Akutagawa Prize #131: Kaigo nyūmon, by Mobu Norio

Mobu Norio モブ・ノリオ. Kaigo nyûmon 介護入門. 2004.

Winner of the 131st Akutagawa Prize, for the first half of 2004.

A hip-hop dude ends up taking care of his invalid grandmother, and narrates it as a shishôsetsu. That tells you everything. It’s classic A-Prize bait: a rambling, stream-of-consciousness non-narrative focusing on a Previously Unrecognized Voice (in this case, hip-hop boys), discussing a Pressing Social Issue (in this case, elder care).

And that’s basically all it is.

You can tell I didn’t think too much of it. Partly that’s because, I admit, I had a hard time with the language – lots of hip-hop affectations. These are only marginally effective: I don’t really dig hip-hop as music, but I can appreciate the complex verbal play, and Japanese hip-hop has been really creative in bringing that wordplay into Japanese. This does some of that, but not on nearly the level of complexity of some of the actual artists (I once translated these lyrics by Rhymester and Scha Dara Parr for a class I was involved with, and they were massively impressive – the lyrics that is, not the translations). This guy’s a wannabe – maybe that’s intentional, or maybe he’s a literary boy slumming or posing (he puts his photo in the book to convince us he’s authentic – he must be: he bleaches his hair!) – and his hip-hop affectations go about as far as calling the reader hôbai (comrade, fellow) and glossing it “nigga,” or throwing an occasional romaji YO.

The elder-care part is very predictable: he’s in his early 20s, has dropped out of the company life, and ends up taking the night shift on caring for his invalid grandmother. He’s rambling on about how he changes her diapers, feeds her, and puts up with his relatives’ lack of understanding of how much work this is. He only gets a couple of hours of sleep at a time, and is always tired and stressed. His mother takes the day shift and understands, but everybody else sees him living at home jobless and thinks he’s just a slob. Meanwhile he had dreams of being a musician, and about all that’s left of them is a dependence on marijuana. Grass is big in this book, but certain things he attributes to it make you wonder if the author’s ever really smoked any…

It’s okay. I’d be happy to read a student paper someday comparing this to Ariyoshi Sawako’s Kokkei na hito (translated as The Twilight Years). But I didn’t think it was a great novel.