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.

 

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.

Troglodytes and Yuppie Ad Execs

In my nostalgic reminiscing about the National Diet Library, I forgot to introduce one of the coolest parts of my new essay over at Neojaponisme, “Murakami Haruki’s Advertorial Short Stories”: While I was writing it, I found another cut in the translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Toward the end of the novel, after escaping from the subterranean nightmare, Watashi heads out to get dressed up for a date with the Librarian. The scene has stayed in my mind ever since my earliest reading 15 years ago, perhaps because of Murakami’s fashion sense: Watashi picks out a burnt orange shirt and navy blazer.

So when I needed an example of Murakami’s attention to fashion in his fiction, it was the first scene that came to mind, and I had a feeling that the official English translation might have been altered by Birnbaum (or his editor).

As luck would have it, I was right. This was like the lamest Babe Ruth calling the lamest home run he ever hit in an empty stadium, but privately I took a victory lap and pumped my arm like Kirk Gibson as I did. Check out the English translation:

I took the subway to Ginza and bought a new set of clothes at Paul Stuart, paying the bill with American Express. I looked at myself in the mirror. Not bad. The combination of the navy blazer with burnt orange shirt did smack of yuppie ad exec, but better that than troglodyte. (342)

And here’s the original followed by my translation from the piece:

私はまず電車で銀座に出て〈ポール・スチュアート〉でシャツとネクタイとブレザーコートを買い、アメリカン・エキスプレスで勘定を払った。それだけを全部身につけて鏡の前に立ってみると、なかなか印象は悪くなかった。オリーヴ・グリーンのチノ・パンツの折りめが消えかけているのが多少気になるが、まあ何から何まで完全というわけにはいかない。ネイビー・ブルーのフラノのブレザーコートにくすんだオレンジ色のシャツというとりあわせはどことなく広告会社の若手有望社員という雰囲気を私に与えていた。少なくともついさっきまで地底を這いまわっていて、あと二十一時間ほどでこの世界から消えていこうとする人間には見えない。 (500)

First, I took the train to Ginza and bought a shirt, a tie, and a blazer at Paul Stuart, paying for it with my American Express. I put it all on and looked at myself in the mirror. Not bad. I was a little worried that the center creases in my olive chinos had started to fade, but I guess not everything had to be perfect. And the combination of the navy blue flannel blazer and burnt orange shirt did make me look a little like a young employee at an advertising firm. But at least I didn’t look like someone who’d just been crawling around in the sewer and only had 21 hours left before he disappeared from the world.

Personally I love Birnbaum’s rendering. It’s so concise. He probably could have better captured Watashi’s hemming and hawing, which is funny because these are the kinds of things he’s worried about just before he’s about to die, but you have to love troglodyte and yuppie ad exec. Just perfect.

This passage is from Chapter 33, far ahead of where I am now in the blog, but I should have more posts soon and be able to extract myself from the endless Chapter 21.

The National Diet Library and Yoru no kumozaru

jpress

Sometimes when an experience is particularly unique and irreplaceable it feels to me like a sort of premature nostalgia, if that makes any sense. It’s qualitatively different from knowing that you likely won’t be able to do something again. It’s calmer, less wistful, and more powerful. And—at the risk of enraging linguists everywhere—more unique.

My trip to the National Diet Library in December of 2008 was one of those experiences. It was a crisp Saturday, and I got up early so that I would have time to walk up the hill from Shimbashi past Hibiya Park and arrive at the library around the time it opened at 9:00. I listened to the B.S. Report on my iPod Mini on the walk, and the area was almost empty of other people.

At the library, I made a user ID and a card, and I put my bag into a locker—you’re only allowed to have transparent plastic bags inside the library. I spent a few hours in the morning researching a random topic (that so far has been inconsequential), and then I had lunch in the 食堂 on the top floor.

I wish I could remember what I ate. I think it was either curry rice or beef bowl, but those feel like a cross between what I would order now and the defaults options on the menu at places like that. They had a transparent display of food items rendered in plastic and a machine that dispensed tickets which you present to workers wearing aprons and hats.

I ate alone. I did everything alone that day. I was lonely at the time, but that day it was a more satisfying kind of loneliness than usual.

After satisfying my need for food, refueling so I could focus again, I headed down to the basement which houses the periodical section and the photocopy request area. It’s full of an interesting crowd. This isn’t like the crowd that you’d see at a public library in the U.S. or even in Japan; those places are often homes for lonely itinerants. The National Diet Library houses everything ever published in Japan, including manga, so there were some serious otaku checking out rarities otherwise difficult to obtain (「今となっては漫画一冊8000円とかするような、絶版の超レア漫画が普通に読めるからいいよな」).

