Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Bullfight by Inoue Yasushi


Recently published from Pushkin Press is Bullfight by Inoue Yasushi, translated by Michael Emmerich, the story won Inoue the Akutagawa Prize in 1949,  it can't be overstated enough to say how much Pushkin Press excel in the presentation of their books, Bullfight is no exception to the rule, this novella is indeed satisfying to own and to read, which obviously goes some way in tipping the balance in the paper versus digital argument, (if you're having one!). One of the first things that strikes the reader in this extraordinary allegorical novella is that it centres around the staging of a bullfight in Osaka in the immediate aftermath of the war, the book comes with an afterword from Inoue from an older French edition in which he discusses and reflects on the writing of his two early novellas; Bullfight, (his debut), and also The Hunting Gun, although the piece doesn't give any clues away as to his inspiration in choosing to use the staging of a bullfight in this novella, its unusualness lends the allegorical dimension of the novella a greater potency. Although brief the novella deals with some big themes; ambition, post-war opportunism, juxtaposed with the story of a love affair that is threatened to be destroyed in the process. Much of the events of the story are seen through Tsugami, the editor in chief for an Osaka newspaper that is persuaded to take the gamble in sponsoring the fight, initial dilemmas that arise include sourcing the funding to hold the event in the Hanshin Stadium, before it is staged the smell of opportunity spreads to a heavy drinking entrepreneur Okabe, who manages to wrangle shady black market deals with Tsugami's partner, Tashiro.
Pulling at Tsugami's commitments is his fragile relationship with Sakiko, who lost her husband during the war, the relationship becomes strained further as the date of the fight edges closer, which also at times begins to be referred to, in more of a Japanese manner, as 'bull sumo'. From the start it becomes known that Tsugami has a wife and children living away from the city where they were stationed to escape the bombing raids, the question arises of Tsugami's reliability which adds to the pressure of the games outcome having to be a success. Through the tautness of the plot there is some great characterization, in the telling of Okabe's rise into owning multiple companies that have achieved the degree of success that all he needs to do is to turn up and drink to find his inspiration, which conveys a message about the notion of material success, the novella may have been read as an insightful foretelling as to where unfettered opportunism may lead to, and carries a recognisable realism that dispenses with prediction. A potently allegorical novella which makes an essential addition not only to Inoue's presence in English but also to the landscape of post war Japanese literature. 
Bullfight at Pushkin Press


Parrish Lantern said...

Have this sat on my shelf awaiting my attention.

me. said...

I'm sure you'll enjoy it, I crept through it to prolong the enjoyment!. I think that Pushkin Press are to re-issue some of his past translations.