A translation of “Kimi wo nosete”
Here’s Inoue Azumi singing the song:
Here are the lyrics:
|①||あの地平線 輝くのは||Ano chiheisen / Kagayaku no wa||That glow on the horizon|
|②||どこかに君をかくしているから||Doko ka ni kimi wo kakushite iru kara||Means you’re hidden there|
|③||たくさんの灯がなつかしいのは||Takusan no hi ga natsukashii no wa||I yearn to see the many lights|
|④||あのどれかひとつに 君がいるから||Ano doreka hitotsu ni / Kimi ga iru kara||Because you’re in one|
|⑤||さあ でかけよう ひときれのパン||Saa, dekakeyou / Hitokire no pan||So let’s set out / A piece of bread|
|⑥||ナイフ ランプ かばんにつめこんで||Naifu, ranpu kaban ni / Tsumekonde||The knife and lamp go in my bag|
|⑦||父さんが残した 熱い想い||Tousan ga nokoshita / Atsui omoi||Father left me passion|
|⑧||母さんがくれた あのまなざし||Kaasan ga kureta / Ano manazashi||Mother gave me this gaze|
|⑨||地球はまわる 君をかくして||Chikyuu wa mawaru / Kimi o kakushite||The Earth turns, keeping you hidden|
|⑩||輝く瞳 きらめく灯||Kagayaku hitomi / Kirameku tomoshibi||Shining eyes, twinkling lights|
|⑪||地球はまわる 君をのせて||Chikyuu wa mawaru / Kimi o nosete||The Earth turns, carrying you|
|⑫||いつかきっと出会う ぼくらをのせて||Itsuka kitto deau / Bokura o nosete||Surely we’ll meet / It carries us|
Notes on the translation
The narrator is masculine, using the pronoun 「ぼく」 in ⑫ (line 12). I have not attempted to convey this in translation. The second-person pronoun 「君」 is not as clearly gendered but would be considered appropriate spoken by a male to a female partner.
Notice the song uses several terms for lights:
- 灯 read as hi in ③ meaning a light with the weak implication of a burning wick or torch (from 火, hi, fire, present in both kanji and pronunciation).
- 灯 read differently, as tomoshibi in ⑩, from the verb 「ともす」 meaning “to light”. This strengthens the implication that the light is artificial.
- ランプ (ranpu), which is a transcription of the English word “lamp”, used with two other loan words (パン, ナイフ) to indicate more clearly material and modern things.
The term 星 (hoshi, stars) is not used. While this seems conspicuous, the choice may have been made for metric reasons, rather than semantics. More on this below.
In ⑧ I’ve used “this gaze” to indicate an inherited demeanour and outlook. The literal translation of 「あのまなざし」 is “that gaze”. I’ve avoided this because it would suggest that the narrator’s mother just looked at him funny when he went out the door. There is a similar case in ②. A literal but awkward translation of ① and ② as one sentence is “Regarding that glow on the horizon, it’s because you’ve been hidden somewhere”.
Broadly, the lyrics suggest the beginning of a journey and a coming of age. The narrator refers to a father who is lost and possibly dead, and a mother whose status is even more ambiguous. They have given him what he needs, in terms of intrinsic abilities and attitude, which is romantic.
The narrator wants to be with someone: 君 (“you”). The two could be Pazu and Sheeta from the film, perhaps as envisioned in an early draft of the script, but there is not enough evidence to suggest this in the lyrics themselves.
I can see three branching readings of the rest of the song:
- 君 is a missing person. 君 and the narrator are looking for one another. The central image is of a great distance on the Earth and a landscape upon it separating the two people in a way that is paradoxically both daunting (⑨) and literally supportive: Though they are apart, the Earth carries their weight and, by extension, their concerns for one another. This poetic image unites a rational understanding of astronomy and people’s place in the cosmos with the passage of time as the Earth turns. The glow on the horizon is the dawn. Optimistically, that glow represents a new chance at discovery and reunion. The many lights are stars which remind the narrator of 君’s bright eyes. The depiction of nature, refreshingly informed by science, is mainly positive. The journey is a great adventure, like the film. The only problem with this interpretation is that ④ contradicts it.