I was there to take out old issues of Shincho from 1992 to check out the original serialization of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. It’s surprisingly short and makes up the first book of the three-book set. I made photocopies but haven’t taken a close look at it yet.

Then I started taking out old issues of Men’s Club to see the original Yoru no kumozaru short shorts. I determined the original order of publication, compared how Murakami changed that for the collected edition, and read the stories that he had chose to cut, my favorite of which is “Hotel Lobby Oysters.” Somewhat insanely, I had color photocopies made of every story from 1983 to 1985, as well as a few random pages I thought were funny, such as a photo spread the magazine did of Yale.

While my photocopy request was in the queue, I had a coffee at the cafe in the library. I have these vivid memories of an expansive area that overlooked the cafe, but they’re blurry, so I’m not sure.

I looked through the second half of the stories in Taiyō, but at that point I had already spent nearly $50-60 on photocopies, which I felt was enough, and it was getting late in the day, so I copied the title story and a couple of the ones that Murakami cut.

When I left it was already dark. I walked down the hill and thought about drinking beer, about the konbini near Nishi-Ōi Station where I would buy the beer, about the apartment I was sharing with five others where I would drink the beer. Everything after that has been erased from my memory—just another night of drinking beer, I guess. Murakami has said that one of the most satisfying things about writing his first novel was when a friend told him it made him want to drink beer. I think that somehow applies to this memory, or the way I think of it today.

I’ve finally gone back through the Murakami short shorts with David Marx over at Neojaponisme and looked at what the intersection between art, commerce, and fashion might mean: “Murakami Haruki’s Advertorial Short Stories.”

After going through the stories again, I’ve realized that there is still one story that I haven’t read! The very last Taiyō short is titled 「最後の挨拶」(Final Message). So maybe I will have a chance to go back to the National Diet Library someday. I highly recommend it as an activity, and I especially recommend the periodical section. Try and have something in mind that you want to take out, even if it’s (just?) the first issue of Shonen Jump.

According to old emails I’ve checked, David and my piece on Murakami has been in the works for five years. I think I was still a bit defensive about Murakami’s career back in 2009 and hesitant to come to some of the conclusions that David wanted to make from a style/fashion point of view, but they’ve become more apparent to me. In the interval between then and now Murakami has put out more and more works that feel like pastiche of his early material…or at least of his writing process, which I think he really crystallizes in these short-shorts.

Art courtesy of Neojaponisme and Ian Lynam.

Embrace

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen

embrace

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil,” part three. Watashi and the Girl in Pink head into the hatch in the laboratory and continue on their way to the INKling sanctuary. Watashi thinks a bit more about feeling detached from his body in the darkness. Then, in the Birnbaum translation, we have this passage:

The path wormed left and right but kept going further and further down. There were no steep inclines, only a steady, even descent. Five minutes later, we came to a large chamber. We knew this from the change in the air and the sound of our footsteps. (212)

There’s nothing in particular about the passage that stands out as strange on its own (other than the further-farther mistake?), but there is a massive cut hidden between the second and third sentences. As we’ve seen in the past few posts, Birnbaum made cuts that eliminated some of the more overtly sexual banter between the two and also Watashi’s warm reaction to a peck on the cheek. The reason for those cuts ultimately might have been because he chose to cut this scene here. The Complete Works edition followed by my translation:

道は左右に蛇のように曲がりくねり、いくつもの枝道にわかれながら、下方へ下方へと向っていた。急な坂こそないが、道は一貫して下りだった。まるで一歩一歩地表の明るい世界が私の背中からはぎとられていくような思いだった。

途中で一度だけ我々は抱きあった。彼女は突然立ちどまり、うしろを振り向き、ライトを消して私の体に両腕をまわした。そして私の唇を指先でさがし求め、そこに唇をかさねた。私も彼女の体に腕をまわし、そっと抱き寄せた。真っ暗闇の中で抱きあうというのは奇妙なものだった。たしかスタンダールが暗闇のなかで抱きあうことについて何かを書いていたはずだ、と私は思った。本のタイトルは忘れてしまった。私はそれを思いだそうとしたが、どうしても思いだせなかった。スタンダールは暗闇の中で女を抱きしめたことがあるのだろうか?もし生きてここを出ることができたなら、そしてまだ世界が終わっていなかったとしたら、そのスタンダールの本を探してみようと私は思った。

