Karaoke Kotoba – いとし

Back in the ‘90s and the early ‘00s when I first played through (parts of) FFVI, I had no idea how much the opera scene owed to karaoke culture, but now it’s totally clear. I mean, there’s a syllable for syllable midi voice of the Japanese lyrics.

karaoke1

karaoke2

Now I’m seriously surprised that I didn’t hear someone sing this at a karaoke box. Maybe I just didn’t karaoke with the right people.

At any rate, the first word of the song, いとし, is one of those classic karaoke words that you hear in countless songs. I’m never sure sure how reliable Chiebukuro is, but this post seems to suggest an evolution of the word.

Currently it means “beloved,” or something of that ilk, and it often gets attached to people’s names or pronouns. The Southern All-Stars have the best translation in their song いとしのエリー, which doesn’t even use the word いとし in the lyrics: Instead, the chorus is “Eri, my love, so sweet.” “X, my love” is a pretty nice rendering.

On a side note, after watching this video of サザン lead singer Keisuke Kuwata belt out the song, I can’t help but think he’s had a huge influence on Japanese rock vocals (even though I know next to nothing about Japanese rock).

His weird growl sounds similar to some imitations of “foreigner Japanese.” It also seems extremely ripe for parody…which I may have to attempt at karaoke soon.

A Questionable Cut

When I first read Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, I preferred the odd-numbered chapters with the data agent. I visited a few colleges that summer as I was reading it, and because of the book I was convinced I wanted to study cognitive neuroscience. Obviously I was a moron. What I really wanted was to live in the world of the data agent. Back then the End of the World chapters were speed bumps. I’m a slow reader, but I tore through those chapters to get on with the longer, more convoluted parts about memory, INKlings, and the chubby girl in pink.

Now it feels like the opposite, most likely because I’m reading in Japanese. It takes me forever to read through the odd-numbered chapters only to reveal another short episode in the End of the World, which I really savor. Also I’ve realized the End of the World chapters are much stronger. They’re lean compared to Murakami’s normal style, but just as tense and suspenseful and even more mysterious. It’s almost like a totally different author wrote them.

Chapter 23 “Holes, Leeches, Tower” is another massive speed bump chapter in the data agent Watashi’s world, and Birnbaum really pares down the Japanese throughout, rendering only the absolute necessities to get Murakami’s point across. It feels like he’s only writing three sentences for every five in Japanese. It’s a generous translation, though, and very funny.

Watashi and the Girl in Pink spend the chapter running through the underground area more, this time away from a tidal wave of water, and then climbing a massive altar. As in previous chapters, Watashi wants nothing to do with his circumstances, so he ends up daydreaming quite a bit. Birnbaum does a fantastic job of bringing out this element.

Most of these changes are not worth looking at closely, but Murakami does make one cut between the original and the Collected Works edition. Birnbaum, however, includes the cut section in the English translation. So this should show us something about Murakami’s work as an editor. Here’s the passage in Birnbaum’s version:

The next thing I realized was that my body was missing from the waist down. I reassessed the situation. My lower half was there, just unable to feel anything. I shut my eyes and concentrated. Trying to resurrect sensations below the belt reminded me of trying to get an erection. The effort of forcing energy into a vacuum.

So here I was, thinking about my friendly librarian with the gastric dilation and the whole bedroom fiasco. That’s where everything began going wrong, it now struck me. Still, getting a penis to erect itself is not the sole purpose of life. That much I understood when I read Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma years ago.

My lower half seemed to be stuck in some halfway strait. Or cantilevered out over empty space or…dangling off the edge of the rock slab. It was only my upper half that prevented me from falling. That’s why my hands were clinging to the rope so desperately. (232)

It’s clear that Birnbaum’s translation is clearly pretty slim without even looking at the original, but here it is with my re-translation:

私の下半身はもうなくなっているのかもしれない、と思った。地面に投げ出されたショックでちょうど傷口のあたりから私の体はふたつにちぎれ、下半身がどこかに吹きとんでしまったのだ。私の脚―と私は思った―私の爪先、私の腹、私のペニス、私の睾丸、私の……、しかしどう考えてもそれは不自然だった。下半身を全部失くしていたとしたら、私の感じる痛みはこの程度で済むわけがないのだ。

私はもっと冷静に状況を確認するべく試みることにした。私の下半身はちゃんと存在するのだ。それはただ何かを感じることのできない状況下にあるだけなのだ。私はしっかりと目を閉じて波のようにあとからあとから押し寄せてくる頭の痛みをやりすごし、神経を下半身に集中した。存在しないかのように感じられる下半身に神経を集中しようとする努力は、なんだか勃起しないペニスを勃起させようとする努力に似ているような気がした。それは何もない空間に力を押しこめているようなものなのだ。

