I recently won 2nd place in a literary translators competition! The person who held the competition was kind enough to give feedback. Taking his advice on I went through my writing and tweaked it slightly.
Here is my translation for the first part of “The Professor of Magic” by Edogawa Ranpo.
[You can read the original Japanese here]
Professor of Magic by Ranpo Edogawa
The Travelling Theater
Two boys were walking through a residential district in Shibuya one evening: Ichiro Inoue, whose dad was an ex-boxer; and Ippei Noro, a charming but slightly timid child. They were both members of a boy’s detective club led by another child, Yoshio Kobayashi.
Both boys were in sixth grade. Inoue was the largest and strongest child in class and no one could beat him thanks for the boxing techniques he learned from his dad. Noro was tiny in comparison and quite mischievous, so everyone called him Little Noro. Their physiques and personalities were vastly different, yet they got along swimmingly.
“Huh? What’s that? What a strange picture show.”
Noro was pointing across the street to where a large group of children had gathered.
“Yeah, that’s weird. That’s not a picture show. There’s no bike, just a car. Let’s check it out.”
As they got closer they began to get a better idea of what it was.
It was a three-wheel car that looked like it had been remodeled into some kind of small vehicle. The back was covered in a square box that stuck out slightly, and inside was that a white screen about the size of a twenty-inch screen television with a hazy image moving around on it.
“Oh, I’ve heard of these. It’s a movie. They’re projecting it from inside the car.”
“Oh yeah. It’s a Western. I can see cowboys riding on horses.”
The two boys rushed into the crowd of spectating children.
“Well you see now, Tony was definitely killed just now. He was shot with a pistol until all the bullets ran out.”
A man described the film in a husky voice to the crowd. He was wearing a pointed hat with broad red and white stripes and a matching jester costume; his face was painted white with red circles on his cheeks. This jester must drive from town to town in his little three-wheeled vehicle like a travelling paper theater.
In that case he should have also been selling candy, and sure enough when they looked around they saw the other children were holding missile shaped chocolate-colored candy, each about twenty-centimeters long. Some of the children were licking them.
They asked the man, “What kind of candy is that?”
“They’re what you call Honest Johns.” The candy looked like sweet rice crackers coated in chocolate.
When they looked at the side of the tiny car they could see a number of framed movie stills across the top of the wagon. Below them “The Travelling Theater” was written in large letters.
“How much for the candy?” they asked the man again.
“Ten yen each.” He replied.
They figured ten yen was pretty cheap if they got to see a movie like this with it.
“This Travelling Theater is a pretty good idea. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Yeah, me neither. This weird jester is pretty good at describing the story, don’t you think?”
When the cowboy movie finished the jester clacked some wooden clappers together. “That’s all for today folks! But I’ll be back same time tomorrow. Don’t forget your pocket money. Later kids!”
The jester made a strange gesture as he bowed. Then he climbed into the driver’s seat and slowly drove away in the tiny car.
The two boys, Inoue and Noro, didn’t feel like going home so they followed, jogging after the slowly moving vehicle. It was easy keeping up it was moving so slow.
Then, while the car was plodding along, the jester popped his head out of the driver’s window and looked behind him. He saw the two boys following and flashed them a grin. It was a strange, slightly terrifying, indescribable smile.
The boys thought That was a little weird. This jester might be up to something.
They continued to follow the car for a while before it stopped at the corner of another neighborhood. The jester didn’t get out, but after a while the car door opened and out stepped a completely different strange man.
He wore a Western style suit so black it looked like he was in mourning. On his head sat a black piece of cloth from which jutted two black horns, and on his face he wore a mask that only covered his eyes. Below the mask a pointed beard protruded out from under his large nose. He looked like a Western demon.
He clacked some wooden clappers together and in a loud voice shouted “Come one, come all, gather around, a fantastic movie is about to start! An action filled film is about to start, come now!”
It was already evening however so not many children gathered. About four or five kids finally approached the car. The man, now transformed into a Western demon, started by selling the Honest Johns before beginning the movie and describing it with gusto.
“That’s so weird. What happened to the jester?” Inoue whispered.