彼女の首筋からはメロンのオーデコロンの匂いはもう消えていた。そのかわりに十七歳の女の子の首筋の匂いがした。首筋の下からは私自身の匂いがした。米軍ジャケットにしみついた私の生活の臭いだ。私の作った料理や私のこぼしたコーヒーや私のかいた汗の臭いだ。そういうものがそこにしみついたまま定着してしまったのだ。地底の暗闇の中で十七歳の少女と抱きあっていると、そんな生活はもう二度と戻ることのない幻のように感じられた。それがかつて存在したことを思いだすことはできる。しかし私がそこに帰りつく情景を頭に思い浮かべることができないのだ。

私たちは長い時間じっと抱きあっていた。時間はどんどん過ぎ去っていったが、そんなことはたいした問題ではないように私には感じられた。我々は抱きあうことによって互いの恐怖をわかちあっているのだ。そして今はそれがいちばん重要なことなのだ。

やがて彼女の乳房が私の胸にしっかりと押しつけられて、彼女の唇が開き、やわらかな舌があたたかい息とともに私の口の中にもぐりこんできた。彼女の舌先が私の舌のまわりを舐め、指先が私の髪の中を探った。しかし十秒かそこらでそれは終わり、彼女は突然私の体を離れた。私はまるで一人宇宙空間にとり残された宇宙飛行士のように、底のない絶望感に襲われた。

私がライトをつけると、彼女はそこに立っていた。彼女も自分のライトをつけた。

「行きましょう」と彼女は言った。そしてくるりとうしろを向いて、前と同じ調子で歩きはじめた。私の唇にはまだ彼女の唇の感覚が残っていた。私の胸はまだ彼女の心臓の鼓動を感じることができた。

「私の、なかなかよかったでしょ?」と娘はふりかえらずに言った。

「なかなかね」と私は言った。

「でも何かが足りないのね?」

「そうだね」と私は言った。「何かが足りない」

「何が足りないのかしら?」

「わからない」と私は言った。

*

それから五分ばかり平坦な道を下ったところで、我々は広いがらんとした場所に出た。
(294-295)

The path snaked left and right, branched off on numerous occasions, and continued down, down into the ground. The grade wasn’t all that steep, but the path descended incessantly. It felt as though the bright surface world was being torn from my back step by step as we went.

Along the way we hugged just once. She stopped suddenly, turned around, turned off her light, and put her arms around me. Then she searched for my lips with her fingers and pressed her lips against them. I put my arms around her as well and gently pulled her closer. It was strange to hug her in the pitch dark. Stendhal wrote something about hugging in the dark, I thought to myself. I’d forgotten the title of the book. I tried to remember it but could not. I wonder if Stendhal ever hugged a woman in the dark. If I managed to get out of here alive, and if the world hadn’t already ended, I resolved to find the title of that Stendhal book.

The melon scent of her eau de cologne had already disappeared from the nape of her neck. In its place was the smell of a seventeen-year-old girl. And beneath her smell was my own smell. The smell of my life was ingrained in my Army surplus jacket. The food I’d made, coffee I’d spilled, and sweat I’d sweated. All of it had just fixed itself there and was ingrained. As I stood there in the darkness underground in an embrace with a seventeen-year-old girl, that life felt like an illusion I’d never return to. I could remember that it had existed once upon a time, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever returning to those circumstances.

For a long time we just stood there hugging. Time ticked away, but it didn’t feel like a serious problem to me. By embracing we were able to share how scared we were with each other, and that was most important right now.

Finally she pressed her breasts firmly against my chest, opened her lips, and slipped her soft tongue and warm breath into my mouth. The tip of her tongue flicked against my tongue, and she ran her fingers through my hair. But after ten seconds or so, she stopped and suddenly separated herself. I was overcome with the bottomless despair of an astronaut abandoned in outer space.

When I turned on my light, she was standing there. She turned on her light.

“Let’s go,” she said. She did an about face and began walking at the same pace as before. The sensation of her lips remained on my own. I could still feel her heartbeat on my chest.

“I was pretty good, wasn’t I?” she said without turning around.

“Not bad at all,” I said.

“But something was missing, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Something was missing.”

“I wonder what’s missing.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

*

After five minutes we had descended the slope and came to a large, empty room.

Makeout scene! I can’t believe this was hidden in the original version. It seems much more natural to leave the relationship completely unconsummated: It’s satisfyingly unsatisfying. Kind of tantalizing in a sexy way. It’s more satisfying to linger in the possibilities. She’s also half his age.

Not that the kiss is much of anything, and I do think it’s well written—probably better than some of Murakami’s more recent sexy writing, which has earned him the infamy of an award nomination.

