Monday, 16 December 2013

Tales From A Mountain Cave by Inoue Hisashi
This year has seen Thames River Press publish two titles by Inoue Hisashi, Tokyo Seven Roses, (in two volumes translated by Jeffrey Hunter), and also Tales From A Mountain Cave, translated by Angus Turvill, which is a modern take on the classic collection of folktales from Iwate Prefecture - Tono Monogatari assembled by Kunio Yanagita that first appeared in 1912. These folktales come to us from an unnamed narrator who like Inoue Hisashi was living in Kamaishi, Iwate, in the 1950's, the narrator, a student, relocates there to work in a sanatorium set in the mountains as a clerk. Whilst out on a break he walks in the mountains and hears the sound of a trumpet being played which leads him to meeting Takichi Inubuse who is the real teller of these tales. Through personal traits of both Inubuse and the narrator we are informed that no part of the narratives are to be relied upon, but an aspect that begins to emerge in them is that of their multifarious lines of narrative that slowly begin to gain clarity from story to story, the background and everyday life of the narrator, and also very much entwined with the tales themselves, is that of the story of the enigmatic cave dweller Takichi Inubuse, from tale to tale the picture of Inubuse's life is expanded upon and given detail.

There's something about folktales that have an immediacy about them which is at times unlike that of official history, it's probably to be found in their word of mouth nature, we feel that they convey events that have happened, if not to ourselves then to people not too distant to us, and being unofficial they call into question what might be collectively regarded as the actual, officialdom begins to blur. Tales From A Mountain Cave is built up of nine tales located around the Kamaishi area, Tono figures in them at times, the tales also feature much from the history of the area, its mining industry serves as the setting for the tale entitled Lake in which Inubuse recalls being coerced to work in a mine after falling into destitution after the death of his wife, (a story which is given in full in a previous tale), he mentions the similarity to the mines of Sado Island, of their harsh conditions, many of those working there are of Korean origin or from the criminal fraternity. Amongst the miners there's a shared story of a miner who managed to escape and when a mine caves in the workers take the opportunity for a bid for freedom. Inubuse finds himself pursued by Sawamatsu, one of the mines most merciless and pitiless guards, fortune turns when Inubuse notices a hut by the side of a lake whose owner figures from Sawamatsu's past and a vengeance waiting to be served is at long last dealt.

Within many of these stories appearances are not to be taken at all for granted, and in many instances in them the line between the human and the animal merges on different levels and by varying degrees, here it is with the spiritual as well as the physical, (aside from the original, Horse must be one of the only short story's that describes a love suicide between a young woman and a horse), identities morph, in House Up The River which features the arrival of a family of Kappa's whose son starts at Inubuse's school, there are some evocative descriptions of their abilities to adopt human features, despite the tell tale clues: red faces, wide eyes, but also their ability to shrink in size - 'a thousand kappa could hide in the puddle of a horse's hoof print', it's another story that sees the presence of the harshness of the local mining industry, the father's of a couple of the families featured spend their days searching and combing the mountains for signs of iron deposits. Beneath the main of the narratives there are some interlinking clues that bind these stories together, in one we're reminded of the similarity between Kappa and monkeys, and returning to the initial story, In the Pot Inubuse is lost in the mountains, coming upon a lone house in the middle of the forest he lifts the lid on a pot cooking on the fire and discovers something resembling a child inside, but the wife of the household reassures him that it's a monkey, so later we are left with an enigma spanning across two stories, was it a Kappa that they were cooking in the pot?, the narratives combine and intertwine to leave the impression of the multi-layered nature behind these highly evocative tales. Incredible as the stories are they are also given an extended dimension as in, House Up the River where other superstitions and traditions are described and hinted at, and as Inubuse tells his tales, the narrator echoes our suspicions of what is unravelling in the stories and of their culminations, often Inubuse relates the stories to the narrator in the locality of where they are said to have occurred, being placed in their vicinity takes us a step closer to them. A stunning collection that if you've not done so already also inspires seeking out Yanagita's original.  

The translator fees and proceeds of Tales From a Mountain Cave are being donated to post Tsunami projects in the area.

Tales From A Mountain Cave at Thames River Press


No comments: