Japan Literature Part I
Since the 1980s, Japanese literature has experienced decades of great transformation, characterized by contiguity and interchange with other media: manga, anime, cinema, television dorama, Internet. A change so great that writers and critics have repeatedly proclaimed that “modern Japanese literature has come to an end” or “that the history of literature ended in the 1980s”, when serious and committed novels were replaced from the products of the youth subculture. In other words, the novel would have lost its ability to explore moral or intellectual questions and to give voice to that new sensibility which had been at the basis of the construction of a modern country. In this sense the modern novel is finished – argues the famous critic Karatani Kōjin -; postmodern writers are considered more global, less tied to their country, less Japanese. It is therefore more difficult to speak of a ‘national’ literature, zainichi bungaku), such as Yū Miri (b.1968) and Yang Yi (b.1964), or of foreigners who choose to write in Japanese, such as Ian Hideo Levy (b.1950), or of Japanese who write both in their own language and in a foreign language, such as Tawada Yōko (b. 1960).
Also from the point of view of the contents, the discontinuity with the engaged literature of the second postwar period is evident: “for example, the writers who present themselves to the prizes of young talents are not very interested in the gap that is accentuating between rich and poor, in aging population and low birth rates, the environment, the technology that makes human clones possible; rather they seem concerned about maintaining the everyday life of today “(Ozaki 2007, p. 11). The literature of the last decades seems to have lost its function of critical force towards the state and society, as it had previously, to become pure entāteimento (entertainment), entertainment literature.
Of course, from the point of view of literary criticism it is difficult to elaborate lasting judgments on new voices and genres – linked to the spread of mobile phones and social networks – which are a challenge to the very idea of written text. Yet the success of contemporary Japanese literature is undeniable, both in Japan and abroad, where the works are increasingly translated and some writers are well known and followed by the general public.
In recent years there has been a dramatic event in the history of the country, the triple disaster of March 2011 – the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear accident – which deeply wounded Japanese society and changed its cultural context; for literature it immediately presented itself as a challenge in experimenting with new languages and new means of communication. The events of 2011 marked a caesura in Japanese contemporaneity, so much so that today there is more and more talk of post 3.11 literature (san ten jūichi “Three point eleven”, abbreviation used in Japan to indicate March 11, 2011). Writers have begun to question themselves about the role of writing, their commitment and their responsibility as intellectuals in the face of the ‘extreme events’ with which once again – after the post-war atomic devastation – the country had to confront.
According to Health-Beauty-Guides, a line of continuity in the last decade can be found in the success of already established authors such as Murakami Haruki (b. 1949) who with Afutadaku (2004; trans. It. After dark, 2008) celebrated the twenty-five years since his debut. They are followed 1Q84 (2009-10; trans. It. 1Q84, Book 1 and 2. April-September, 2011; Book 3. October-December, 2012) and Shikisai or motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, kare no Junrei notoshi (2013; trans. it. the colorless Tazaki Tsukuru and his years of pilgrimage, 2014). Each time the announced publication of Murakami’s books arouses a lot of anticipation in readers, then registering a great success in terms of sales and, also, of critics. An unprecedented phenomenon in the history of Japanese literature because the writer’s success is global, translated into more than fifty languages, European as well as Asian. The novel 1Q84 recalls Orwell’s 1984 title (because the letter Q in Japanese reads like the number nine) and in the long plot, which unfolds in three volumes, it presents a continuity with the previous works of themes, atmospheres and suggestions. “Some argue that 1Q84 is not Murakami’s most successful book – says the Italian translator Giorgio Amitrano -, but in my opinion Haruki has built a story that progressively attracts the reader to his canvas until it completely envelops him.
The first decade of the 2000s also saw the return to writing of Ōe Kenzaburō (b. 1935), after the decision announced at the Nobel Prize in 1994 to put an end to his long career as a novelist. In 2005 Ōe Kenzaburō released Sayonara, watashi nohon yo! (Goodbye, my books!), The last part of the trilogy that began in 2000 with Torikaeko (trad. It. The exchanged child, 2013) and continued in 2002 with Ureigao no dōji (The infant with a melancholy face). In 2006 the work was published in volume as Okashina futarigumi (sūdo kappuru) (Strange pseudo-couples). In the same year, the writer announced the institution of the new Ōe Kenzaburō award with the aim of reviving written literature in the digital age.