May 28, 2017

Hisho's Birds (2)


I've posted chapter 2 of "Hisho's Birds."

The nashi (梨) or Japanese pear looks like a small yellow apple. The texture and taste of the fruit is rather like a European pear crossed with a fresh cucumber.
As a form of address, Shishou (師匠) is used similarly to Sensei (or "Master" in the wuxia context) though it is a rank higher. An instructor in a doujou is a "Sensei." The Master who runs the doujou is the "Shishou."

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May 25, 2017

Miss Hokusai


Speaking as I was last week of art about artists being artists, Miss Hokusai is a fine addition to the genre (click image to enlarge).


Based on the manga by the late Hinako Sugiura, the film is episodic in nature, with no real plot or even much in the way of character development. Told from the perspective of O-Ei, Hokusai's elder daughter and an accomplished painter in her own right, it is series of vignettes about Hokusai, his two daughters, and his apprentice, living and working in Edo (Tokyo) during the first half of the 19th century.

If there is a theme to the movie, it concerns the limits of technical ability alone to produce great art (here also meaning that people will pay to see it). The much fabled eccentricity of the creative type thus reflects the ongoing struggle to resolve that conflict ("good artists copy; great artists steal").

But the setting is the real story. These slices-of-life take place in the surreal Edo of the popular period drama, untroubled by politics or the impending collapse of the Tokugawa regime (mentioned in an afterword). As with the imaginations of the characters, it is infused with magical realism, the threads of folk tales and religious figures winding through the fabric of the scenes, sketches, and anecdotes.

The title of the movie in Japanese is Sarusuberi (百日紅) or "crepe myrtle." The flower symbolizes the subtle tragic arc that bridges the narrative, though the matter-of-fact tone of the presentation never threatens to overwhelm us with emotion. Rather, the movie invites us to watch and observe and examine it like a painting. Whatever sentiment you wish to bring to the subject is entirely up to you.

Miss Hokusai is like a slow stroll through a stately old museum (whose director is doing his best to make it more "accessible"). Nobody is going to clobber you over the head with ART, but if you wish to look, it's hanging on the walls all around you to see.


The soundtrack on the GKids DVD defaults to a pretty good English dub version.

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May 21, 2017

Hisho's Birds (1)


I've posted chapter 1 of "Hisho's Birds."

The magpie belongs to the corvidae (crow) family. These particular birds would be Eurasian magpies ("believed to be one of the most intelligent of all non-human animals").


The nengou dating system begins with an era name devised specifically for the reign of that emperor and counts the ascension of the emperor as year one. The era name of Emperor Hirohito's reign (1926-1989) is Shouwa ("shining peace"). The current era name is Heisei ("peace everywhere").

In Youko's case, the era name is Sekiraku (lit. "red" + "Rakushun"). This story begins in the "seventh year and seventh month of Yosei," which is the era name of Empress Yo. The end of one era overlaps with the beginning of the next. Showa 64 was Heisei 1, and Yosei 7 would also be Sekiraku 1.

To make things even more confusing, the posthumous name of an empress is often different from her given name. Empress Yo's given name was Jokaku.

Skeet is trapshooting in which clay pigeons are thrown in such a way as to simulate the angles of flight of birds. The targets are also know as "clays." In skeet shooting they are disc-shaped and don't look at all like birds. Here I'm using "skeet" to refer to the clay targets themselves.

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May 18, 2017

Hisho's Birds


I'll start posting chapters next week (more or less regularly, I hope). I'm doing this translation independent of o6asan, but feel free to compare and contrast (the legal vocabulary in "Rakusho no Goku" is proving particularly vexing), or jump ahead if you get impatient.

First up is the title story. "Hisho's Birds" is about a creative person working under a looming deadline, so one has to wonder about the extent to which the protagonist's ruminations reflect those of the author.

As the story begins, Hisho has a bad case of artist's block. He produces an important imperial ceremony held on auspicious occasions, like the winter solstice and the ascension of a new empress. He's an innovator with a reputation for outdoing himself but the inspiration just isn't coming.

Which is understandable, considering the state of affairs in the Kingdom of Kei. "Pressure" takes on a whole new meaning when a capricious emperor could have him executed. To make matters worse, a string of short-lived rulers hollowed out his department and left him with a long fallow period.

Hisho has another problem. He wants to deliver a message with his art. But the spectators only see the spectacle (or the lack thereof), not what he's trying to say. On top of everything else, Kei just got a brand new empress. Hisho's been ordered to produce the next ceremony on a tight schedule.

Even if he can settle on the message, he has to figure out how to deliver it with the resources on hand. For Hisho and his loyal assistant, it's a make or break opportunity.

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May 11, 2017

No objection


As I described last week, police in Japanese crime dramas rarely go barging into the domicile of a suspect. Because the doors are built like bank vaults. It's easier to ask the landlord to come up with a key. If not, the police will respect demands for a search warrant.

They just don't have to try very hard to get one. The familiar Law & Order scene of lawyers arguing in front of a judge for a search warrant is one you simply do not see in Japanese police procedurals. Nor anybody arguing after the fact about its validity.

