Friday, 28 February 2014

Kaze wo atsumete . . kaze wo atsumete. . .

I never learned how to speak Japanese, was never formally taught how to speak Japanese, but as a practising ethnomusicologist in my context, I had the privilege of learning about the music of Japan while studying as an undergraduate student, learning about the various genres of traditional Japanese music ranging from nagauta, music from bunraku and the role of the geisha as musicians in teahouses, playing shamisen and invoking iroke or colour/feeling from their performances to the shakuhachi performances from Buddhist monks.  The only other exposure to Japan and its culture prior to that was through my obsession with Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio in the original Karate Kid movies.

After dabbling in some university tutoring and lecturing in the Anthropology Department at my local university between 1998-2001, I trained to be a high school teacher in 2003.  In the same year, Sofia Coppola released a film called Lost in Translation for which she wrote the screenplay and directed.  Coppola won an Oscar for best original screenplay in this film.  Kaze wo atsumete featured on the soundtrack of the film.

The band behind the song, Happy End, is hailed as one of the most important Japanese pop acts of all time.  They were credited for singing Japanese pop songs and have even been compared to as the "Japanese Beatles" - you definitely can see why when you hear this particular track, from their second album.  Happy End disbanded in 1973 but were popular in the Japanese charts from 1969-1972.

Musically for me, the opening bars of Kaze wo atsumete may have even influenced Brooke Fraser's opening bars of Without You, although Kaze wo atsumete has a more deliberate accented punch (you could almost call it laboured) to its feel, whereas Fraser's guitar introduction seems lighter and more carefree.

Even though the lyrics are in Japanese, even when the lyrics are translated, the music reflects the sentiments and feel or vibe of the songwriter's intent in both languages.  The song for me can reflect how people can go through life sometimes on autopilot, going through the motions.  We can sometimes feel so overwhelmed by what needs to be done, that we can easily distract ourselves (can be considered good or bad, dependent on whether you need the break or you might break down) with "people-watching" and observing life pass us by.

At the time, the song was supposed to highlight the sights and sounds of Japan before change hit the city (in more ways than one).  It makes me think about at some point in our lives when we reflect at the end of something in our path, taking stock of what we have achieved, or not, before moving on to more goals and more challenges to further enrich our lives.

Now, whether we face the same issues that Bill Murray faces in Lost in Translation with obligation, duty and just generally feeling "blah", ultimately we can decide the paths our life journey takes - whether we take risks (or calculated risks) for a brief time (special episode I reckon) before returning to the normality that is your world.  I guess being lost in translation means that you have this "in-between" space where two worlds meet and you can't make sense of either.  So lose yourself in that space, rather than trying to translate it yeah?  Sometimes things don't need to make sense.