私はそうしながら図書館で働いている髪の長い胃拡張の女の子のことを考えていた。やれやれ、なんだって私は彼女とベッドに入ったときにうまく勃起することができなかったのだろう、と私はまた思った。あのあたりからすべての調子が狂いはじめたのだ。しかしいつまでもそんなことを考えているわかにもいかなかった。ペニスを有効に勃起させることだけが人生の目的ではないのだ。それはずっと昔にスタンダールの『パルムの僧院』を読んだときに私が感じたことでもあった。私は勃起のことを頭の中から追い払った。

何はともあれ私の下半身は何かしら中途半端な状況に置かれているのだ、と私は確認した。たとえば宙ぶらりになっているような……そう、私の下半身は岩盤の向う側の空間にぶらさがり、私の上半身がそれが落下するのをかろうじて阻止しているのだ。そして私の両手はそのためにしっかりとロープを握りしめているのだ。31-32

Maybe my lower body is gone, I thought. The shock from being thrown to the ground must’ve torn my body in two right around my wound, and my lower half was blown off. My legs, I thought, my toes, my stomach, my penis, my testicles, my… but the more I thought about it, it just didn’t seem right. If I’d lost all of my lower body, I would be in a lot more pain than I was right now.

I tried to reassess the situation with a level head. My lower half still existed. It was just in a state of not being able to feel anything. I sealed my eyes shut, fought off the never-ending waves of pain that surged in my head, and focused on my lower body. I realized that trying to focus on a lower body that felt like it didn’t exist was somewhat similar to trying to force a penis that wouldn’t get hard into an erection. It was like trying to put force into a space with nothing in it.

In the process, I remembered the girl with long hair and gastric dilation who worked at the library. That went spectacularly, I thought. For whatever reason I’d been unable to get an erection the moment I got into bed with her. That was right around when everything started to go off the rails. But I couldn’t keep thinking about it. Being able to successfully produce erections isn’t the only reason for living. That’s something I’d realized when I read Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma ages ago. I cleared my mind of hard-ons.

At any rate, I managed to confirm that my lower body had been placed in some sort of halfway state. For example, maybe it was dangling in air or… That was it. My lower body was dangling in the air over the side of a cliff, and my upper body was only just barely preventing me from falling. And that’s why my hands had a firm grip on a rope.

Ugh. My translation feels ugly and bloated and 直訳 compared with Birnbaum’s.

For the Complete Works edition (pages 333-334), Murakami chose to cut the entire third paragraph (highlighted in red) for some reason. It’s the only cut he chose to make for 25 pages (30 in the paperback)! What gives? There’s dozens of other lines that could have gone, and—trust me—Birnbaum finds them. There are entire passages that get dismissed in favor of moving the narrative along.

Was it the Stendhal reference? Or the Librarian? It can’t be the erections—he kept a few of those. I’m baffled by this one.

What say ye, reader?

Video Game Lingo – 始末

Fucking Ultros. I just got beat down in the opera house, and I’ve realized I probably either need to A) head back to Narshe and pick up another party member, B) hope that I can still add Shadow, or C) grind until I level enough to take the bastard down.

Which is basically to say that I haven’t made much progress in FFVI. I also haven’t found a seat on my commutes all that often. The El is unforgiving, especially between Sheridan and Fullerton, and I need at least one hand free when standing.

But I did come across this:

shimatsu

It pays to have a large vocabulary of words that mean “kill” or “destroy” when making video games, and 始末 is, effectively, one of those. In this case, the compound has the more general meaning “manage” or “deal with” (with an implied finality, thus death).

It’s also a cool kanji in its own right, combining two opposite characters for “beginning” (始) and “end” (末).

It has other meanings as well and confuses some with 仕末. This is a nice little blog post that concisely summarizes some of the frequently encountered forms:

「後始末」「跡始末」「始末書」「始末に負えない」などのように使います。

Fortunately for our heroes, Kefka isn’t that adept at dealing with them.

Cool Phrase – 〜もんか

monka I’ve got an article in the Japan Times Bilingual page today about the very interesting little particle か: “‘Ka’ can help you sound less like Mr. Roboto.”

For the most part か is harsh and striking (いいか?); it demands attention. This is especially true when compared with が, its softer more demure cousin (ちょっと聞きたいんですが). But I think the article points out a couple of places where maybe か can take the edge off and sounds very natural.

One of my favorite usages of the harsh and sharp か is 〜もんか. The quintessential example of this usage is 知るもんか. The English translation is “Like I know!” with an implied element of “(So why would you ask me/expect me to know?)” This is a great phrase but useful only in circumstances where you’re trying to express disbelief in the person you’re talking with; thus, it’s a fairly rude phrase.

You can attach it to a lot of different verbs to express your disbelief that you would ever do those verbs or that something would ever happen. そういうことやるもんか。そんなことあるもんか。

A Google search turns up a movie titled なくもんか which, judging from its poster, means something along the lines of “I’m not crying *sob*.”

A fun phrase, useful to deploy in certain circumstances.

