Thursday, June 9, 2011

Country Girl

Hiroko Taniyama - Country Girl (1980)
Music/Lyric: Hiroko Taniyama

Hiroko Taniyama has a very distinctive voice. It's a bit like the sort of voice one might expect from a cartoon character. A lot of her lyrics have a bit of a fairy-tale feel to them (there's actually a Japanese adjective for this: Meruhenchikku, from the German Maerchen, or fairy tale). The subject matter of "Country Girl" is a bit more mundane than the typical fairy tale, but it still kind of feels like one. Taniyama's cartoonish voice doesn't work for all of her songs, but I think it works really well for this story about a country girl in the big city:

Nigiyaka na tokai no keshiki wa
Kawaru mangekyou
Itsu de mo kimi o odorakaseru
Nanairo purizumu
The bustling city scenes
Are an ever-changing kaleidoscope,
Always surprising you,
A seven-colored prism.
Kimi wa ofuro no sukaato
Hajirau you ni
Sore de mo hitomi o kagayakasete
Machi o aruiteta ne
Your secondhand skirt
Embarasses you,
But you walk through the streets,
Eyes sparkling.
[Chorus]:
Kantorii gaaru kimi no me no naka de
Yuuyake ga moeru
Kantorii gaaru kimi no hohoemi ni
Sougen no nioi ga suru
Suki da yo
Country girl,
The sunset shines in your eyes.
Country girl,
Your smile reminds me of the prairie.
I love you.
Tomadoigachi no kimi no shisen ga
Itsumo oikakeru no wa
Nagai tabako no kiza ni kuwaeta
Wakai otoko datta
Your uncertain gaze
Is always chasing after a young man,
Who smokes a long cigarette
Just for show.
Soitsu ga aru hi kimi ni tewatashita
Aoi fuutou
Tegami no naka ni kakareteita no wa
Konna serifu datta ne
One day, he handed you
A blue envelope
In the letter it contained,
These words were written:
[Repeat chorus]

Aitsu ga kimi wo suteta no wa
Tatta nanokame no koto
Kesshou no umai oshare na musume ni
Sassa to norikaeta no sa
It was only seven days
Until he threw you away.
He quickly traded you
For a fashionable girl in makeup.
Kimi wa kagami ni utsutta
Jibun no kao ni mukatte
Aitsu ga kureta itsuka no kotoba o
Nakinagara tubuyaiteta ne
You looked at the reflection
Of your face in the mirror,
Crying and murmuring
The words he would say to you:
[Repeat chorus]

Boku wa hajime kara owari made
Kimi o mite ita
Makka na ruuju sotto hiite mite
Sugu ni fukitotta no mo
From the beginning until the end,
I have been watching you.
When you first tried on red lipstick,
And then soon wiped it off.
Ima sugu ushiro o furikaere
Boku wa koko ni iru yo
Boku ga kaita ano tegami no kotoba o
Mou ichido kimi ni okurou
Hurry and look behind you,
I am here.
Once again I will speak to you
The words in the letter I wrote:
[Repeat chorus]
This isn't really obvious from the English translation, but it's clear in the original Japanese (which has sex-specific first-person pronouns) that Taniyama is taking the part of a man in the last few verses of the song. All of them, really, but this isn't made clear at the end. This doesn't seem to be all that unusual in Japanese songs. It's quite common for a woman to cover a song written for a man and not change the lyric to make it more appropriate for a woman, even when it could easily be done without messing up the meter. For example, Hiroko Taniyama's cover of Takao Kisugi's "Dream in Progress" is every bit as male-narrated as the original, despite the fact that two lines of the first verse were entirely rewritten.

I can't think of as many examples, but this does happen in reverse as well. Check out Hideki Tokunaga's cover of Akiko Kobayashi's "Fall in Love," in which he sings the line "I'm just a woman, fall[ing] in love" (money shot at 1:35).

It's somewhat less common, I think, for the original version of the song not to fit the singer's sex, but it does happen. I might be able to BS my way through some hand-wavy explanation about how this has its roots in the tradition of Noh plays being performed by all-male casts, but the bottom line is that I don't know why they do it that way.

I don't know what the deal with the letter in the song is. I don't think it's a translation issue; it's just not very clear in the original how it is that the cad came into possession of the letter written by the narrator. Maybe it was a Cyrano-de-Bergerac-type thing?

I love the word mangekyou (kaleidoscope). The literal etymology is "Ten-thousand flower mirror."

Notes on translation: No major difficulties. There were a few expressions that I couldn't translate into English as elegantly as I would have liked, but other than that it was fairly straightforward.

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