Kb Abe’s background may have been a prime influence in his coming to occupy a central position among Japanese avant-garde writers. Though he was born in Japan, being brought up in Manchuria isolated him from mainstream Japanese life. The sense of alienation and utter isolation he experienced provided one of the most powerful themes that would emerge in almost all of his work. Many of Abe’s sources were not Japanese; therefore, his work appealed to an international audience, and a substantial number of his plays were translated into English and other languages.
Although Abe’s earlier works were relatively structured and linear, they were characterized by social satire, allegory, and black humor. The later experimental plays moved away from allegorical social criticism toward allegories involving dream imagery, and some of the later plays were freely created in rehearsals.
Two themes that would be evident in much of Abe’s later work, the censure of others’ suffering and the rejection of what Abe felt to be Japan’s self-victimization, are particularly clear in this 1955 play, Seifuku (uniform). In this allegorical play, a broken old soldier who wears the ragged uniform of a colonial police officer and is stranded at a port in North Korea in 1945 represents Japan’s colonial experience, which left the nation impoverished and unable to shed its disgrace. In the old soldier, the play depicts the Japanese colonial spirit, which has been broken and is stranded on a foreign shore, unable to return home. All the characters fulfill an allegorical role: the innocent youth of Korea, the conscience of Japan, and the spirit of Japanese womanhood, symbol of hearth and home.
In Friends, his most successful play, Abe critiques Japanese communal values, which he views as stifling of individual creativity. One evening, a family of strangers bursts into the apartment of a man who enjoys his solitude in order, they say, to save him from his loneliness. Although he resists their forced companionship, he is unable to remove them from his home. Finally, he dies, a victim of their aggressive communality. The play portrays the consequences of social pressures and the kind of mandatory communal spirit a communist...
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