This passage felt very typically Murakami. Experience and interiority overlap. Unlike the previous reaction to the peck on the cheek, Watashi is sent into his associations: by the darkness and embrace into Stendhal and by the smell into his everyday life. Then she leaves him floating in the darkness alone. The astronaut metaphor is nice.

Not much else to say about this one. Hugging and embracing both felt like pretty awkward renderings of 抱きあう, but I left it hugging for the most part.

This is probably the last official Murakami Fest post, but there will be two more posts about Chapter 21. That may seem like overkill, but there’s one more section that gets cut related to this post’s passage and another section that’s just kind of curious and has differences between the Complete Works and paperback versions.

That’s all for this year. Best of luck with the Nobel, Murakami!

Seventeen

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons

seventeen

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” continues. Watashi and the Girl in Pink make it through the waterfall and to the laboratory, but it’s been ransacked like everything else. Watashi is convinced that they took the old man as well until the girl goes into the closet to show him the secret exit. Birnbaum’s translation:

The girl went to the closet in the far room and threw the hangers onto the floor. As she rotated the clothes rod, there was the sound of gears turning, and a square panel in the lower right closet wall creaked open. In blew cold, moldy air.

“Your grandfather must be some kind of cabinet fetishist,” I remarked.

“No way,” she defended. “A fetishist’s someone who’s got a fixation on one thing only. Of course, Grandfather’s good at cabinetry. He’s good at everything. Genius doesn’t specialize; genius is reason in itself.”

“Forget genius. It doesn’t do much for innocent bystanders. Especially if everyone’s going to want a piece of the action. That’s why this whole mess happened in the first place. Genius or fool, you don’t live in the world alone. You can hide underground or you can build a wall around yourself, but somebody’s going to come along and screw up the works. Your grandfather is no exception. Thanks to him, I got my gut slashed, and now the world’s going to end.”

“Once we find Grandfather, it’ll be all right,” she said, drawing near to plant a little peck by my ear. “You can’t go back now.”

The girl kept her eye on the INKlink-repel device while it recharged. (210)

It’s been a while since I last read this book, so I was a little surprised at this point to see that she actually kisses him. I remember her being a horndog, but I didn’t remember any physicality. Here is the Complete Works version and my translation:

娘は奥の部屋に行ってクローゼットの中にかかっていたハンガーを床に放り出し、ハンガーをかけるステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんでくるくるとまわした。しばらくそれをまわしているうちに、歯車のかみあうかちんという音が聞こえた。それからもなお同じ方向にまわしつづけていると、クローゼットの壁の右下の部分が縦横七○センチほどの大きさにぽっかりと開いた。のぞきこんでみるとその穴の向うには手にすくいとれそうなほどの濃い暗闇がつづいているのが見える。冷ややかなかび臭い風が部屋の中に吹きこんでくるのが感じられた。

「なかなかうまく作ってあるでしょ」と娘がステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんだまま、私の方を向いて言った。

「たしかによくできてる」と私は言った。「こんなところに脱出口があるなんて普通の人間じゃ考えつかないものな」

彼女は私のそばに寄って背のびし、私の耳の下に小さくキスをした。彼女にキスされると私の体はいくらかあたたまり、傷の痛みもいくぶん引いたように感じられた。私の耳の下にはそういう特殊なポイントがあるのかもしれない。あるいはただ単に、十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのが久しぶりだったせかもしれない。この前十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのは十八年も前の話である。

娘はじっと発信機の目盛りをにらんでいたが、やがて「行きましょう」と私に行った。充電が完了したのだ。(289-290)

The girl went to the closet in the far room, threw out all the hangers, and began to rotate the stainless steel bar with both hands. As she turned it, there was the clink of gears engaging. She continued turning the bar in the same direction, and a square of about 70cm or so popped open in the lower right section of the closet wall. I peeked in and beyond the opening I could make out a darkness so thick I could’ve scooped it up into my hands. A musty chill blew into the room.

The girl turned to me with the bar still in her hand. “Pretty impressive, huh?” she said.

“It certainly is,” I said. “Normal people would never expect an escape hatch in somewhere like here.”

She came over to me, stood on her toes, and gave me a peck just beneath my ear. When she kissed me, my body grew warmer, and it felt like the pain in my wound also faded slightly. Maybe there was some kind of special point just below my ear. Or maybe I simply hadn’t been kissed by a 17-year-old girl in a long time. It had been 18 years since I’d last been kissed by a 17-year-old-girl.

The girl stared at the charge on the INKling repelling device and finally said, “Let’s go.” The charging was complete.

Interesting. Birnbaum (or his editor) cut the interiority after the kiss. It’s just a peck and then she keeps talking. He thinks nothing of it.

