Pushkin Press £12
Paperback review: Bullfight, by Yasushi Inoue
Translated By Michael Emmerich
Sunday 03 November 2013
First published in 1949, Yasushi Inoue’s superb novella tells the story of Tsugami, a newspaper editor who agrees to sponsor an exhibition of “Bull Sumo” – a traditional, bloodless form of bullfighting – in Osaka. Determined to make the event a success, he presses on despite bureaucratic culs-de-sac and the involvement of shady promoters. Meanwhile, his relationship with his war-widow mistress, Sakiko, begins to suffer.
Like the brushstrokes of a minimalist painting, Inoue’s spare prose picks out visual details: “the steam rising from the bodies” of the duelling bulls; a deserted factory resembling “a shipwrecked boat with its steel beams jutting up into the sky”; a road like a “gash in the burned-out ruins”. But if Inoue captures the desolate urban landscapes of 1940s Japan, his real interest lies deeper, in the effects of war on the national psyche.
With a mixture of empathy and ironic detachment, Inoue examines his protagonist’s motivation in staging the bullfight. At times he suggests that Tsugami wants simply to boost the morale of a beaten populace – “in these postwar days, perhaps [a bullfight] was just the sort of thing the Japanese needed if they were going to keep struggling through their lives”. At others, Tsugami’s obsession with the project seems a mystery even to himself: he is driven by a “feeling he could not define”. As in Akira Kurosawa’s films of the same period – Drunken Angel (1948) and Stray Dog (1949) – a straightforward depiction of urban life expands into a rich, philosophical exploration of human agency and choice.
Bullfight won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, and gave impetus to the author’s prolific career. Pushkin Press has performed a valuable service in making this great work available in English.
TVJamie's Sugar Rush reveal's campaigning chef's new foe
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Three million books were judged by their covers - this is what happened
The Gamechangers trailer: Daniel Radcliffe stars in GTA movie
Joan Aiken: Today's Google Doodle celebrates life of British fantasy novelist
Photographer captures the beauty and intensity of his girlfriend giving birth at home
Jamie’s Sugar Rush, TV review: Defeated by school dinners, Oliver takes on a new enemy
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees