Singer has Georgia on her mind

Yomiuri, Japan
Nov 5 2004

Singer has Georgia on her mind

by Ichiro Ue Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Georgia, a small country between Caspian Sea and Black Sea, is little
known among the Japanese. A former Soviet republic that became
independent in 1991, it is still struggling with economic reforms and
beset by regional conflicts.

One Japanese who does know the Caucasian country is 56-year-old
singer Utako Watanabe.

Watanabe first learned about the country through Bulat Okudzhava, a
famous poet and writer who had a Georgian father and Armenian mother.

She described her meeting with Okudzhava as epochal. He had a tough
childhood because his father had been branded a political criminal
during the Soviet era. Okudzhava used his guitar and voice to express
the joys and sorrows of the Georgian and Russian people, and protest
the meaninglessness of war.

Watanabe visited Okudzhava in the suburbs of Moscow in 1989 after she
had heard his “Song of Georgia,” on an old album. Describing her
first meeting with Okudzhava, Watanabe said, “It was as if we were
old friends.”

Okudzhava made an exception for Watanabe, and sang “Song of Georgia”
for her, accompanying himself on guitar, although he had told people
around him he would not sing any more.

She decided to become a singer at the age of 18 when she heard
chanson at Ginpari, Japan’s leading chanson cafe located in Ginza,
Tokyo. Ginpari closed in 1990.

Watanabe thought she had faced some difficult moments in her career
as a chanson singer, but she changed her mind after Okudzhava “became
the guiding light of my destiny.”

Watanabe sings songs about the soil of Georgia and her desire for it
to find peace.

A film about a family in Georgia, “Since Otar Left…” (titled
“Yasashii Uso” in Japanese), received the Critics’ Week Grand Prize
at Cannes Film Festival in 2003.

The movie is currently showing at a movie theater in Hibiya, Tokyo,
and Watanabe will present a miniconcert there Sunday evening during
which she will sing “Song of Georgia,” in memory of Okudzhava, who
died in 1997.