As you can see, though, Murakami makes his own cuts in the Complete Works edition. When there’s smoke there’s fire, so I was super curious to check out the Japanese paperback original for “cabinet fetishist” and to see which parts both BOHE and Murakami cut. Here we go (my translation follows):

娘は奥の部屋に行ってクローゼットの中にかかっていたハンガーを床に放り出し、ハンガーをかけるステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんでくるくるとまわした。しばらくそれをまわしているうちに、歯車のかみあるかちんという音が聞こえた。それからもなお同じ方向にまわしつづけていると、クローゼットの壁の右下の部分が縦横七十センチほどの大きさにぽっかりと開いた。のぞきこんでみるとその穴の向うには手にすくいとれそうなほどの濃い暗闇がつづいているのが見える。冷ややかなかび臭い風が部屋の中に吹きこんでくるのが感じられた。

「なかなかうまく作ってあるでしょ」と娘がステンレス・スティールのバーを両手でつかんだまま、私の方を向いて言った。

「たしかによくできてる」と私は言った。「こんなところに脱出口があるなんて普通の人間じゃ考えつかないのな。まさにマニアックだな」

「あら、マニアックなんかじゃないわよ。マニアックというのはひとつの方向なり傾向なりに固執する人のことでしょ?祖父はそうじゃなくて、あらゆる方面に人より優れているだけなのよ。天文学から遺伝子学からこの手の大工仕事までね」と彼女は言った。「祖父のような人は他にはいないわ。TVやら雑誌のグラビアやらに出ていろいろと吹聴する人はいっぱいいるけれど、そんなのはみんな偽物よ。本当の天才というのは自分の世界で充足するものなのよ」

「しかし本人が充足しても、まわりの人間はそうじゃない。まわりの人間はその充足の壁を破って、なんとかその才能を利用しようとするんだ。だから今回のようなアクシデントが起るんだ。どれだけの天才でもどれだけの馬鹿でも自分一人だけの純粋な世界なんて存在しえないんだ。どんなに地下深くに閉じこもろうが、どんなに高い壁をまわりにめぐらそうがね。いつか誰かがやってきて、それをほじくりかえす。君のおじいさんだってその例外じゃない。そのおかげで僕はナイフで腹を切られ、世界はあと三十五時間あまりで終わろうとしている」

「祖父がみつかればきっと何もかもうまく収まるわ」彼女は私のそばに寄って背のびし、私の耳の下に小さくキスをした。彼女にキスされると私の体はいくらかあたたまり、傷の痛みもいくぶん引いたように感じられた。私の耳の下にはそういう特殊なポイントがあるのかもしれない。あるいはただ単に、十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのが久しぶりだったせかもしれない。この前十七歳の女の子に口づけされたのは十八年も前の話である。

「みんなうまくいくって信じていれば、世の中に怖いものなんて何もないわよ」と彼女は言った。

「年をとると、信じることが少なくなってくるんだ」と私は言った。「歯が擦り減っていくのと同じだよ。べつにシニカルになるわけでもなく、懐疑的になるわけでもなく、ただ擦り減っていくんだ」

「怖い?」

「怖いね」と私は言った。それから身をかがめて穴の奥をもう一度覗き込んだ。「狭くて暗いのは昔から苦手なんだ」

「でももううしろには引き返せないわ。前に進むしかないんじゃないかしら?」

「理屈としてはね」と私は言った。私はだんだん自分の体が自分のものではなくなっていくような気分になりはじめていた。高校生の頃バスケット・ボールをやっていて、ときどきそういう気分になったことがあった。ボールの動きがあまりにも速すぎて、からだをそれに対応させようとすると、意識の方が追いついていけなくなってしまうわけだ。

娘はじっと発信機の目盛りをにらんでいたが、やがて「行きましょう」と私に言った。充電が完了したのだ。 (361-363)

The girl went to the closet in the far room, threw out all the hangers, and began to rotate the stainless steel bar with both hands. As she turned it, there was the clink of gears engaging. She continued turning the bar in the same direction, and a square of about 70cm or so popped open in the lower right section of the closet wall. I peeked in and beyond the opening I could make out a darkness so thick I could’ve scooped it up into my hands. A musty chill blew into the room.

The girl turned to me with the bar still in her hand. “Pretty impressive, huh?” she said.

“It certainly is,” I said. “Normal people would never expect an escape hatch in somewhere like here. You’d have to be a total maniac.”

