Different social groups in Japan all use very different language to communicate: just by changing the way you say things you can sound more masculine, girly, scary, young, or even samurai-esque! Let’s watch some Japanese films to learn how to sound like your favourite character.
1. ステキな金縛り[Suteki na kanashibari] (2011)
Once in a Blue Moon
What if you were accused of a murder you did not commit, and what if the only witness of your alibi is… a ghost? Well, then you’ll find solicitor Hosho very reliable! She is willing to go far to have a ghost testify in court for her client’s innocence. This is also a great film to compare the sound of polite language in courtrooms with the more casual language used amongst friends and family.
Mō ichido kikimasu. Ni-gatsu nijū-yokka no yoru, anata-wa kono dansē no ue ni matagatte imashitaka?
“I will ask you again. Were you or were you not floating above this man on the night of 24th of February?”
Desu (です), masu (ます), masen (ません) and mashita (ました) are sounds of polite speech. They appear at the end of sentences, so hear out for the “s” sounds (su, se, shi) there!
2. 桐島、部活やめるってよ [Kirishima, bukatsu yameru tteyo] (2012)
The Kirishima Thing
A student in your school left the volleyball club. You may not even know this guy. What effect could that possibly have on you? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot! School hierarchies and rules about relationships between students can be subtle, but are very powerful at the same time. Based on a novel written by a Japanese 19 year-old, this film brings a fresh and authentic perspective on how high schools in Japan work.
Kirishima-kun, kyō yasumi kana?
Do you think Kirishima is off school today?
In casual language, a lot of things get missed out. In more formal Japanese, you usually put particles after each word to clarify their meaning in a sentence, but in casual speech you can leave out almost all of them. So to sound casual, do the same! Just string together single words and see if they make sense! For example:これ、今日食べる？(kore kyō taberu?), literally “this today eat?” is a casual way of asking: “Do you want to eat this today?”
3. アウトレイジ [Autoreiji] (2010)
This full-on Yakuza film is a great chance to immerse yourself in strong, Yakuza language. The film is about super complicated Yakuza politics and rules, but Takeshi Kitano’s rhythmical directing style makes the film engaging and even comical. You probably won’t want to use any of this kind of language when you’re in Japan, but if you hear anyone talking like this, run for your life!
These are some phrases the Yakuza add to the end of their sentences to sound extra scary… (not that they’re not already scary enough!)
Shibakuzo, mono yarō!
Yarō, I’ll bl**dy kill you!
Buchi korosuzo, koraa!
I’ll f**king kill you!
4. おくりびと [Okuribito] (2008)
Funerals are a place for families and friends of the deceased to condense and compress their strong emotions and feelings. Sometimes, that requires a gentle help from the undertakers in loosening and being prepared for the send-off in the most peaceful way as possible. The art of compassion is embodied in the language they use, and this is a great film to observe how respect is conveyed in Japanese communication.
Soredewa, o-karada o fukasete itadakimasu.
I will now humbly wipe the body.
You can convey respect by adding お(o) or ご(go) before a noun. からだ(karada) on its own means body, but if you are talking about the body of the other person, you can say おからだ(o-karada) to mean your body.
5. 電車男 [Densha otoko] (2005)
When people from specific hobby groups talk to each other, they often talk like the characters or professions that that group likes or looks up to. If you are a ninja-otaku, you might copy the speech of a ninja, and if you are into trains, you might want to talk like how the train staff talk to passengers, and so on… You will get to see a lot of such variations in this film, which is famous for the romance story between an otaku and daughter of a rich family.
A lot of the interactions in this film are also used on online chat platforms, and the above is a common phrase you might see. Notice the emoji face in the middle? Before the yellow smiley face emojis, we used to put together symbols to build faces between brackets. We call them kao-moji. e.g. ヾ(=^▽^=)ノ (lll￣□￣)!!
6. 用心棒 [Yōjinbō] (1961)
A classic samurai action film, directed by Akira Kurosawa. The title translates to bodyguard, and that’s what Sanjūrō suggests he will be for the village that has come under attack of nasty Yakuza groups. Sanjūrō has skills, style, and the samurai soul that allows little room for injustice. Want to sound like a samurai hero? Then Sanjūrō is your man!
This is a cool way of saying goodbye with samurai flair. Say it with your best handsome face!
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Rob is Memrise‘s English Language Specialist, teaming up with the other language specialists to create language courses that will help you explore the world by unlocking your language superpowers. He also works with Memrise‘s Marketing Team to make fun videos and blog posts to inspire all the language learners out there.
In his spare time, he can usually be found learning languages – currently Hindi & Greek – and exploring the wonders that the London theatre and comedy scenes have in store.