I’ve been re-watching Welcome to the NHK lately, as it’s been a few years, and who doesn’t occasionally need reassurance that at least you’re not that much of a hikikomori. Right? …Right?
This also means I’ve been listening to the soundtrack lately, particularly the incredible and poignant “Youkoso hitori bocchi,” which I always thought was basically Kyu Sakamoto’s “Ue o muite arukou” with about four extra servings of pessimism. Wait, I’m in charge here, so I’ll just embed both for your pleasure!
Anyway, the point is–and if you watched the video above you’ll probably have noted this–I’ve always found the translation of “Youkoso hitori bocchi” a little clunky, so I thought I’d look at the original text a bit. Lo and behold, I found something rather interesting.
The last line of the first verse, “僕の言葉はマシンの中で凍る / Boku no kotoba wa MASHIN no naka de kooru” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, except as an allusion to the narrator feeling like an automaton. But even then it really doesn’t fit with the rest of the song or its overarching narrative. But there is homophone of マシン / MASHIN, written 真芯 (mashin), that instead of “machine” means “true center.” Reinterpreted, the line ends up reading “and my words freeze up in my very core,” which in the narrative context of the song is not only meaningful, but preferable to the original reading since it explains what the narrator is knocking against: the frozen core, which turns out to contain empty space.
I’m not sure if there are official lyrics anywhere, or whether they employ katakana or not for “mashin,” but even if they do I highly suspect it was at least an intended double-meaning or pun.
Anyway, while I’m no professional translator (of Japanese at any rate), I’ll put my version of “Youkoso hitori bocchi” at the end here for anyone interested. The first line is not as literal (since there’s no way to make that image sound good in English), but the rest of it I think is closer. If anyone cares about the minutiae of the other differences, feel free to ask.
Like a canopy of dreams upended,
Happy times are bound to turn stale,
Just as paper rots and yellows with age;
And my words freeze up in my very core:
Knock, knock, knock; I enclose a silent, empty space,
And beating against the walls is a fruitless struggle;
All those important words are left unsaid.
Knock, knock, knock; I enclose a black and desolate night sky,
Facing a boundless universe.
Welcome to loneliness…loneliness…loneliness…
In that city, sinking bit by bit to the bottom of the sea,
Your smile is erased in green shadow;
Slowly you come to accost me only with regrets,
Like Othello, as the light is blocked out.
Knock, knock, knock; overflowing with grief for my fantasy
Mouth and eyes and ears aflood,
Unending media soaks my brain.
Knock, knock, knock; out of this loss of gravity
A deadbeat wastrel has floated to the surface.
Welcome to loneliness…