Thursday, November 10, 2016

"It can't be... you... ?"

"It can't be... you... ?" These are the words from Shenmue's opening cut-scene gasped by Ryo's father, Iwao, after Lan Di levels an accusation of the murder of a man named Zhao Sun Ming (or "Sunming Zhao" in Shenmue II).

Just hold that thought while we perform an analysis.
A point of interest here is that the final word "you...?" suggests that Iwao may have a tentative idea of who Lan Di is. However is this really the case? It's a small point, but given that Ryo's entire journey kicks off from this crucial cut scene, it is worth a closer look.

In this post we'll examine the corresponding sentence in Japanese to try to get some clarification.

First, the interaction in context:
Lan Di: Do you remember Zhao Sun Ming?
Iwao: ... Zhao?
Lan Di: That's the name of the man you killed in Meng Cun.
Iwao: It can't be... you... ?

Comparing this with the original Japanese lines (with my translations):
Lan Di: 趙孫明を覚えているな… You remember Zhao Sun Ming...
Iwao: 趙…? Zhao...?
Lan Di: 猛村で、お前が殺した男の名だ It's the name of the man you killed in Meng Cun.
So far, so good - the official English translations match closely. Now, to the line in question:
Iwao: まさか…おまえは?! 
The first word in Japanese is "masaka", which is an exclamation of incredulity - something along the lines of "Surely not..." or "No way.." Again, the in-game translation, having "It can't be...", is fine to this point.

Use of the "wa" particle

It is at the very last part of the sentence where a small nuance is revealed compared to the official English translation. This is because the Japanese ends in a grammatical particle ("wa"), which signals that the sentence is incomplete. Note also the use of both a question mark and an exclamation mark, conveying Iwao's bewilderment.

To achieve a similar effect in the English, rather than the simple "you..." of the official translation, this could instead be expressed as a rhetorical question: "Are you...?!" Fitting this back into the overall sentence gives: "It can't be... Are you...?!"

Or, alternatively: "You... can't be...?!"  For example, his full thought that was left unspoken might be "You... can't be... his son?!".

Here, I've fixed it for you.
As I mentioned, it is more a subtle change in nuance rather than a new meaning, but I thought it deserved comment.

To me, the original English translation gives the impression that Iwao has been able to identify (or at least have a good guess at identifying) Lan Di as someone he specifically had in mind, although he did not recognize him directly.

On the other hand, from the Japanese we see that Iwao is slightly less certain, as if he does not really know who Lan Di could be, and he is making a speculative guess based off Lan Di's mention of Zhao Sun Ming.

Have you ever wondered about this particular line from Iwao? Has this changed your interpretation of it at all? Leave your thoughts below!

Shenmue opening cut-scene [the interaction in the post starts at 4:00]


  1. My wife is Japanese, from Osaka. I showed here the Japanese version and asked here what her translation to English would be and she said it would be a feeling of, "is it really you?"

    1. Thanks for your comment, it's interesting the variations that this one small phrase can suggest.


    1. Thanks for your interesting blog!!!))) Man You are cool!!!

  3. There are 2 points to this: Iwao travelled to China somewhen Ryo was a kid (about the age from the flashbacks) or even before he was born. In one of those flashbacks he said:"parents often die before their children". And in the letter telling Ryo to live and die by one's convictions (like the Samurai heritage they have). At this point Iwao either was deeply regretful of what he did in China to be able to bring the mirror's, or fully accepted the fate of protecting the mirror's from falling in the wrong hands (treasure which contains good or bad fortune; positive or negative charge; green or red light coming from the center of the mirror; secret of Yin and Yang, as Yamagishi-san said). In either cases Iwao knew sooner or later someone would come (even Ryo said it regarding the letter:
    "Father must have known Lan Di was coming". That's why i feel it's a little weird for him to be surprised about Lan Di showing up...

    1. I agree, at first it does seem strange that Iwao is surprised even though he seems to have anticipated that someone would turn up for the mirrors. While Ryo assumes he specifically knew Lan Di was coming, it would make sense if Iwao was expecting "someone" to come for them eventually, but he did not know exactly who or when.

      So I think his surprise may be at hearing Lan Di mention the death of Sun Ming, as he tries to figure out who Lan Di really is.

  4. The fact is Iwao may have not killed Zhao Sun Ming, or rather be controlled by it's mystical energie to do so (Ryo: I feel like it's pulling me in). It's not the fact the mirror is cursed but it has possession capabilities, as if it were alive. The Terracotta Army theory may have a conection with this.