“Hey, he’s no maniac,” she said. “A maniac is someone who fixates on a certain thing or tendency, right? Grandfather isn’t like that; he’s superior on all different levels. From astronomy to genetics and even carpentry like this. There’s no one else like Grandfather. There are tons of people who appear on TV or in magazines to try and promote themselves, but they’re all a bunch of phonies. True geniuses are fulfilled by their own world.”

“But even if geniuses are fulfilled, the people around them aren’t. The people around them try to break down the walls of that fulfillment and use their genius for something. And that’s why accidents like this happen. You don’t exist in a world that’s purely your own no matter how smart or how stupid you are. No matter how deep underground you dig, no matter how high of a wall you try to surround yourself with, right? Eventually someone will come along and try to expose you. Your grandfather isn’t any exception. Thanks to him, I got my gut slashed, and the world is going to end in just over 35 hours.”

“Once we find Grandfather, it will all work out.” She came over to me, stood on her toes, and gave me a peck just beneath my ear. When she kissed me, my body grew warmer, and it felt like the pain in my would also faded slightly. Maybe there was some kind of special point just below my ear. Or maybe I simply hadn’t been kissed by a 17-year-old girl in a long time. It had been 18 years since I’d last been kissed by a 17-year-old-girl.

“If you just trust that everything will work out, there’s nothing in the world that can scare you,” she said.

“As you get older, you trust in fewer things,” I said. “It’s like the way your teeth wear down. You don’t get cynical or skeptical, just worn down.”

“Are you scared?”

“I am,” I said. I squatted down and looked in the hole again. “I can’t stand dark and cramped spaces.”

“But we can’t go back. We can’t only keep going, right?”

“In theory,” I said. I gradually started to get the feeling that my body was no longer my own. I occasionally had that sensation when I was playing basketball in high school. The ball moved too fast, and when I tried to make my body keep up, my consciousness got left behind.

The girl stared at the charge on the INKling repelling device and finally said, “Let’s go.” The charging was complete.

So “fetishist” is literally “maniac” in the Japanese. I think Birnbaum’s fetishist is a better translation. I left it as maniac to give non-Japanese readers a better sense of the passage. The only other possibility in English is “zealot,” perhaps.

As you can see, Murakami cuts the discussion of genius in its entirety for the Complete Works edition, and Birnbaum has adapted it somewhat liberally above in his version. It’s too bad that the line about trust gets cut: say what you will about Murakami as a writer, in his younger days he did write compellingly about what it feels like to get older.

And it’s nice to see his pet images the well and the wall in the original paperback version.

I wasn’t quite sure about the implications of 吹聴, but I took it to mean “experts” who are always making appearances on TV or in magazines, partly to share their knowledge but also to build their brand.

As mentioned last week, next week’s cut is a doozy. Can’t wait to take a closer look at it.

Hard-ons

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirth, Wasteland

hard-on

Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” is a beast. It’s the final chapter of the first half of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and spans 38 pages in the Complete Works edition yet is only 17 pages in translation. There are more cuts in this chapter than anywhere else in the novel so far, and they are pretty interesting (I’m actually still coming across them—eight pages left to read). So I’ll tackle the chapter a cut at a time over the next few weeks.

In this part of the chapter, Watashi and the Girl in Pink head back to the laboratory under the waterfall to check on the old scientist.

In a way, this is the perfect Murakami chapter. Nothing happens. They mostly just walk. This gives them plenty of time to have conversations and for the narrator to sink into his thoughts. He actually does this immediately: He has no interest in going through any more of this ordeal, so he imagines himself with the girl wearing bracelets in the Nissan Skyline they saw in the previous chapter after getting hamburgers. (Bonus cut: In Chapter 19, page 188, Birnbaum translates the scene as “music” playing from the radio, but Murakami has them listening to Duran Duran – Hungry like the wolf!) He imagines the woman showering and having sex with only the bracelets on and, yare yare, he ends up with an erection. This is funny because he couldn’t get it up with the librarian earlier.

Birnbaum (or his editor) cuts liberally throughout, condensing the interiority and some of the dialogue. Then, as they hike, we come to this passage in the translation:

I was ready to turn back, but we forged on. She knew every step of the way and scampered ahead. When I trained my light on her from behind, her gold earrings flashed.

“Tell me, do you take off your earrings when you take a shower?” I spoke up.

“I leave them on,” she slowed down to answer. “Only my earrings. Sexy?”

“I guess.” Why did I have to go and bring up the subject?

“What else do you think is sexy? I’m not very experienced, as I said. Nobody teaches you these things.”

“Nobody will. It’s something you have to find out for yourself,” I said.