On a side note, I can share a bit of good news: Barring grievous bodily injury or total mental collapse, I should be in the Japan Times Bilingual page every month this year, the first week of the month. Look for me there, and thanks for reading.

Booty Call, As It Were

Chapter 22 “Gray Smoke” is back in the End of the World. The Gatekeeper continues to burn the beasts, and Boku is blinded by the reflection of the sun off fresh snowfall. His eyes are in such pain that he is almost unable to work that night, so he and the Librarian talk and then look in the Collection Room for a musical instrument after Boku realizes that her mother used to sing.

This is a nice quick chapter after the beast that was Chapter 21.

One minor side note before I look at the translation: This chapter does give the singing in the previous chapter more context. As I was reading Chapter 21, it all felt unnecessary and kind of random, but I think that’s the point. In this chapter, when Boku tries to remember a song, he says, “I take a deep breath but find no music in my memory.”

It’s almost like he is straining to hear Watashi in the previous chapter. Both he and the Girl in Pink have no trouble just making up lyrics as they go, but Boku doesn’t have it that easy.

There aren’t many big cuts to the translation or in the Complete Works version, but Birnbaum (or his editor) does make the usual changes: Cuts to the narrator’s reactions to make them simpler and starker. As with the previous chapter, there’s a surprising moment of romance/sexuality. Here is the official translation:

“Is there nothing else I can do for you?” she says, looking up unexpectedly.

“You do so much for me already,” I say.

She stays her hand and sits facing me. “I mean something else. Perhaps you wish to sleep with me.”

I shake my head.

“I do not understand,” she implores. “You said you needed me.”

“I do. But now it is not right.” (225)

And here is the Japanese followed by my translation:

「私が何かあなたにしてあげられることはあるかしら?」と彼女はふと顔を上げて言った。

「君はとてもよくしてくれているよ」と僕は言った。

彼女は頭骨を拭いていた手を休めて椅子に座り、正面から僕の顔を見た。「私が言っているのはそういうことじゃないの。もっととくべつなこと。たとえばあなたのベッドに入るとか、そんなことね」

僕は首を振った。「いや、君と寝たいわけじゃないんだ。そう言ってくれるのは嬉しいけどね」

「どうして?あなたは私を求めているんでしょう?」

「求めているさ。でも少なくとも今は君と寝るわけにはいかないんだ。それは求めるとか求めないというのとはまたべつの問題なんだ」 (322-323)

She lifts her head suddenly and says, “Is there something I can do for you?”

“You already do so much for me,” I say.

She withdraws the hand she was using to wipe the skull, sits down, and looks me square in the face. “I’m not talking about those kinds of things. I mean something more special. For example, I could join you in bed, something like that.”

I shake my head. “No, it isn’t that I want to sleep with you. I’m glad that you would say that, but…”

“Why? You do want me, right?”

“I do. It’s just, I mustn’t sleep with you right now. It’s unrelated to wanting you or not wanting you.”

Yeah, I ripped off that one Birnbaum line “You already do so much for me” but I don’t think it can be improved. More importantly, you can see that BOHE cuts two sentences of dialogue from Boku and opts to have him remain silent when she offers to sleep with him. The cuts have a very interesting effect, not necessarily a bad one.

BOHE also add a dialogue tag for the Librarian. She “implores” Boku.

And perhaps the most curious translation from Birnbaum is his version of あなたのベッドに入るとか. “Perhaps you wish to sleep with me” puts the action back on Boku rather than keeping the Librarian as the subject. It also smoothes over the somewhat unusual (?) Japanese ベッドに入る with the regularly encountered English phrase “sleep with X.” I dunno…maybe BOHE has the right idea, maybe it’s better to not draw attention to it. At any rate, I think “For example, I could sleep with you” would be a more accurate rendering that maintains the Librarian as the subject.

Murakami-san no tokoro

Murakami’s new advice column/blog is online: http://www.welluneednt.com/

The site is titled 村上さんのところ (Murakami-san’s place)—pretty standard—but the domain name is curious. I was disappointed that I didn’t recognize it from the jazz standard “Well, You Needn’t,” a 1944 Thelonious Monk composition.

In my defense, I haven’t been listening to as much Monk lately (mostly “Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington,” which may be the greatest album of all time), but I think the real culprit is the iPod-ification of all music. When I only carried 5-10 CDs in my car in rural Japan in 2005, I could’ve told you all the track names for “Thelonious Alone in San Francisco,” “Thelonious Himself” and “Solo Monk,” but alas, no longer. First I had an iPod classic with hundreds of albums, dozens from Monk, and now I have an iPhone that can stream just about anything (as long as I have wifi).

But back to the main point of this post: Murakami’s new column/blog. It’s nice. The design is simple and straightforward. The illustrations are well done. It’s easy to see the questions that Murakami has answered and to ask your own question. So far it’s very similar to some of the Murakami Asahido material and other public projects Murakami did (way before blogs were even a thing).

