Thursday, 21 May 2009

We Are Puppets

First up, here's the opening credits sequence of the anime Sugar Sugar Rune, based on Anno Moyoco's popular girls' manga. If you haven't seen it before, watch it now.

Now for some of you, the tune may have set off all kinds of bells ringing, and the more eagle-eared (does that work?) will have twigged it as a thinly disguised pastiche of France Gall's 1965 Eurovision-winning Poupee de Cire Poupee de Son.

Now this similarity should come as no surprise. Chocolat a la Folie was written and produced by Konishi Yasuharu of the Shibuya-kei group Pizzicato Five, and French ye-ye music was pretty much required listening for anyone involved in the Shibuya-kei scene.

What's interesting about Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son, apart from that it's an uncommonly catchy pop tune, is what it tells us when we open it up. It was written by one of Konishi's idols, Serge Gainsbourg, and like a lot of Gainsbourg's songs, the lyrics are multi-layered and subversive (later songs he wrote for France Gall had her singing entirely innocently about oral sex and LSD). In this case, the title, which Wikipedia translates as "Doll of Wax, Doll of Sawdust", contains two puns in French. Firstly "cire" meaning "wax" can refer simply to a wax doll, but also to wax in the context of a record; similarly, "son" meaning fibre or sawdust could also mean "sound", making the song a meta-analysis of Gall's role as a doll or puppet controlled by Gainsbourg.

Elsewhere the line "Voir la vie en rose bonbon" combines the phrase "voir la vie en rose" meaning "to see life through rose-tinted glasses" with "rose bonbon" meaning something that is "pink like candy", foreshadowing the "chocolat" references in Konishi's song and emphasising the singer's youth (France Gall was seventeen at the time) as well as the song's central irony, namely the idea that people listen to songs about love sung by people too young to have experienced it properly.

Interestingly, two years later British singer Sandie Shaw won Eurovision with the song Puppet on a String, albeit with a slightly different metaphor.

Returning now to Konishi Yasuharu, Chocolat a la Folie (the lyrics were by Anno rather than Konishi) projects a rather more self-confident and aggressive image than Poupee de Son, in keeping with the personality of the story's main character. The lyrics also don't indulge in any such meta-analysis, but scanning around some of Konishi's work with J-Pop idols, such as the defiantly 60s styled Route 246 by Fukada Kyoko, a lot of the work he seems to associate himself with is channelling elements of Gainsbourg.

The song Ne~e by Matsuura Aya (lyrics by Tsunku, produced by Konishi) centres round the question of whether she should be sexy or cute, and posits the question, "which do you prefer?" perhaps more at the audience than the unknown boyfriend who is the ostensible object of Matsuura's quandary. On top of this, the video portrays Matsuura as a wind-up doll in a box, perhaps playing on her robotic, doll-like persona. It still lacks the subtlety and multiple layers of Gainsbourg's music, but it certainly nods to the postmodern, meta-analytical theme that underlies much of his work with France Gall.

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