Abe Kôbô (pron. "Ah-bay Koh-boh") (1924-1993) stands out from his contemporaries in postwar Japanese literature in a number f ways. His works differ dramatically from the subjective, ultra-realistic and autobiographical-esque style that characterizes a great deal of postwar literature in general and postwar Japanese literature in particular. The reason for this, it has become customary to point out, probably lies in his relatively unique upbringing. Abe grew up in Manchuria, or Manchukuo as the Japanese leasehold/puppet state was known at the time. As such he presumably did not develop the deep ties to such concepts as furusato (hometown) and the divine emperor , both of which play large roles in the works of contemporaries Mishima Yukio and Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo. Furthermore, Abe did not undergo formal training in literature as did so many of his contemporaries. Instead he followed in his father's footsteps, studying medicine at Tokyo Imperial University. Unlike another famous medical doctor in Japanese literature, Mori Ogai, Abe did not excel in this field, nor did it seem that he had any particular enthusiasm for a life in medicine. It is said that he was allowed to graduate only on the condition that he never practice medicine.
After the war Abe began experimenting with various radical social and artistic theories. Abe joined a small literary/artistic/philosophical group called Yoru no kai (Night Association), and soon after his introduction to its leader, philosopher Hanada Kiyoteru, Abe joined the Japanese Communist Party (along with most of the rest of Japan's intelligentsia) and began experimenting with Marxism and surrealism in his literature. Unfortunately very little from this period in Abe's career has been translated into English, but Abe's youth and idealism comes through quite clearly in what are some of his most (blackly) humorous and outspoken works.
Abe's novels, however, are probably what he is best known for in and out of Japan, despite his highly acclaimed short stories, avant-garde plays (often staged by his own theater troupe, which occupied most of his time throughout the 1970s), and his work as a photographer and sometimes composer. It was Suna no onna (Woman in the Dunes) that first brought Abe to the attention of the international community. Or, rather, it was Teshigahara Hiroshi's film adaptation of the novel that, along with a prize at the Cannes film festival, helped make Abe known abroad. As such this work is seen, rightly or wrongly, as Abe's masterpiece. Certainly it marks a sort of transition in his career. Purged from the JCP only four months prior to its publication in June of 1962, Suna no onna, while not a complete disavowal of Marxist ideology, clearly indicated a transformation of the ways in which politics and ideology would be integrated into his literature. The themes of alienation and homelessness come to the fore. It is in these novels that Abe captures the social impact of Japan's rapidly urbanizing, growth-centered corporate society on the individual. Nor is the relevance of these later novels limited only to Japan, but rather one could see these works as a discussion of the so-called postmodern condition as a whole.
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