One of the most interesting things about the page is the “Categories” for the types of questions you can ask. Here is the list with my translation following:

1. 村上さんにおりいって質問したいこと・相談したいこと
2. 村上さんにちょっと話したいこと
3. 私の好きな場所・嫌いな場所
4. 「猫」あるいは「ヤクルト・スワローズ」関連

1. Things I want to ask Murkami/consult with him about
2. Things I’d like to tell Murakami about
3. Places I love/hate
4. (Things) related to cats or the Yakult Swallows

Very interesting. It seems like Murakami is looking for a pretty wide range of material. Questions and consultations, sure, but also just some randomness from his readers, things he can kind of bounce his thoughts off of and produce funny/quirky/interesting/readable material.

Obviously you sign away all rights when you ask a question. This stuff is going into a book in the not too distant future. You can ask questions until the end of January, and the site will be online until the end of March.

He’s going through questions at a pretty intense pace: He responded to six different inquiries on a Sunday (1/18)! I read through all of the entries through 1/17 and did some quicky translations on Twitter of interesting posts. Here are the results:

And when you ask a question, you get a very cool confirmation email with this graphic from the website:

murakamiCheck my Twitters for more translations in the coming weeks. I’ll plan to read through the posts as he answers…I want to see if he answers my question.

 

Final Fantasy VI on iOS in Japanese

I have another Bilingual page column in the Japan Times today: “The myths and misery of translating Japanese video games.”

It’s sort of a redux of my post “On Translation and Me” (which was later syndicated at Kotaku) with a few of my Video Game Lingo posts thrown in for good measure.

I haven’t done much video game translation recently, unfortunately. I did a bit in the summer of 2013, and it was a reminder of how difficult and complicated translating dialogue for a major game can be. I only did about 10,000 characters or so, but I got a small peak inside the workings of a larger translation company. It was impressive. I will always be in awe of folks who are able to build living, breathing characters from context-less dialogue text alone. Translators rarely get to see the game they are working on.

I have, however, been doing more Japanese video games. Square has put out a lot of their old catalogue on mobile platforms in recent years, and they were on sale for 50% off until January 5th. So I picked up Final Fantasy VI for iOS.

I somehow scraped together the $60 for Chrono Trigger on the SNES back in the 1990s and spent a week one summer devoted to it, but I never managed to play through Final Fantasy III (née VI). I have at various times played emulated versions partway through (once during college, I believe, and once while I was teaching on JET), but I’ve never beaten it.

I’m a couple hours in and here are some thoughts in game-chronological order:

ffvi01

Japanese dialogue has a tendency to use a ton of ellipsis. I’m not quite sure if there is a standard way to deal with these. Occasionally you can translate around them, but it’s sometimes easiest to just leave them.

ffvi02

Kefka is even more ridiculous and evil in Japanese. (Partly due to the illustration. An inspiration for the Joker in the Dark Knight movies, perhaps?) As you can see, the language is more colorful in the Japanese original. くそ gets thrown around pretty lightly. Kefka’s infamous laugh, however, is merely ヒッヒッヒ or some variation, which is a bit of a disappointment because the English laugh is so legendary.

This screen grab also has a great word that pops up frequently in games: 借り (かり). 借りができたぞ is a way to say “I owe you one.” I distinctly remember a translator delivering a project with that line, and I was blown away by how succinct and spot on he was. There is a great Chiebukuro post about this phrase and 貸しができる.

Here, Kefka ironically shows that he will 返す the 借り(generally a good thing) without fail (必ず).

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Here’s a great example of the double particle をも and ~かねない, one of my favorite phrases.

ffvi04

The (new?) character illustrations are great, and Banon looks awesome. You can tell he’s old because he’s got the old-man じゃ in place of the standard copula.

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Go home, Ultros, you’re drunk.

ffvi06

Here’s a lovely-sounding Japanese idiom: 爪(つめ)のアカでも飲ましてやる. Literally: Make someone “drink” the crap under their nails. The kicker is that it’s not even their own nails: It’s someone else’s nail crud. アカ is also given as the kanji 垢, but I assume it’s kana-ized to allow younger players to understand in this case. I wrote a post about this idiom and got a couple of really great comments. Basically, these troops want Kefka to be a little more like Leo…which would happen if Kefka drank some of Leo’s toenail crud. Here’s what one of the commenters noted about the phrase:

In a scenario (profession, trade or any organization) where a rookie without a clue tends to blunder from one breach of etiquette after another, and where a sage advice clearly would be wasted, the only economic advice is to suggest such a concoction be consumed. But, this is said with one’s tongue in cheek only to underline the hopelessness of the endeavor.

