Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Don't you know that blackmail is waaaay uncool?" | Translation Analysis

"Don't you know that blackmail is waaaay uncool?" | Translation Analysis
Today's analysis by Phantom River Stone: Ryo's words when he comes across some punks shaking someone down at the harbor may sound cheesy, but how do they stack up against the original Japanese?
"Don't you know that blackmail is waaaay uncool?" The line by Ryo Hazuki is delivered seriously, but has found affection with the fans for its slightly cheesy, over-the-top words, and is one of the most recognized lines from the English version of Shenmue.

It occurs during the scene when Ryo scolds two thugs who are attempting to extort money from a man at the harbor.

Something that may have crossed the mind of players of the English version is whether the line sounds more convincing, or has difference in meaning in the Japanese version of the game. Today we'll attempt to answer that question.

Other Quirky Lines: 

Here are some of our previous posts in which we have analyzed specific quirky, but often iconic, utterances heard within Shenmue:
Let's proceed with today's analysis.

The Scenario

A bus pulls up at the bus stop, and the back doors open. Ryo Hazuki steps out and looks around him at the barbed-wire fencing and commercial buildings of Amihama. After getting his bearings, he locates the main entrance of the harbor area, and walks through.

As Ryo enters the harbor compound, his attention is caught by the sound of thuggery...
As Ryo enters the harbor compound, his attention is caught by the sound of thuggery...
As he does so, the snarling voice of a thug reaches him:

Nagashima: "Hey you! I said, hand over all your money!"
Looking to his right, he's startled to discover two thugs (whose name, as Ryo later learns, are Nagashima and Goro) extorting money from their victim, who is cowering away from a long, sharp weapon being brandished about.

Unfortunately for the victim, there aren't any forklift drivers or security guards in sight...
Unfortunately for the victim, there aren't any forklift drivers or security guards in sight...
The target of their extortion, pleads that he has no more money to give them, but they do not take no for an answer:
Nagashima: "Don't mess with me!"
Ryo knows it is time to take action. He strides towards them, and commands them to "Stop it!"

"Stop it!"
"Stop it!"
The punks don't initially recognize him, with Nagashima jeering "And who are you?"

Ignoring the question, Ryo then utters his famous line:
Ryo: "Don't you know that blackmail is waaaay uncool?"

Ryo tries applying peer pressure.
Ryo tries applying peer pressure.
Unfortunately for the thugs, they do not take the hint and end up in a rather sorrier state than at the start of the conversation.
"Pretty tough after all..."
"Pretty tough after all..."


Unlike some of the game's lines we have analyzed in the past, here Ryo's line is grammatically correct, and is perfectly understandable. The main point of interest is to examine how closely it matches the Japanese original line, both in meaning and tone.

It turns out that the Japanese line is fairly straight-forward. Here are the actual words, followed by a breakdown of its meaning.
"Ima doki, hayannē ze. Katsuage nanteyo".
The same line, this time with Japanese subtitles.
The same line, this time with Japanese subtitles.
ima doki = nowadays
hayannē = a spoken form of "hayaranai", meaning out-of-fashion, behind-the-times, lacking in popularity and so on. Hence it can be used to mean (yes!) uncool.
ze: used at the end of a sentence to add emphasis or force to a sentence. It is casual and used almost exclusively by men.
katsuage: a slang word for extortion.
nante: used to express a strong emotion such as surprise or, as here, disgust towards the thing it follows.
yo: another end-of-sentence particle, this one a softer form of exclamation.
As a small point about the choice of vocabulary, the official translation uses the word "blackmail". However this translation isn't very accurate, as it implies receiving money in exchange for not releasing some kind of compromising information rather than a physical shakedown like the one in the Goro and Nagashima scenario. "Mugging" or "extortion" would be more fitting.

So putting it all together, the literal meaning is along the lines of:
"Extortion's not in style these days."
The tone of Ryo's line in Japanese, set by his choice of vocabulary and emphatic end-of-sentence particles, comes across as partly scolding, partly mocking.

Why Does the English Line Feel Cheesy?

The English line does not differ too significantly from the Japanese, but for me it has a slightly lighter feeling about it.

It's not easy to pinpoint the cause, but I think there are a couple of factors that contribute. The first stems from the fact that the English has been softened a little by turning it into a rhetorical question ("Don't you know...?") rather than a statement. And secondly, the elongated "waaaay" draws attention away from the rest of the words, reducing their impact rather than enforcing them.

An Alternative Translation

So for a closer fit to the feel of the original Japanese, I would suggest something like:
"Huh! Mugging, in this day and age?"

Bonus: What's "Geek" in Japanese?

During the above scene, Goro also boasts that someone like Ryo doesn't intimidate him ("I ain't afraid of him..."), adding:
Goro: "I can take this geek!"
Goro the Brave (before experiencing Ryo's jujitsu techniques)
Goro the Brave (before experiencing Ryo's jujitsu techniques)
But what does Goro call Ryo in Japanese - does he also use a word that corresponds to "geek"? Let's have a look.

...and in Japanese.
...and in Japanese.
In Japanese he uses the word gaki:
Goro (Japanese): "I won't lose a fight to a gaki like this!"
When gaki is written in kanji, the characters are 餓鬼 (literally meaning starving + monster).

The original meaning of the word gaki in Japanese is derived from Buddhism, describing one of the six realms of incarnation, where the spirit of a jealous of greedy person is cursed with an insatiable hunger. This supernatural being is known by the Sanskrit name Preta.

Gaki: Preta, or "Hungry Ghost"
Gaki: Preta, or "Hungry Ghost"
From this derivation, the word has come to also be used to mean an unpleasant child, kid or brat.

So there is a slight difference in meaning with the insult Goro uses, depending on whether he is speaking in Japanese or English, although coincidentally the words "geek" and "gaki" resemble each other in terms of pronunciation.

Final Comment

Apart from a small difference in meaning ("blackmail" vs "extortion"), it might come as a surprise to find that in fact the English translation of the line does roughly reflect the Japanese original. However it also introduces a slightly more comedic feel due to Ryo's phrasing of the words that, if removed, might have brought it closer to the Japanese sense.

If you enjoyed the discussion in this post, or would like to suggest translations for any of the phrases discussed, leave a comment below.

Selected image frames were captured from Mr.357's "Shenmue: The Movie Remastered (Fan remake)" video.

This topic was selected from the blog's candidate topics via a poll of Phantom River Stone's patrons for August 2018.
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  1. Another great dissection Switch! Items like these are very interesting to me, to see someone pulling apart the small details and making sense of them. Little details like this are so often overlooked, love it!

    1. Many thanks DreamcastPast! Do you have a favorite "unusual" line from the games?