Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono
Translated by Angus Turvill
After a traumatic upbringing on the seedy edges of Tokyo, 10-year-old Takeru struggles to understand his mysterious new life in rural Kyushu.
Masatsugu Ono is one of Japan’s most lauded contemporary authors. He has received the Asahi Award for New Writers, the Mishima Yukio Prize and the Akutagawa Prize.
Angus Turvill has won the grand prize in the Shizuoka International Translation Competition, as well as the John Dryden and Kurodahan translation awards.
Memory is a slippery thing. As adults, we believe we can call up events of the near and distant past with reasonable certainty, but even these memories can become hazy under the right circumstances. This is especially true for the 10-year-old protagonist of Lion Cross Point, the English-language debut of celebrated writer Masatsugu Ono. Takeru is a quiet, sensitive boy recently taken from the outskirts of Tokyo to the little village of Takenoura on the southern island of Kyushu. Takeru’s mother, Wakako, grew up in Takenoura, but escaped as soon as she could. Her antipathy for the town is the first line we encounter as readers, when Takeru reflects on a memory of his mother’s whispers chafing like dry blades of grass: “I hated it. Detested it. I just wanted to get away as soon as I could.”
His mother is absent for unknown reasons, and so is his older brother, so Takeru is left to settle into his new life alone, hemmed in by the sea and the thick summer heat. He thinks he’s in Takenoura just for summer vacation, staying with Mitsuko, an older woman with some connection to his mother, though he’s not sure about the nature of that connection. What matters most is that she’s kind, and when Takeru asks if he’s only in Takenoura for the summer, Mitsuko says, “If ya wanna stay, you can, as long as you like.” Takeru also finds comfort in the friendship he strikes up with Saki, a friendly neighbour girl a couple grades his junior, an enthusiastic if underfed companion whose father is a sort of benign alcoholic figure at the periphery of their life.
Some local men in town also reach out to Takeru, and he is baffled by their kindness and interest in him. Maybe he is also a little bit wary because of some of the men his mother brought to their run-down apartments in Tokyo—one man in particular, a flashy gangster who regularly beat his mother, and Takeru, too, if he spoke up. But the gangster left Takeru’s brother alone, because his brother was frail and mentally ill, incapable of ever speaking out against the violence. Wakako, for her part, mostly left her sons to fend for themselves, leaving Takeru to take on the nurturing role for his brother. Takeru’s brother is the most persistent memory he has of that other life, that life that mysteriously ended, and his feelings for the helpless, frail older boy are a mix of worry, guilt and resentment. These feelings haunt his new life in Takenoura.
But Takeru may also be haunted by something more supernatural: Bunji, a man-boy of indeterminate age, who appears wherever he goes and often seems to speak inside Takeru’s head. Only Takeru can see Bunji, this ghostly figure
whose spirit is tied to the stark beauty of the Takenoura landscape. While Wakako escaped early and never came back, Bunji seems destined to spend eternity there. He seems to live in Takeru as well, as Bunji is somehow tied to the turmoil Takeru feels about his lost family, and all that slips his mind between memory and dreams.
While Angus Turvill’s heavy dialectical translations of the residents of Takenoura might be a bit jarring to some readers, they gesture to a crucial distinction in cultural and linguistic identity. Everyone in Tokyo speaks standard dialect, while the Kyushu characters are all marked by a kind of country-bumpkin rhythm belied by their emotional intelligence. And Turvill translates the descriptions of landscape—both Takeru’s inner world and the stark, coastal beauty of Takenoura—with a moving poetic sensibility that conveys the story’s loneliness, ambiguity and the glimmers of hope.
More from the translator
Heaven’s Wind (Amatsukaze)
A bilingual collection of stories by some of Japan’s finest contemporary women writers.
Tales from a Mountain Cave
A young man befriends a hilarious cave-dwelling storyteller … but how much of what he says is true?