I made a conscious effort to sweep all images of sex from my head. (206)

It works well in translation, perhaps better than what Murakami initially wrote. Here is the Complete Works edition with my translation immediately following. To orient you, although the first line of the following passage is dialogue, Birnbaum rendered it above as narration:

「なにがどうなってもいいから、このまま帰りたくなったよ」

それでも我々は流れに沿って前進した。彼女が先に立ち、私があとにつづいた。私がライトを彼女の背中にあてると、切手くらいの大きさの金のイヤリングがきらきらと光った。

「そんな大きなイヤリングをいつもつけていて重くないのかい?」と私はうしろから声をかけてみた。

「慣れればね」と彼女は答えた。「ペニスと同じよ。ペニスを重いと感じたことある?」

「いや、べつに。そういうことはないな」

「それと同じよ」

我々はまたしばらく無言のうちに歩きつづけた。彼女は足場を知りつくしているらしく、ライトでまわりの風景を照らしながらすたすたと前に進んだ。私はいちいち足もとをたしかめながら、苦労してそのあとを追った。

「ねえ、君はシャワーとかお風呂に入るときにそのイヤリングをとるの?」と私は彼女においてきぼりにされないためにまた声をかけた。彼女はしゃべるときだけ歩くスピードを少し落とすのだ。

「つけたままよ」と彼女は答えた。「裸になってもイヤリングだけはつけてるの。そういうのってセクシーだと思わない?」

「そうだな」と私はあわてて言った。「そう言われれば、そうかもしれないな」

「セックスってあなたはいつも前からやるの?向いあったまま?」

「まあね。だいたいは」

「うしろからやるときもあるんでしょ?」

「うん。そうだね」

「それ以外にもいろいろと種類があるんでしょ?下になるのとか、座ってやるのとか、椅子を使うのとか……」

「いろんな人がいるし、いろんな場合があるからね」

「セックスのことって私よくわからないの」と彼女は言った。「見たこともないし、やったこともないし。そういうことって誰も教えてくれなかったの」

「そういうのは教わるもんじゃなくて、自分でみつけるものだんだよ」と私は言った。「君にも恋人ができて彼と寝るようになればいろいろと自然にわかるようになるさ」

「そういうのあまり好きじゃないのよ」と彼女は言った。「私はもっと……なんていうか、圧倒的なことが好きなの。圧倒的に犯されて、それを圧倒的にうけいれたいの。いろいろととか自然にじゃなくてね」

「君は多分年上の人と一緒に長くいすぎたんだよ。天才的で圧倒的な資質を持った人とね。でも世の中って、そういう人ばかりじゃないんだ。みんな平凡な人で、暗闇のなかを手さぐりしながら生きているんだ。僕みたいにさ」

「あなたは違うわ。あなたならオーケーよ。それはこの前に会ったときにも言ったでしょう?

しかしとにかく、私は頭の中から性的なイメージを一掃しようと決心した。私の勃起はまだつづいていたが、こんな地底の真っ暗闇の中で勃起したところで意味はないし、だいいち歩きにくいのだ。 (282-283)

“I don’t care what happens, I just want to get home in one piece.”

But we continued forth along the river. She took the lead, and I followed. When I shined the light on her back, her stamp-sized earrings glittered in the darkness.

“Doesn’t wearing big earrings like that get heavy?” I tried to shout up ahead to her.

“You get used to it,” she answered. “Same as a penis. Does having a penis ever get heavy?”

“Not really. That doesn’t happen.”

“It’s just like that.”

We continued walking in silence for a while. She seemed sure of her footing and proceeding at a quick pace, shining her light all around as she went. I labored on after her, carefully checking each step as I went.

“Hey, do you take off your earrings when you get in the shower or the bath?” I shouted up to her again so she wouldn’t leave me behind. She only slowed down when she was talking.

“I keep them on,” she answered. “Even when I’m naked. Think that’s sexy?”

“Uh, sure,” I said, flummoxed. “Now that you mention it, maybe so.”

“Do you always have sex from the front? Facing each other?”

“I guess. Usually.”

“You must do it from behind sometimes?”

“Yeah. Sometimes.”

“And there are a bunch of other ways too, right? You can be underneath or you can do it sitting down or using a chair…”

“There are lots of people and probably just as many ways to have sex.”

“I don’t really understand sex,” she said. “I’ve never seen it done and never done it. Nobody will teach me anything about stuff like that.”

“You don’t learn that stuff, you find it out for yourself,” I said. “You’ll come to understand all sorts of stuff once you get a boyfriend and start sleeping with him.”

“I don’t like stuff like that,” she said. “I like more…more devastating things. I want to be taken by someone with devastating force, and I want to take it in with equally devastating force. Not just naturally.”

