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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Inoue Yasushi

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To purchase Bullfight

Title: Bullfight
Author: Inoue Yasushi
Genre: Novel
Written: 1949 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Bullfight - US
Bullfight - UK
Bullfight - Canada
Bullfight - India
in: Combat de taureaux - France
Der Stierkampf - Deutschland
  • Japanese title: 闘牛
  • Translated by Michael Emmerich
  • With an Afterword (1988) by the author
  • Awarded the Akutagawa Prize, 1949

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Our Assessment:

A- : small but ultimately powerful work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 13/12/2013 David Pilling
Independent on Sunday A 3/11/2013 David Evans
The Japan Times . 4/1/2014 Elliott Samuels
The Spectator . 17/5/2014 Lee Langley
TLS . 1/8/2014 Eri Hotta

  From the Reviews:
  • "Beautifully translated by Michael Emmerich, the 128-page novella is a disarmingly simple tale of ambition and entrepreneurial daring set against the background of a bombed-out country struggling to its feet." - David Pilling, Financial Times

  • "Like the brushstrokes of a minimalist painting, Inoueís spare prose picks out visual details (.....) 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. (...) (A) straightforward depiction of urban life expands into a rich, philosophical exploration of human agency and choice." - David Evans, Independent on Sunday

  • "This new translation by Michael Emmerich helps readers follow the motives of the main characters in a straight-forward fashion and by the time the bullfight finally gets underway, we almost sympathize with Tsugamiís forlorn solitude and single-bloody-mindedness. Itís a story that resonates long after it finishes." - Elliott Samuels, The Japan Times

  • "Bullfight is edgy jagged; seething with spivs, swindlers, chancers -- Osaka Forties noir. (...) With Bullfight his explicit and demotic Americanisms do not sit easily with the icy, enigmatic character of the obsessed protagonist." - Lee Langley, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bullfight, Inoue Yasushi's second work, is just slightly more expansive than his first, The Hunting Gun. It centers on Tsugami -- recently made editor, at the age of thirty-seven, of the newly founded Osaka New Evening Post, one of many new publications that sprung up at the end of the Second World War -- and the big project that he is involved in, possibly risking the future of the paper on it: the sponsorship of a three-day bullfight extravaganza in the Hanshin region. The bullfighting of the story is not of the Spanish man-versus-beast sort; instead, bulls are pitted against one another in this "Iyo bull sumo". A regional specialty in W., Tsugami is talked into bringing the show to town by entrepreneur Tashiro, the paper splitting the proceeds with him.
       Bullfight describes the build-up to the big event, following Tsugami's efforts to make a success of it from the time it is announced to, a month later, the final bullfight. From the organizational aspects -- many of which are handled by Tashiro -- to the coverage in the newspaper to the bureaucracy they have to deal with to the constant struggle to finance such a huge undertaking, the story putters along nicely, providing an intriguing glimpse of post-war Japan and how various characters deal with the opportunities of the times. Among the people Tsugami deals with is the rather shady Okabe, who likes to chat and drink but somehow manages to be extremely efficient and profits from every situation that arises, cleverly circumventing the law and regulations where he has to. Tsugami also deals with a brash up-and-comer, Miura, who is making his fortune in breath fresheners and makes an offer that would on the one hand guarantee Tsugami and his paper make at least some profit on the bullfights, but would also cut into the potential profits -- and would mean sharing some of the success (if there is any ...).
       Though married with two children, Tsugami's family doesn't figure at all in the novel; instead, he is in an uneasy relationship with the young widow Sakiko, with them constantly on the verge of breaking up. As he prepares for the bullfights, Tsugami has even less time for her, and not surprisingly the novella also builds towards a climax in this domestic arena, to go along with the bullfights in Hanshin Stadium.
       The newspaper Tsugami has put his imprint on is at one point described as:

"a paper for the slightly unsavory intellectual" [...]. A sensitive poet type would undoubtedly have been able to point out a certain shadow of emptiness, of devil-may-care negligence, of loneliness darkening the pages of a paper that was popular among smart city kids. These were qualities that Tsugami, who gave the paper its editorial direction, carried within himself, though he kept them carefully concealed.
       Of course, even as he tries to conceal these qualities over the course of the novel they come very much to the fore, both in how he handles the bullfight-extravaganza -- a mix of recklessness and professionalism on display -- and in his relationship with Sakiko.
       The preparations for the bullfight consume Tsugami:
     Sakiko understood now how overworked and frazzled he was. At the same time, she didnít fail to notice that despite his dejected tone, he was also -- in a manner entirely characteristic of him -- feeling a bit giddy, inextricably caught up as he was in these rather shady business dealings, the not-quite-right incidents, all so emblematic of this confused age, fighting against the odds to make things work.
       With so much invested in it -- and not just money -- the actual three-day-event has a lot to live up to -- but, not surprisingly, expectations turn out to be hard to fulfill. So also it really shouldn't come as that much of a surprise that in the end Tsugami finds:
How enormously different reality was. And yet still he kept everything at armís length, himself included, turning a detached gaze on all he saw.
       As he realizes -- too late:
Itís not which bull wins and which loses that they want to see decided, itís whether they themselves have won or lost.
       Much of Bullfight reads exactly as one might expect -- like a talented author's early work, in which he tries some things out but for the most part proceeds carefully and precisely. It seems a simple, almost mundane story -- let's put on a show ! -- made more interesting by the exotic locale, period, and promised spectacle (bulls fighting !). As it turns out, the bullfighting is the least of it -- indeed, the actual bullfights are entirely anticlimactic -- but Inoue has subtlely, quietly worked his story in such a way as to bring it to a powerful, moving conclusion. The story is not one in which the build-up is obvious, nor does he fall back on any cheap tricks to make for a sensational ending, and yet with its final blows of striking simplicity he completes an affecting, resonant, and deeply sad tale.
       Bullfight features a rich cast of characters, and even as they are mostly just glimpsed rather than followed closely, they are far from one-dimensional or flat. At times one might wish for more exposition, because there is so much potential material her -- but Inoue knew what he was doing. Already in this early work he writes with a very sure hand, but perhaps even more impressively he unfolds his story to best effect, the deceptively simple tale ultimately going much further than could have been expected.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 September 2013

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Bullfight: Reviews: Inoue Yasushi: Other books by Inoue Yasushi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Inoue Yasushi (井上 靖) lived 1907 to 1991.

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© 2013-2015 the complete review

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