So perhaps “take a page out of [somebody’s] book (which happens to be written in a language they probably won’t understand)” would be an appropriate translation.

ffvi07

Here’s a nice example of a use of ごめん that isn’t ごめんなさい. I can’t remember what exactly was happening (this is on the ghost train), but whatever it is マッシュ (Sabin) doesn’t want to do it, and expresses that with ごめん. It’s sometimes used with だけ in the expression 〜だけごめんだ to express “the one thing” that someone doesn’t want to do.

ffvi08

And one thing I noticed in the menu: The explanations for the the different items are given only in kana. This isn’t unusual, I don’t think, but it is a little strange given that all of the story is given in both kanji and kana. Just another reminder that kanji are awesome and reading kana-only writing takes a different set of muscles that you lose quickly once you move past the most basic stages of Japanese study.

Everything about this reboot is great. The graphics are slick and the sound is fantastic. I’m confident that I’ll be able to finish the game this time around, thanks in part to my commute, and because it’s in Japanese I won’t feel guilty about doing so.

The Birds and the Trees

camphor

Final post for Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil,” the final chapter of the first half of the novel.

As we’ve seen in Posts 1, 2, 3, and 4, this chapter is long and isolates Watashi and the Girl in Pink. Birnbaum’s (or his editor’s) cuts in translation simplify her as a character. They eliminate her interests in sex and eliminate some of Watashi’s reaction to her as a sexual being. These might seem like excusable cuts—and many of them are, especially her “Bicycle Song”—but a scene cut near the end of the chapter helps put these seemingly light sections in context.

After the two of them sing to distract themselves, they make it to a plateau and continue onward. Watashi falls asleep, lured by the INKling trap, so they tie themselves together with rope. Watashi briefly goes back into his thoughts, but the Girl in Pink suggests they sing again and then, when Watashi rejects more songs (thankfully), that they have a conversation.

They decide to talk about rain, which leads to her character background: Her family all died in a car accident while she was in the hospital recovering from a heart operation. While she was in the hospital, she watched the birds on a camphor tree outside the window. Watching the birds made her sad.

Birnbaum’s translation of her back story makes some cuts but captures almost everything. Here’s how Birnbaum treats the subsequent passage, which has more cuts:

“It made you sad?”

“Because, like I said, there’s go to be millions of trees in the world and millions of birds and millions of rainfalls. But I couldn’t even figure one out, and I’d probably die that way. I just cried and cried, I felt so lonely. And that was the night my whole family got killed. Though they didn’t tell me until much later.”

“That must have been horrible.”

“Well, it was the end of the world for me. Everything got so dark and lonely and miserable. Do you know what that feels like?”

“I can imagine,” I said.

Her thoughts on rain occupied my thoughts. So much so I didn’t notice that she’d stopped and I bumped into her, again. (220)

And here’s how it looks in the Japanese:

「どうして?」

「たぶん世界が数えきれないほどの木と数えきれないほどの鳥と数えきれないほどの雨ふりに充ちているからよ。それなのに私にはたった一本のくすの木とたったひとつの雨ふりさえ理解することができないような気がしたの。永遠にね。たった一本のくすの木とたったひとつの雨ふりさえ理解できないまま、年をとって死んでいくんじゃないかってね。そう思うと、私はどうしようもなく淋しくなって、一人で泣いたの。泣きながら、誰かにしっかりと抱きしめてほしいと思ったの。でも抱きしめてくれる人なんて誰もいなかった。

それで私はひとりぼっちで、ベッドの上でずっと泣いていたの。

そのうちに日が暮れて、あたりが暗くなり、鳥たちの姿も見えなくなてしまったわ。だから私には雨が降っているのかどうか、たしかめることもできなくなってしまったの。その夕方に私の家族はみんな死んでしまったわ。私がそれを知らされたのはずっとあとのことだったけれどね」

「知らされたときは辛かっただろうね」

「よく覚えてないわ。そのときは何も感じなかったんじゃないかっていう気がするの。覚えているのは、私がその秋の雨ふりの夕暮に誰にも抱きしめてもらえなかったということだけ。それはまるで—私にとっての世界の終わりのようなものだったのよ。暗くてつらくてさびしくてたまらなく誰かに抱きしめてほしいときに、まわりに誰も自分を抱きしめてくれる人がいないというのがどういうことなのか、あなたにはわかる?」

「わかると思う」と私は言った。

「あなたは愛する人をなくしたことがある?」

「何度かね」

「それで今はひとりぼっちなのね?」

「そうでもないさ」とベルトに結んだナイロンのロープを指でしごきながら私は言った。「この世界では誰もひとりぼっちになることなんてできない。みんなどこかで少しずつつながってるんだ。雨も降るし、鳥も鳴く。腹も切られるし、暗闇の中で女の子とキスすることもある」

「でも愛というものがなければ、世界は存在しないのと同じよ」と太った娘は言った。「愛がなければ、そんな世界は窓の外をとおりすぎていく風と同じよ。手を触れることもできなければ、匂いをかぐこともできないのよ。どれだけ沢山の女の子をお金で買っても、どれだけ沢山のゆきずりの女の子と寝ても、そんなのは本当のことじゃないわ。誰もしっかりとあなたの体を抱きしめてはくれないわ」

