Friday, May 25, 2007

Tie a yellow handkerchief 'round the old koinobori pole

For four weeks in 1973, the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree," by Tony Orlando and Dawn, was the number-one song in America, and today it's enjoying something of a revival.

In the song, a man is riding on a bus on his way back from a stint in jail. He had told his sweetheart to tie a yellow ribbon around "the old oak tree" if she still wants him back. No ribbon means "Keep on walking, buddy."

When the bus finally passes the tree, he sees not one ribbon but hundreds. (You can read the lyrics here.)

Predating the song is a 1971 piece by Pete Hamill called "Going Home." Like the yellow ribbon tradition itself, the ex-con-on-a-bus-looking-for-a-yellow-ribbon theme has a long and convoluted history, which this page explains in detail.

Eventually, a Japanese translation of Hamill's book was published, and in 1977 legendary Japanese film director Yoji Yamada turned it into a movie, Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi ("The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness"), which was a smash hit in Japan and even won the "Best Picture of the Year" award in the inaugural year of the Japanese Academy Awards.

The film's ending is essentially the same as the song's, with an interesting difference: Instead of an oak tree, the sweetheart ties dozens of yellow handkerchiefs to the lines of her koinobori pole.

(And don't accuse me of giving away the film's ending, because that's the scene on the cover of the DVD case, as you can see below.)

In another twist to the yellow handkerchief tale, the Japanese film is being remade as Yellow Handkerchief, which is due out next year and stars William Hurt.

Cover of the DVD version of "Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi."

—Mellow Monk

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