- 君 is not missing. 君 is dead. The narrator’s claim in ④ that 君 is present in one particular light places an afterlife in the night sky. The astronomical perspective has a different meaning in this interpretation: The spinning Earth represents temporal existence, contrasted against the more permanent stars, which only seem to move because the Earth itself is moving. The movement of the Earth periodically hides 君 by hiding the stars. When the narrator then says the Earth is carrying 君, that’s a body in a grave. They will meet in death, when the Earth will carry and conceal both of their bodies and their souls will be together among the stars, no longer periodically hidden from one another. Though the narrator uses a volitional form (でかけよう in ⑤) that normally implies collective action, in this reading, 君 merely watches his steps from the sky. The goal of the journey is to come to terms with loss and mortality.
- 君 is not a person. 君 is Laputa itself or one of those Laputan robots who survived the near-total destruction of the castle. Assuming the song actually does concern the plot of the film in its final form, it is possible to interpret the light in ④ not as a star but as the lifting stone entangled in the roots of the world tree, which was not visible before the castle collapsed. This would mean the narrator yearns to somehow reach the ruin at the edge of space. As a fan of the robots, I sympathize. However, this interpretation is hard to support. A knife and lamp will not get you to the upper atmosphere. If 君 is Laputa itself, this interpretation requires unorthodox uses of the pronoun and of the verb 「出会う」 in ⑫ for a non-person. The phrase 「輝く瞳」 in ⑩ would have to be the narrator describing his own eyes a second time. Possible but exotic.
These readings are not easily reconcilable, causing tension. The first appears to be the most popular. I have seen several translators gloss over ④ to avoid having to make the second or third readings at all, thus avoiding the tension.
One possible source of this tension is the poetic license for nonsense. For instance, the song’s glowing horizon hiding something recalls a scene in one of Miyazaki’s favourite books, The Little Prince (1943). In it, the narrator muses that there is a “shining” natural beauty in a desert. The titular character responds that a desert is beautiful because it “hides a well somewhere”.1 The second statement is unrealistic and a non sequitur, but the characters still find a literal well. Miyazaki could have been going for the same style, which forbids meaningful interpretation.
Indeed, the imagery in “Kimi wo nosete” may have been inspired by The Little Prince. The book uses the term “lights” instead of stars when a businessman counts stars, and later conflates stars with bells and flowers. The narrator loves the prince because of a loyalty likened to “a flame within a lamp”, reminding the narrator that lamps are vulnerable to wind. Ultimately, the prince meets an ambiguous fate, dying but telling the narrator to look at the stars because the prince will be in one of them.
While The Little Prince thus has the ambiguity of “Kimi wo nosete”, it does not have the tension. In the book, a coherent explanation is so far out of reach that it could never be achieved. In the song, a coherent explanation is only just out of reach. Consider, for instance, the scene of Sheeta’s descent into Pazu’s arms with her amulet. She starts that scene as a light in the sky, which would account for ④. It would not make sense for Pazu to expect her among the stars later, but he could be remembering that scene.
It is likely possible to produce a coherent explanation by cherry-picking moments in Pazu’s and Sheeta’s lives—or unrelated fictional lives—that would make sense with specific lines. Such a patchwork interpretation would be inelegant, violating parsimony and Aristotelian unities. In the end, a better way to deal with the tension is to preserve it: Assume the narrator is not certain whether 君 is dead or alive ... or a robot.
I posted an earlier version of this article on the Nausicaä mailing list. Quincy Ho contributed this excellent explication of the unifying theory:
Practically speaking one cannot realistically tell whether a person is alive or not if s/he is missing anyway. As such the glows of light at the horizon can be simultaneously a metaphor of the soul of the missing person (if s/he is dead) and a visual depiction of the missing person also holding a lamp looking for the protagonist (if s/he is alive) among many other people who are also looking for their loved ones separated by physical boundaries and distance.
Gratuitous Swedish translation
Just in case you’re looking for a svensk översättning.
Horisonten skimrar där
För att du är dold nånstans
Jag längtar efter de många ljusen
För att du finns i ett av dem
Nu ger vi oss iväg / Jag tar ett stycke bröd
Kniven och lampan i min ränsel ner
Pappa lämnade mig lidelse
Mamma gav mig sin blick
Så snurrar jorden och håller dig dold
Skimrande ögon, glittrande ljus
Så snurrar jorden och bär på dig
En dag möts vi / Den bär oss
Thanks to Kumi Kaoru for bringing up this passage from The Little Prince, which prompted me to read it. ↩