「そんなにしょっちゅう女の子を買ったり、ゆきずりで寝てるわけじゃないさ」と私は抗議した。

「同じことよ」と彼女は言った。

まあそうかもしれない、と私は思った。誰かが私の体をしっかりと抱きしめてくれるわけではないのだ。私も誰かの体をしっかりと抱きしめるわけではない。そんな風に私は年をとりつづけているのだ。海底の岩にはりついたなまこのように、私はひとりぼっちで年をとりつづけるのだ。

私はぼんやりと考えごとをしながら歩いていたせいで、前を行く彼女が立ち止まったのにきがつかず、そのやわらかい背中にぶつかってしまった。(314-316)

“Why (did it make you sad)?”

“Probably because the world is full of countless trees and countless birds and countless rainy days, but I felt like I couldn’t even understand a single tree and a single rainy day. And I never would. Like I’d die without being able to understand a single camphor tree and a single rainy day. When I thought about that, I couldn’t help feeling incredibly sad, so I cried by myself. And while I cried, the whole time I kept wanting someone to hold me. But there was no one to hold me.

“So I just cried there on the (hospital) bed, all by myself.

“Eventually the sun set, everything got dark, and I couldn’t see the birds anymore. So I wasn’t able to tell whether it was still raining or not anymore. That night my whole family died. I wasn’t told until much later, though.”

“It must’ve been tough when they told you.”

“I don’t really remember. I probably didn’t feel anything when they told me. The only thing I remember is not having anyone to hold me on that rainy Autumn evening. It was like—the end of the world for me. Do you know what that’s like? To be incredibly sad, in pain, in the dark and to want someone to hold you but not to have anyone around to hold you?”

“I think I understand,” I said.

“Have you ever lost someone you loved?”

“Several times.”

“And now you’re lonely?”

“Not really,” I said as I drew the nylon rope connected to my belt through my fingers. “No one in this world can ever be lonely. Everything is connected somewhere in some slight way. Rain will fall and birds will sing. You might get your stomach cut, but sometimes you get to kiss girls in the dark.”

“But if there’s no love, that’s the same as the world not existing,” the plump girl said. “If you don’t have love, the world is just wind passing outside of a window: You can’t touch it or smell it. No matter how many girls you buy and how many girls you sleep with casually, it’s not real. None of them are going to hold you tightly.”

“I don’t buy girls or have casual sex all that often,” I protested.

“It’s still the same,” she said.

I guess so, I thought. No one was going to hold me tightly. Nor was I going to hold anyone tightly. I would keep getting older just like that. I would keep getting older alone, like a sea cucumber stuck to the ocean floor.

I drifted off into my thoughts as I walked and didn’t realize that the girl had stopped, so I ran right into her soft back.

Birnbaum (or his editor) has to cut part of this because BOHE already cut the makeout scene earlier in the chapter, which informs all the talk of “being held tightly.”

The Girl in Pink’s back story is pretty made-for-TV, but it makes her more compelling than she is without it, and this cut part in particular makes her seem much more human in all the scenes that were cut previously. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these ideas return in the second half of the novel (and get cut/trimmed there as well). Only one way to find out.

The Bicycle Song

pink

Happy New Year, folks. Yoroshiku and all that jazz in 2015.

Apologies for the delay with the Hard-boiled Wonderland Project. Two more posts in Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” and I’ll be finished with half of the novel. Here comes the fourth and penultimate post.

This chapter is starting to feel longer than it actually is—which is very long, at least in the original Japanese.

The Girl in Pink and Watashi continue their subterranean march. They make it into the INKling sanctuary and then begin their climb up the “mountain” to a plateau. Birnbaum makes some judicious cuts of lengthy introspection about fear, accomplishment, and life. This chapter is so long that Murakami himself also makes some cuts from the original text to the Complete Works version.

First, check out how Birnbaum handles the translation when the pair of them decide to kill time on their hike by singing:

From time to time she called out to make sure I kept pace. “You okay?” she’d say. “Just a little more.”

Then, a while later, it was “Why don’t we sing something?”

“Sing what?” I wanted to know.

“Anything, anything at all.”

“I don’t sing in dark places.”

“Aw, c’mon.”

Okay, then, what the hell. So I sang the Russian folksong I learned in elementary school:

Snow is falling all night long—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!
Fire is burning very strong—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!
Old dreams bursting into song—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!

I didn’t know any more of the lyrics, so I made some up: Everyone’s gathered around the fire—the pechka—when a knock comes at the door and Father goes to inquire, and there’s a reindeer standing on wounded feet saying, “I’m hungry, give me something to “eat”; so they feed it canned peaches. In the end everyone’s sitting around the stove, singing along.

“Wonderful. You sing just fine,” she said. “Sorry I can’t applaud, but I’ve got my hands full.”

