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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BILINGUAL

Investigating the linguistic allure of hard-boiled detectives


In Japan as elsewhere, there's an enormous demand for detective fiction, especially in the realm of terebi dorama (TV serials) (テレビドラマ). A well-made keiji-mono (police detective story) (刑事モノ) always soars to the top of the ratings list, partly because viewers can never seem to get enough of them, but mostly because TV stations normally allocate a sizable budget and the resources necessary to create a migotae no aru (worth-seeing) (見応えのある) hit series.

Thanks to this, many people in Japan have become amateur criminologists and the number of keisatsu mania (police enthusiasts who collect uniforms, weapons and paraphernalia online and from the black market) (警察マニア) reputedly increases with each passing year.

Those who don't go that far will still be familiar with police-drama jargon and the mannerisms of detective fiction. "Taiyō ni Hoero (Howl at the Sun)" (「太陽にほえろ」), a landmark 1970s TV series that's become a classic, is said to have single-handedly taught Japanese men how to talk, swagger and smoke with the kakkoii (cool) (かっこいい) assurance of a fictional police detective.

My brother grew up watching it, and to this day he smokes like one of the characters, dragging on the cigarette with one huge intake, then holding the smoke in his lungs for as long as humanly possible, before letting out a thin stream of white vapor through his teeth.

He claims that he's sacrificing his health on the altar of keiji no bigaku (cop aesthetics) (刑事の美学) and some of his friends actually think this makes sense, so you see the influential impact of "Howl at the Sun."

By the way, in dramas a keiji (police detective) (刑事) is called deka, though the kanji are the same for both. The hannin (criminal) (犯人) is called hoshi (slang for suspect) and a case is called yama (mountain) (ヤマ). Apparently such slang went out of fashion in the actual police world decades ago, but such colorful old customs die hard on TV.

Some other examples are: genba (place of action) (現場) for the scene of the crime; hajiki instead of (銃) for gun; and yaku (ヤク) for drugs. A stakeout is called harikomi (張り込み) and bringing in a yōgisha (suspect) (容疑者) for questioning is known as hipparu (literally, "to pull in") (引っ張る). In these cases, the deka will apprehend the suspect by reaching into his jacket pocket, pulling out his keisatsu techō (police ID) (警察手帳), flashing it and declaring ominously, "Kōiu mono desu (This is what I am)." At this point, the suspect turns pale and tries to make a getaway, albeit in vain. The interrogation usually takes place in the torishirabe shitsu (questioning room) (取調室), which is the kind of gray, cell-like space keiji-dorama lovers have come to associate with guilt and crime.

At some point or another, the deka in charge trots out the inevitable sentence to extract a tearful confession: "Hayaku haite raku ni narina (Come on, spit it out, you'll feel better)" (早く吐いて楽になりな」). At another point the suspect is treated to a cigarette, and it's customary to offer a brand that's extra heavy on tar and nicotine, like a Hi-Lite or the deka favorite, Shoppo (Short Hope) (ショッポ).

Often we'll see the suspect allowed to eat a meal between questioning, and it's almost always a single dish that saves desk space but is inexplicably calorie-laden, like katsudon (カツ丼) (a rice bowl slathered with a pork cutlet boiled with egg and soy sauce). The yōgisha (容疑者), well aware that this could be the last dollop of grease partaken over on this side of the hei (prison wall) (塀), will take up his chopsticks with a mixture of regret and desperation.

In another episode, the deka could be hotfooting it to a koroshi no genba (murder scene) (殺しの現場) to view that oft-discovered hakkotsu-shitai (skeleton) (白骨死体). In such cases, the deka usually spends the next 10 minutes pounding the pavemens and conferring with the kanshiki (forensics) (弁論術) in an attempt to gaisha no mimoto wo waru (crack the identity of the victim) (ガイシャの身元をわる), and in the process suspects that the killer could actually be the source that's helping him out.



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