samedi 17 octobre 2015

Ue wo muite arukou (Sukiyaki) - 上を向いて歩こう (Eng)

Open wide your ears 👂, here comes the world best-seller Japanese song (lone n°1 in the USA, 13 millions sales worldwide) ! Its original name and the one of its first performer, Sakamoto Kyu, may seem unknown to you, but whatever your age may be, there is good chance you already heard it somehow. Its secret ? Traveling incognito with other names 😉...

Ue wo muite arukou (Sukiyaki) - 上を向いて歩こう

Undercover Empress




Version française ici.
1st French version: 30/09/2015.
1st English version: 17/10/2015.
Last update: 18/09/2017.

Story:


Indeed I'm talking about Ue wo muite arukou, most known in Western countries under the name... of a simple (yet delicious) meat dish, the Sukiyaki - quite as if one had exported to Japan "Strangers in the nigth" of Sinatra under the name of "Lobster roll" !!

To understand why, let's go back in 1961: the young singer  Sakamoto Kyu just left a successful band to embrace a solo career at Toshiba Records. His new label launches him with this song, composed by Nakamura Hachidai (中村 八大) and written by Ei Rokusuke (永 六輔), both corporate artists. At first, Nakamura is supposed to sing it himself but the board decides to introduce Sakamoto during a concert of Nakamura. Sakamoto is advised 2 hours before ; he sings it in his own style, in particular by doubling the original rythm, but the result convinces Nakamura to rearrange the song. It is a great hit in Japan, first introduced during a NHK broadcast on the 19th of August, then n°1 in sale from October 1961 to January 1962, beating the records of that time.
It happened that Louis Benjamin, owner of the British label Pye Records was in Japan at that time and got stuck on this too. However, being aware of the cultural and language gap, he only come back with an instrumental version (performed by the famous Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen) that he renames as "Sukiyaki", easier to pronounce while still typically Japanese.
After the success of this cover, the label His Master's Voice releases the original version which become its 6th best-seller at that time ! June 1963 comes, and the original standard crosses the Atlantic thanks to Capitol Records (which choses the alias title "Sukiyaki") and reaches n°1 of +Billboard  Hot 100, the "ranking of American rankings" of the famous magazine during 3 weeks !!


Sakamoto involves himself in a live tour in the USA and Europe. The song will later be covered by many Japanese singers, and by Americans artists too, in English. Thus you are likely to already have listened to it in a way or another: lately, it was inserted in the famous Ghibli studio's animation movie From up on Poppy Hill. It allows indirectly to date the action, by the way. The posters announcing the 1964 Olympic Games of Tokyo put a high limit; in a scene, the heroin's sister refuses to go shopping because she is waiting for an Enka singer,  Funaki Kazuo, to perform on TV, while Sakamoto Kyu is starting Ue wo muite arukou. The family is watching attentively yet the song seems already well known so that it is not the main reason why the girl wants to stay. On the contrary, Funaki just debuted in 1963 so that we are probably between half-1963 and half-1964 ! This is a double reference as Sakamoto's birthplace, Kawasaki, is just next to Yokohama were the scene takes place, 70 years before the movie's release (2011). You can note that the song's title is even written on the Japanese movie's poster; it quite well fits the heros' minds indeed.
Sakamoto Kyu on TV... of a Ghibli animation movie !

If lyrics can be intrepreted in different ways, such as a heartbreak, a loss, it is in fact on the way back from a weak demonstration against American army bases in Japan that Ei told he got inspired, and it is this disappointment tha he tries to overcome at this time...
Anyway, the expressed feelings of resilience and to go on in spite of tears are quite representative of the Nippon spirit, where life is pathed with natural disasters. This and the quite light melody, in part whistled and easy to remember, have certainly contributed to its success.
The song is quite typical of the Kayoukyoku style, intermediate between Enka and what is to be soon called J-Pop. Indeed, the vocal part has still got a light vibrato (melisma) but the instrumental part and the rythm get ride of the traditional codes to tend to something even more Western-like.



Music Video playlist

Several performers of this song, in different languages (cf. Main performers below).



Lyrics and romaji

上を向いて歩こう
Ue wo muite arukou
涙がこぼれないように
Namida ga koborenai you ni
思い出す春の日
Omoidasu haru no hi
一人ぼっちの夜
Hitoribotchi no yoru

上を向いて歩こう
Ue wo muite arukou
にじんだ星を数えて
Nijinda hoshi wo kazoete
思い出す夏の日
Omoidasu natsu no hi
一人ぼっちの夜
Hitoribotchi no yoru

幸せは雲の上に
Shiawase wa kumo no ue ni
幸せは空の上に
Shiawase wa sora no ue ni

上を向いて歩こう
Ue wo muite arukou
涙がこぼれないように
Namida ga koborenai you ni
泣きながら歩く
Nakinagara aruku
一人ぼっちの夜
Hitoribotchi no yoru
思い出す秋の日
Omoidasu aki no hi
一人ぼっちの夜
Hitoribotchi no yoru

悲しみは星のかげに
Kanashimi wa hoshi no kage ni
悲しみは月のかげに
Kanashimi wa tsuki no kage ni

上を向いて歩こう
Ue wo muite arukou
涙がこぼれないように
Namida ga koborenai you ni
泣きながら歩く
Nakinagara aruku
一人ぽっちの夜
Hitoribotchi no yoru
一人ぽっちの夜  
Hitoribotchi no yoru

Personal Translation

Picture from the movie Ue wo muite arukou


Let's walk looking at the sky
so that tears won't fall.
I remember the spring days
In this night of loneliness.