We cleared the bluff and reached a flat area. …” (214 − 215)

I won’t bother you with the full Japanese of this section because Birnbaum’s translation is basically spot on. He translates the Japanese song “Pechka” in a pretty clever way, but I think it’s clear if you compare it with a performance of the original Japanese that Birnbaum is going for a more upbeat version:

雪の降る夜は
楽しいペチカ
ペチカ燃えろよ お話しましょ
昔々よ
燃えろよペチカ

(Although pechka is a Russian word, the song seems to be a Japanese original by songwriter Kosaku Yamada with lyrics by poet Hakushū Kitahara. Here’s another even more somber version, and if those link fails, there should be some other versions on YouTube.)

But other than that, there isn’t much worth commenting on…until Watashi finishes singing. As you’ll see in this next ENORMOUS section, Birnbaum has cut a number of songs from the translation, and Murakami also makes some cuts. I’ve marked cuts Murakami made in the Complete Works version in red and provided the slightly altered intro to the Girl in Pink’s song in parenthesis. The original text contains all of the following:

「なかなかうまいじゃない」と彼女がほめてくれた。「握手できなくて悪いけど、すごく良い唄ね」

「ありがとう」と私は言った。

「もう一曲唄って」と娘が催促した。

それで私は『ホワイト・クリスマス』を唄った。

夢みるはホワイト・クリスマス
白き雪景色
やさしき心と
古い夢が
君にあげる
僕の贈りもの

夢みるはホワイト・クリスマス
今も目を閉じれば
橇の鈴の音や
雪の輝きが
僕の胸によみがえる

「とてもいいわ」と彼女が言った。「その歌詞はあなたが作ったの?」

「でまかせで唄っただけさ」

「どうして冬や雪の唄ばかり唄うの?」

「さあね。どうしてかな?暗くて冷たいからだろう。そういう唄しか思いつかないんだ」と私は岩のくぼみからくぼみへと体をひっぱりあげながら言った。「今度は君が唄う番だよ」(「次は君が唄う番だ」)

「『自転車の唄』でいいかしら?」

「どうぞ」と私は言った。

四月の朝に
私は自転車にのって
知らない道を
森へと向った
買ったばかりの自転車
色はピンク
ハンドルもサドルも
みんなピンク
ブレーキもゴムさえ
やはりピンク

「なんだか君自身の唄みたいだな」と私は言った。

「そうよ、もちろん。私自身の唄よ」と彼女は言った。「気に入った?」

「気に入ったね」

「つづき聞きたい?」

「もちろんさ」

四月の朝に
似合うのはピンク
それ以外の色は
まるでだめ
買ったばかりの自転車
靴もピンク
帽子もセーターも
みんなピンク
ズボンも下着も
やはりピンク

「ピンクにたいする君の気持ちはよく分かったから、話を先に進めてくれないかな」と私は言った。

「これは必要な部分なのよ」と娘は言った。「ねえ、ピンク色のサングラスってあると思う?」

「エルトン・ジョンがいつかかけていたような気がするな」

「ふうん」と彼女は言った。「まあいいや。つづき唄うわね」

道で私は
おじさんに会った
おじさんの服は
みんなブルー
髭を剃り忘れてるみたい
その髭もブルー
まるで長い夜みたいな
深いブルー
長い長い夜は
いつもブルー

「それは僕のことかな?」と私は訊いてみた。

「いいえ、違うわ。あなたのことじゃない。この唄にあなたは出てこないの」

森に行くのは
よしたがいいよ、あんた
とおじさんは言う
森のきまりは
獣たちのためのもの
それがたとえ
四月の朝であったとしても
水は逆に流れたりはしないものだ
四月の朝にも

それでも私は自転車で森へ向う
ピンクの自転車の上で
四月の晴れた朝に
こわいものなんて何もない
色はピンク
自転車から降りなければ
こわくない
赤でもブルーでも茶でもない
まっとうなピンク

彼女が『自転車の唄』を唄い終えた少しあとで、我々はどうやら崖をのぼりきったらしく、広々とした台地のようなところに出た (377-382)

“You’re pretty good,” she said, complimenting my singing. “I’m sorry I can’t clap for you. That was a great song.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Sing one more,” she prodded.

So I sang “White Christmas.”

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas
With white snowy scenes
A gentle heart
And old dreams
Are the present
I give to you

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas
Even now when I close my eyes
The ring of the sleigh bells
And the bright snow
Fill my heart with memories

“That was nice,” she said. “Did you make up those lyrics?”

“I just sang it randomly.”

“Why do you only sing songs about winter and snow?”

“Dunno,” I said. “Wonder why. Maybe it’s so cold and dark down here those are the only songs I can think of.” I dragged myself from hole to hole in the boulders. “Now it’s your turn to sing.” (“Next it’s your turn to sing.”)

“Is it okay if I sing ‘The Bicycle Song’?”

“Sure,” I said.

