomb uses defies every law of physics. I'm also pretty sure that the odds of even an Audi A8 W12 running perfectly well after being totally submerged in water are about zero. But playing by the gimmick's rules makes it all work.

One of the biggest problems with superhero movies are the supervillains and their stupid plots to take over the world. As I've said before, "superbad is superboring." It's much better to have the bad guys set out to do something straightforward and make that complicated instead.

The big bad boss (Robert Knepper) has a simple goal to accomplish: kidnap the daughter (Rudakova Valentina, sporting the cutest face of freckles ever) of a Ukranian minister (Jeroen Krabbé from The Fugitive, this time playing a good guy) in order to get him to sign off on a lucrative but illegal business deal.

Of course, the big bad boss goes about it in the most stupendously complicated way imaginable. But like the car, there wouldn't be much of a story without all the stupendous complications. At least nobody's trying to destroy the world.

Statham's Frank Martin has a lot in common with Jim Caviezel's John Reese. He's an ordinary guy in a cool suit who just wants to get the job done. (Until he takes off his shirt, that is, so they keep coming up with excuses for him to take off his shirt; Statham was once a championship platform diver.)

The one off-note early on is that it takes him too long to figure out that his passenger is "the package." Duh. But they also give him an "M" (François Berléand) to do the heavy thinking, again, much like Person of Interest. Nobody watches Transporter films for the deep thoughts and social commentary.

You want big fight scenes that ultimately make no sense? Technology that makes no sense? Chase scenes that make no sense? Cute romantic interludes that make no sense? Stuff exploding all over the place? And a lead actor with two facial expressions and a droll delivery? Check, check, check, check, check and check.

Turn on the ignition, turn off the brain, and have fun watching things go zoom and boom.

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January 24, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (14)

Goushi (剛氏) is an invented word that literally means "strong gentleman." The first kanji is the same as the second in the Kongou Mountains. The etymology is examined further in the next chapter.

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January 21, 2013

Adopt a boss

Jane Austen wrote that "a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." If she'd been Japanese, she would have written that a man with five daughters and no sons must be in want of a muko-iri (婿入り) or muko-youshi (婿養子) marriage.

The practice of adopting the groom into the bride's family is alive and well in modern Japan.

The Economist reports that muko-iri marriage is a major reason behind the continuing success of some of the world's oldest family-run businesses, such as Suzuki, Matsui Securities, and Suntory.

Last year more than 81,000 people were adopted in Japan, one of the highest rates in the world. But, amazingly, over 90 percent of those adopted were adults. The practice of adopting men in their 20s and 30s is used to rescue biologically ill-fated families and ensure a business heir.

While family firms typically face dynastic decline as control passes from one generation to the next, family firms remain "puzzlingly competitive" in Japan by tapping into the best of both worlds.

Some families will even bypass a biological son for an adopted one. In theory, this gives family businesses access to the same-sized talent pool as a professionally managed firm would have, and may even induce a sturdier work ethic among biological children.

A "promotion" based on a one-off event like a marriage additionally skirts reactionary boardroom cultures that often paralyze Japanese corporations. Five centuries ago, along with de facto polygamy, adoption also helped shoguns avoid the Henry VIII problem.

Although when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second of the three great 16th century warlords, unexpectedly produced an heir late in life, he eliminated his adopted sons from the inheritance picture with the half-mad ruthlessness of Shakespeare's Richard III.

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January 17, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (13)

The "Five Mountains" are the Gozan (五山), where Mt. Hou is located.

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January 14, 2013

The shoe locker network

In chapter 15 of Fox & Wolf, Ami leaves a note for Yuki in her shoe locker.

Street shoes aren't worn inside Japanese schools. Instead, students don school slippers in the front foyer (genkan). Consequently, school foyers are equipped with rows of cubbyhole shoe lockers.

Because nobody goes home without his shoes, leaving a note in a student's locker (this is Japan, so they're not locked) is the "Pony Express of the secondary school communication network."

No high school romance is complete without a shoe locker communique. Here is a perfect illustration of that dynamic at play (click to enlarge).

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January 10, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (12)

The Rishi (里祠) is the sacred building in the center of every city where the riboku tree (里木) is enshrined. There are two types of yaboku (野木): yaboku from which plants and trees are born, and yaboku from which animals are born. See chapter 53 of Shadow of the Moon.

Dropping the honorific suffix from a name (san, chan, kun, senpai, sensei, sama, etc.) is called yobisute (呼び捨て).

Except among close acquaintances, it remains a pretty hard and fast rule in Japan that anybody above you in social rank gets an honorific suffix, including older siblings and upperclassmen. This is why direct inquiries about age, even from strangers, is not a faux pas. Age is a critical variable in determining social rank, which in turn determines how a person should be addressed.

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January 07, 2013

The Wolf Children

I was finishing the final draft of Fox & Wolf when I read this review of Mamoru Hosoda's Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki ("The wolf children Ame and Yuki"). The similarities in the genre and even names caught my attention.

Yuki and Ami are fairly common names, though Ame is not. Hosoda's Yuki was born on a snowy day. My Yuki has a snow-white coat. Ami means "beautiful madder" (she's a red fox). Ame means "rain."

My Yuki was raised in the wilds of Hokkaido by her werewolf aunt. I imagine something along the lines of the short-lived 2001 CBS/SyFy fantasy series Wolf Lake, about a mountain town run by its werewolf inhabitants.

Yuki's mother and father also meet at college, though my Yuki's mother is the wolf, and her father is from an aristocratic family.

The plots are worlds apart. However, "as Yuki grows from pint-sized hellion to school-age girl, she decides she wants a more normal life" does describe my Yuki's character arc (though it's hardly a unique one).

In a sense, Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki explains what Ami's mom was trying to avoid by denying her daughter's fox nature. As a result, Ami doesn't confront the realities of her were-self until she runs into Yuki in high school.

Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki has been licensed by Funimation (no release date yet). Fox & Wolf is available now!

Hosoda previous two films, Summer Wars and The Girl who Leapt through Time, are also highly recommended.

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January 03, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (11)

Whenever possible, I convert measurements to the standard American equivalents (we Americans may have declared independence from the British Crown in 1776, but not when it comes to measuring stuff). A discussion of lengths and measures used in the Twelve Kingdoms can be found here.

Tenhaku (天伯) lit. "Count of Heaven"
Day of Ankou (安闔日) lit. "Day of the Doors of Peace"

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