First published in 1949, Yasushi Inoue’s “Bullfight” tells the story of Tsugami, a harried editor-in-chief of a small evening newspaper who agrees to sponsor a bull-fighting contest in Osaka.
Determined to make the event a success, Tsugami ignores the red flags raised by his run-ins with inflexible bureaucracy and dodgy promoters, and presses on with his mission to ensure the event will eventually recoup the financial outlay he’s committed the fledgling publication to. He’s essentially a one-man band, and Inoue does well to convey the opportunity possible in the postwar years using fairly stark prose: “The ad (for the bull-fighting contest) was like a hunting dog that had broken free from their grasp.” Once set in motion, there’s no turning back and Tsugami is committed to seeing the event through to the end, come hell or high water.
Underscoring Tsugami’s promotional difficulties is his complicated relationship with Sakiko, a war widow who has mixed feelings for her “unsavory” lover and isn’t sure “whether the emotion that welled in her breast was affection or a wish to see him destroyed.”
The 128-page novella won Inoue the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, and succinctly captures the national psyche of the postwar years in Kansai in a stunning literary debut.
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 Tsugami’s forlorn solitude and single-bloody-mindedness. It’s a story that resonates long after it finishes.