The Birds and the Trees


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:

















“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.

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