Kōbō Abe  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Kobo Abe (March 7,1924 - January 22, 1993) was a Japanese writer, playwright, photographer and inventor.



Abe was born in Kita, Tokyo, grew up in Mukden (now Shen-yang) in Manchuria. His father was a physician who taught at the medical college. Abe returned to Japan in 1941 and began studies at Tokyo Imperial University in 1943. He graduated in 1948 with a medical degree, on the condition that he would not practice. He was first published as a poet with Mumei Shishu ("Poems of an unknown poet") in 1947. The next year he published his first novel, Owarishi michi no shirube ni (“The Road Sign at the End of the Street”) which established his reputation. He worked as an avant-garde novelist and playwright, but it was not until he published The Woman in the Dunes in 1962 that he won widespread international acclaim.

In the 1960s, he collaborated with Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara in adapting to film The Pitfall, Woman in the Dunes, The Face of Another and The Ruined Map.

In 1973 he founded an acting studio in Tokyo, where he trained performers in his innovative performance methods and directed plays.

Abe's surreal and often nightmarish explorations of the individual in contemporary society earned him comparisons to Kafka and his influence extended well beyond Japan, particularly with the success of Woman in the Dunes at the Cannes Film Festival.

Kenzaburo Oe was one of Abe's friends. Oe said he thinks Abe's novels are beyond his work and are as great as Kafka's and Faulkner's.

Summaries of selected works

The Ruined Map (1964)

The Ruined Map In order to locate a timid woman's missing husband, a private investigator abandons his own identity.

The Ark Sakura (1984)

Fearing imminent nuclear holocaust, an obese survivalist named "Mole" builds a sprawling, technologically well-equipped shelter out of an abandoned quarry. Challenges mount as the insect salesman and pair of shills that he has recruited as crew members start making demands and an elderly brigade of street-sweepers threatens invasion.

Kangaroo Notebook (1991)

After seeking treatment for a patch of radish sprouts discovered growing on his legs, an office supply worker is taken on a journey through various surreal locales by a hospital bed with a mind of its own.

List of books available in English

See also

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