“I think you’ve been with people older than you for too long. Geniuses with devastating intellects. But the world isn’t just filled with that kind of people. It’s filled with ordinary people fumbling their way through the darkness, trying to live. People like me.”

“You’re different. You are gonna be fine. Didn’t I tell you that the last time I saw you?”

For the time being, I resolved to clear my mind of all sexual images. My hard-on continued, but it was meaningless down here in the pitch dark and mostly just made it difficult to walk.

That last line is fantastic, and it’s too bad that BOHE didn’t find a way to keep it. I guess some of the other stuff is a bit ancillary, especially since there were similar scenes the first time they met when the girl comes off as a total horndog. (Although I am currently unable to locate the piece of dialogue she refers to when she says “Didn’t I tell you that the last time I saw you?”)

I like my rendering of “You are gonna be fine” because SPOILER ALERT we know that the narrator will not in fact be fine, but あなたならオーケーよ is probably closer to “You’re OK…(even if everyone else isn’t).”

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with 圧倒的に犯されて、それを圧倒的にうけいれたいの. And maybe that’s the reason BOHE cut the passage. 犯す gets listed as “rape, deflower, taken” in various dictionaries, so it probably has a range of meanings, and I don’t think the girl is asking to be raped, but she seems to be asking for force. Deflower seemed too formal for her, although maybe she needs formal. Any thoughts?

For the most part, as I mentioned above, the cuts are effective. BOHE keeps the key takeaway of the scene—she brings up sex again—but cuts the unnecessary bits. The penis line is especially awkward.

The good news is that all these posts build up to another cool cut—at least this week and next week’s post do. A very interesting cut two weeks from now, but next week is good too. Join me then.

Wasteland

Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: Warmth, Rebirth

limestone

Chapter 20 “The Death of the Beasts” is another short chapter. This is the section of the book where the pace really starts to pick up. Part of that is because there is a lot of action in the “Hard-boiled Wonderland” section of the novel, but the other reason is because the “End of the World” sections are shorter in comparison. Chapter 21, for example, is 38 pages in the Complete Works, and Chapter 19 was 18. Chapter 18 and 20, on the other hand, are only 5 and 6 pages respectively.

In 20, Boku gets up one morning to the Town covered in snow and decides to go for a walk. He comes upon the Gatekeeper who says he should watch from the Watchtower as he blows the horn. When he does, it becomes apparent to Boku that many of the beasts have died in their sleep. He runs back to his room, his eyes in pain from the morning light. There the Colonel takes care of him and talks with him about the beasts.

There is just one small cut by Birnbaum (or his editor) in translation. Boku asks the Colonel why the beasts don’t move away to somewhere where they would survive:

“Why, I cannot tell you,” he says. “But the beasts cannot leave. They belong to the Town; they are captured by it. Just as you and I are. By their own instincts, they know this.” (202)

This is an accurate translation, but it leaves a few of the finals sentences out, as BOHE is known to do. I’ve marked these in red and kept Birnbaum’s version for the first half:

「それは私にもわからん」と老人は言った。「しかし獣たちはここの街を離れることはできないんだ。彼らはこの街に付属し、捕われているんだ。ちょうど私や君と同じようにな。彼らはみんな彼らなりの本能によって、この街から脱け出すことがけいないということをちゃんと知っているんだ。あるいは彼らはこの街にはえている木や草しか食べられんのかもしれん。あるいは南に向かう途中に広がっている石灰岩の荒野を越えることができないのかもしれん。しかしいずれにせよ、獣たちはここを離れることはできないんだ」 (277)

“Why, I cannot tell you,” he says. “But the beasts cannot leave. They belong to the Town; they are captured by it. Just as you and I are. By their own instincts, they know that they cannot escape from the Town. Or perhaps it’s because they only eat the trees and grasses that grow in the Town. Or they cannot cross the limestone wasteland they would encounter to the south. Whichever the case, the beasts cannot leave.

BOHE has cut the unnecessary verbiage that attempts to grow the world beyond the Town and left the thought on the more ominous ending: They know this. This cut helps the dialogue flow more smoothly as well. Immediately after this, Boku asks “What happens to the bodies?” There’s no chance for him to get distracted about the limestone or the plants. His real concern is the beasts.

Although perhaps it does miss out on the idea that the Town is the safest option for the beasts, that while there are dangers within, outside is more desolate and dangerous.

No matter how you weigh it, this is a minor change. More dramatic changes are coming soon. Next week is the 38-page monstrosity that is Chapter 21, which I may have to divide across two (or three?) weeks because of the length and the number of cuts. See you then.