This article in the Japan Times covers the subject pretty well. "Stop and frisk" is allowed whenever the police have "reasonable cause" to suspect the person has committed or is about to commit a crime.

The phrase "crimes about to be committed" allows the police to list "vigilance against possible crimes" as the main excuse for pulling people aside, effectively giving them a way to justify the routine in nearly every situation. The police are not legally bound to explain what the "reasonable cause" for suspicion was.

Yet another reason prosecutors in Japan enjoy a 99 percent conviction rate.

Hero is a whodunit series about Tokyo ADAs. During questioning (after the arrest and before allocution), there is almost never a lawyer present. They can do all the questioning they want. Defendants never get bail, even for petty crimes. The issue doesn't come up.

Or consider the series Emergency Interrogation Room. It essentially takes Vincent D'Onofrio's interrogation scenes from Law & Order: Criminal Intent and expands them to fill most of each episode.


On the Law & Order "realism" scale (meaning "realistic" for a television police procedural), Criminal Intent isn't very. It might better be described as the "Worst Defense Lawyers Ever" show.

But, hey, "realism" in popular entertainment is way overrated. I just want my disbelief suspended, and D'Onofrio usually carries it off. D'Onofrio's Goren would be right at home in Emergency Interrogation Room. He wouldn't have to worry about lawyers at all.

The "emergency" in Emergency Interrogation Room is analogous to the "major" in "major case squad" in Criminal Intent. And this particular interrogation room is tricked out like the one Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) employs in Lie to Me. So not very "realistic."

Except that suspects step into Dr. Lightman's interrogation room voluntarily. Whether they are there as witnesses or suspects, it is highly unlikely the interviewees in Emergency Interrogation Room will have a lawyer with them. And, sadly enough, that is realistic.

But here's the unrealistic thing about Emergency Interrogation Room and most crime dramas set in Japan: the entire country would have a hard time filling the police blotter with serious felonies in a year as fast as the average American city does in a week.

On the other hand, that's never stopped our British cousins from producing highly entertaining crime series. Death in Paradise is a prime example of Chicago-style murder rates in a Caribbean resort town (which must pose a real PR real headache for the tourism board).

The advantage of these sleepy settings with selectively high crime rates is that they constrain the supply of red herrings. As we can assume our detectives are not corrupt and will do things mostly "by the book," every crime gets turned into a locked room mystery.

Japanese cops do things by the book. It's just that the book isn't as thick in the same places. Or can be missing entire chapters.

Hence the paradox that Japanese law enforcement is both draconian in terms of respect for due process (confessions extracted under dubious circumstances are especially problematic) and surprisingly lenient when it comes to prosecution and sentencing.

Except when it comes to the death sentence, which is still carried out and which hardly anybody in Japan gets upset about. (In Fuyumi Ono's latest Twelve Kingdoms short story collection, she devotes a novella to a debate about the death penalty.)

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Kicking down the door

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May 04, 2017

Kicking down the door


An entertaining way to do comparative analyses of contemporary cultures is to examine popular fiction genres in terms of the Venn diagrams. The areas of overlap point to stories that have a wide appeal, that can be lifted out of one culture and easily repurposed in another.

Such as The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Or literally crossing time and space, The Hidden Fortress and Star Wars.

As in Great Britain, the murder rate in Japan is minuscule. But you'd never know it from the whodunits and police procedurals in books and on TV. Even though, on a per-capita basis, Japan has one-tenth as many lawyers as the U.S., lawyer shows abound on Japanese television too.

Galileo and Numbers, Mr. Brain and Bones, Columbo and Partners, Hero and Blue Bloods (the Erin Reagan arcs) compare pretty well.

Why dress up? Our heroic ADA makes one court appearance in this series.

What doesn't match up is revealing in interesting ways. To start with, far fewer lawyer shows in Japan are courtroom dramas. They are more likely to depict lawyers doing lawyerly things like interviewing suspects and negotiating for their clients (with greatly elevated stakes, of course).

Cops in Japan don't usually carry guns unless they have reason to believe that the bad guys are armed too. Which is rare. The bad guys most likely to be packing heat are the yakuza, and the yakuza are usually smart enough to get rid of the guns before the cops show up.

The yakuza are also smart enough to mostly shoot each other. A show with a heavily-armed cast like The Bow-wow Detective is telling the audience not to take it very seriously (if the the title doesn't do that already).

But here's a more subtle one: kicking down doors. Cops in Japan don't kick down doors. Or kick them open either.

The typical front door in Japan opens out. When entering a house or apartment, you step into the genkan and then step up to access the rest of the house. Space being at a premium, there'd be no place for everybody to stand while removing their shoes if the door swung in.

Kicking the door would simply force it tighter against the jam. And you see that door closer? Residential doors need them. They're that heavy.

Even if doors opened in, most wouldn't be kickable. The door to my pretty typical middle-class apartment in Port Town had a thick steel frame and was mounted in reinforced concrete. In other words, if the door doesn't have breakable glass panels (apartment doors don't), bring along a battering ram.

Or better yet, a gas-powered diamond-tipped circular saw--standard equipment in fire trucks.

So what do cops do? Have the superintendent unlock the door. And unless they're in hot pursuit, they'll leave their shoes in the genkan too.

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No objection

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