Noro replied in a manner-of-fact way, “That’s not it. The jester changed into this strange man. There was only one person in the car after all. He must be a master of disguise. But he still seems kinda fishy. Let’s follow him some more later.”
As members of the boy’s detective club the two of them felt that they had to follow any suspicious people they saw them.
When the movie concluded the Western demon got back into the driver’s seat and drove off. Once again slow enough for them to run after it. The demon stuck his head out of the car window every now and then to peek behind, checking to see if the two boys were still following him.
Oh, it was a little worrying. Perhaps this mysterious man was driving his car slowly on purpose, leading the two boys somewhere?
It wasn’t quite nighttime, but the area was gradually getting darker and darker. Dark enough that they were finding it difficult to see very far ahead.
The vehicle kept going for a while before stopping once more. Then it sat there for a while longer. It seemed as though the man was going to disguise himself as something else again.
The two boys began to sense that something wasn’t right so kept their distance. They held back at about ten meters, keeping an eye on the vehicle the entire time.
They were in a quiet residential area lined with fences as far as the eye could see. Enough that they figured no children would come out to watch the film.
After a little while a giant yellow thing squeezed out of the driver’s seat. It was utterly shocking, like nothing they’d ever seen before.
Its whole body was yellow with fat black stripes. It didn’t stand and walk, but moved around on all fours, slowly lumbering towards them.
“Woah, it’s a tiger, a tiger coming right for us…!” Noro cried out wildly before running away.
Inoue was about to turn to run after him, it was without a doubt a tiger, but he thought it was very odd when the tiger popped up on its hind legs.
The moment he thought “huh?” the tiger held out its two front paws with the wooden clappers that were around its neck and clap, clap clapped them together. It was as good as a human with those clappers.
“Hey, Little Noro! It’s a human. There’s a person in that thing. You don’t need to run away.”
Inoue had remained calm and saw through the fake tiger disguise the person was wearing.
“You sure?” Noro called back, his breath ragged from running as fast as he could.
“Look. Can a real tiger use clappers like that? It’s a human. Just take a look. He’s starting up the movie.”
The boys slowly approached the tiger.
That was when two or three children who had heard the clappers came running over. The moment they saw the tiger they stopped, standing stock still in shock, but when the tiger began to speak with a human voice, they unfroze and approached the car.
The tiger stayed standing on its hind legs as it waved its two paws around in a strange gesture and began to speak.
“Well aren’t you all good children. You thought I was a real tiger and ran away, but you came back. You’re all so brave. That’s very admirable. Here’s a reward. On the house.”
As the tiger spoke he pulled out Honest Johns from the car and gave everyone one each. The children were tempted to run away because of the creeping feeling in their gut, but the tiger spoke with such a kind voice that they relaxed and took the candy. He even gave one to Inoue and Noro.
Noro calmed down as soon as he realized the tiger was actually a human. He went up next to the tiger and began to stroke its fur as he spoke.
“Hey mister, why do you have so many different costumes? Isn’t it hard changing every single time you stop your car?”
The tiger looked down at him and opened its crimson mouth.
“Ei-hehehehe… Well you see I want everyone to think of me as a master of disguise. Children will think it’s rare and want to come and have a look, which means I can sell lots of candy. But you and your friend over there have been following me for a while now. You must have realized I can transform into anything in the blink of an eye. What do you think, care to follow me a little longer? I’ll show you both something quite spectacular, you won’t believe your eyes.”
Inoue and Noro looked at each other. It was already getting dark, should they continue following such a creepy person?
But they were members of the boy’s detective club, disciples of Yoshio Kobayashi. They had a duty, they felt the worse someone was the more reason they had to keep on tailing them.
The brave Inoue decided that they had to continue following this man until the found out who he really was.
“Alright. We’ll follow you just a bit more. But where are you going?”
“Just over there. It’s only ten minutes away.”
The tiger pointed with his forepaw as he spoke in a soft coaxing manner.
That was when Inoue took the hesitant Noro’s hand and they followed after the vehicle.
They were getting more and more worried. What in the world was in store for them next?