Let's walk looking at the sky
and count the blurring stars.
I remember the summer days
in this night of loneliness.

Happiness is above the clouds,
Happiness is above the sky.

Let's walk looking at the sky
so that tears won't fall.
I cry while I walk
in this night of loneliness.
(Whistle)
I remember autumn days
in this night of loneliness.

Sadness lies between the stars,
Sadness hides in the moon's shadow.

Let's walk looking at the sky
so that tears won't fall.
I cry while walking
in this night of loneliness,
in this night of loneliness.
(Whistle)

Notes of translation

In the French version of this post, bold text is extracted of French-subbed  From up on poppy hill movie, but I didn't see the English-subbed version so here is only my own translation.

Anecdotes, Legacy

The asteroid  6980 is named "KyuSakamoto" but is also a larger reference to this song as it includes not only the "9 (kyû)" of Kyû, but also the "6 (roku)" of Ei Rokusuke and the "8 (hachi)" of Nakamura Hachidai !

It can be heard in the train station of Tomobe in Kasama were Sakamoto spent a part of his childhood and in several stations of Kawasaki of course (JR and Keikyu lines) since the end of the 2000s.

Ue wo muite arukou has even inspired a movie of the same name starring Sakamoto in 1962. Some scenes from this movie are now forming the "music video" you may see in most of karaoke.

It was sung at the NHK's Kouhaku by Sakamoto himself in 1961, but also several times after his death, in particular in 2011 for an hommage to the victims of the tsunami near Fukushima by Matsuda Seiko and Kanda Sayaka


As a matter of fact, this is a song which, like Makenaide by ZARDTomorrow by Okamoto Mayo  or Nando demo of Dreams Come True... , is well appreciated to console and encourage.

Main performers


Affiliated links to CDJapan, with audio samples. Thank you for allowing cookies if you enjoyed the article m(_ _)m.

Sakamoto Kyû (坂本 九) : detailed article here. First performer, it was his first solo tube, in 1961:

Kyu Sakamoto Mermorial Best / Kyu Sakamoto
08/2004: Best of ; inclus ses plus grands succès (y compris de la période Danny Iida to Paradise King): Kanashiki RokujussaiUe wo muite arukou, Miagete goran Yoru no Hoshi wo, Ashita ga aru sa, Shiawase nara Te wo tatakou...


From Kokuriko Hill Original Soundtrack (Kokuriko Zaka Kara) / Animation Soundtrack (Satoshi Takebe)
Animation Soundtrack (Satoshi Takebe)
07/2011: Sa version de Ue wo muite arukou se trouve aussi sur l'album Original Soundtrack du film Ghibli La Colline aux Coquelicots.



Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen: mentioned above, instrumental cover in 1962, a hit in Europe under the name "Sukiyaki".


Marcel Amont : as soon as 1963, the songwriter Frank Gérald adapts freely the lyrics in French  ("Sous une pluie d'étoiles" : under a rain of stars) for the famous singer, who still sings in addition a part of the original Japanese lyrics 👍, plus some reference to the title of Kenny Ball.


Claude Valade : in 1963 too, the young singer from Québec, born on the same year as Sakamoto, rushes on the French lyrics, cutting any reference to the Japanese origin and pacing down the rythm, and encounters her 1st big success. She is quickly imitated by a fellow country singer, Margot Lefebvre.


Jewel Akens: in 1966, the American soul artist translates for the first time Sukiyaki in English, under the title "My first lonely night".


A taste of Honey: this American Disco-Soul band realises in 1980 the most famous adaptation in English of this song, keeping the title "Sukiyaki". In fact, it is a loose adaptation and not a rigourous translation, but they introduced an oriental instrumentation in reference to its origin. Their version hits n°3 at Billboard Hot 100 chart, and 1st at Billboard Soul and Adult Contemporary charts in 1981.
It was widely used as samples in rap by performers such as Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliott, Slick Rick...

Selena Quintanilla Perez: the most famous Latin-American of her -too short- time (assassinated at 23 !) translated and performed Sukiyaki in Spanish in 1989 from the cover of A Taste of Honey: Caminaré Mirando Arriba.


4PM: the American R&B quatuor covered the version of A taste of Honey in 1994. They reached the podium in Australia.

There are also covers in Brasilian, Dutch, German...


In Japan, it was performed live by Utada Hikaru, Che'nelle, Hikawa Kiyoshi, violonist Yukawa Diana (whom father died in the same crash as Sakamoto)...
One can note too the cover by the great Ben E. King by the end of 2011 to commemorate the tsunami of Fukushima, in Japanese !

Royal Straight / B.B. Queens
B.B. Queens : the band famous for their Chibi Maruko-chan theme song covers it in particular inthe album of their reband in 2011. In the 80s, one of them had covered it in solo in a rather blues version.


Kubota Toshinobu (久保田利伸): the famous Japanese RnB singer covered the... English version in 2016 for his Collaboration Best album !


Sources : wikipedia JP, Sakamoto's official website, lyrics.wikia.com (kanji), TV reports...

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