On an April morning
I got on my bicycle
And headed into the woods
Down a strange path
I’d just bought the bike
And it was pink
The handlebars and seat too
Everything was pink
Even the brakes and the tires
They were all pink

“You’ve really captured your spirit with this song,” I said.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “It’s my song. Do you like it?”

“I do.”

“Do you want to hear the rest?”

“Of course.”

On an April morning
Pink suits me
All other colors
Are no good
My brand-new bike
My shoes were pink
My helmet and sweater too
Everything was pink
My shorts and underwear too
They were all pink

“I’m starting to understand how you feel about the color pink,” I said. “Do you think you could move the story along a little?”

“This part is necessary,” she said. “Hey, do you think they have pink sunglasses?”

“I feel like Elton John has probably worn some at some point.”

“Hmm,” she said. “Ok. I’ll sing the rest.”

On the road
I met an old man
All of the man’s clothes
Were totally blue
He’d also forgotten to shave
And his beard was blue
A deep blue
Like a long, lonely night
Long, long nights are
Always blue

“Is that me?” I asked.

“No, it’s not. It’s not about you. You aren’t in this song.”

Hey you
You shouldn’t go to the woods
The old man said
The rules of the woods
Are for the beasts
And even on an April morning
Water won’t flow in the opposite direction
Even on an April morning

But I still headed for the woods
On my pink bicycle
On a clear April morning
There was nothing that could scare me
And if I never got off my bicycle
That was the color pink
I wouldn’t be scared
Not red or blue or brown
But proper pink

Shortly after she finished singing “The Bicycle Song,” we appeared to clear the bluff and come to a wide open plateau-like area.

I’ve translated the songs pretty literally without much attention to poetics or anything, so I’m sure there are some places that make the Japanese original seem even stranger than it actually is, but WHAT was Murakami thinking with this passage? I mean, he writes it himself: Do you think you could move the story along a little?

My best guess is that Murakami wasn’t thinking when he wrote these sections and that they are examples of his writing style, unadulterated by any editing whatsoever. It’s clear that he’s trying to use them to connect Watashi’s world with Boku’s—there’s the snow, woods, reindeer (which are kind of like unicorn, right?), and beasts—but it’s just too indirect and never goes anywhere. Far too random to be anything but annoying additions that Japanese readers have to slog through. Ugh. And Murakami only chose to cut “White Christmas” in his edited version!

I’m not sure if there’s anything else to mention about this passage other than that Birnbaum’s cuts are significant improvements.

罰ゲーム Season

Everyone needs an obsession or two. I don’t know how people get by in life without at least one. Well, that’s not totally true. I’m sure there are some dull folks out there who are content to work, watch prime time TV, have kids, and then raise them to work and watch prime time TV. But I don’t think I could do it.

I really shouldn’t knock prime time TV because one of my obsessions happens to be the Japanese comedy show ガキの使いやあらへんで!! (Gaki no tsukai ya arahende!!) Technically it doesn’t run during “prime time.” It airs Sunday nights during the odd block 22:56-23:26, so it’s more of a late show, but their 絶対に笑ってはいけない罰ゲーム (Zettai ni waratte wa ikenai batsu game) special runs in the primest of Japanese times: New Year’s Eve from 6:30 until (the technically impossible?) 24:30.

My latest Japan Times Bilingual page column “The annual pain and pleasure of punished comedians” (solid headline—props to my JT editor) introduces the batsu game special and why it’s so great. It’s probably underrated compared to Kōhaku, but not by much and definitely not by its main demographic (elementary-school-aged boys).

I have two personal connections that sparked my obsession with the batsu games.

I first visited Japan during the summer of 2002, and I have vague memories of seeing the “Matsumoto Rangers” on a news program during the wee hours of the morning while I was suffering from jet lag. Wikipedia confirms that this did indeed air during that summer, but I think I arrived earlier than July/August, so I’m not sure I was still jetlagged…I might have seen a replay at some point. At any rate, it stood out and was funny, even if I didn’t really understand why it was happening.

In 2006 I traveled down to Kyushu with a couple of JET buddies during the holidays, but I made it back up to Fukushima for New Year’s Eve, and another JET buddy and I spent it in Kitakata eating and drinking and flipping back and forth between the fights and the batsu game. It was the police batsu game, which was the first special to air on New Year’s Eve.

These two connections cemented my obsession, and I’ve since tracked down and watched most of them. A lot of material is available on DVD in Japan. If you live in other regions but are Internet proficient, you should be able to find the other episodes. Many of them are available on the YouTubes these days somehow (and fanboys/girls have even subbed them).

I’ve written previously on the blog here and over at Neojaponisme about the batsu game. Most of the YouTube links are dead on those posts but should be relatively easy to track down. I recommend watching at least the 24時間耐久鬼ごっこ (24-hour Endurance Onigokko) (Youku, Youtube) and the 絶対に笑ってはいけない24時間警察 (You must not laugh 24-hour police) (Youku, Youtube). They are classic classic moments in modern Japanese comedy.