Akutagawa Ryunosuke Criticism - Essay

Glenn W. Shaw (essay date 1930)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to Tales Grotesque and Curious by Akutagawa Ryunosuke, translated by Glenn W. Shaw, The Hokuseido Press, 1930, pp. i-vii.

[In the following essay, Shaw gives an account of Akutagawa's influences and development as a short story writer.]

[Akutagawa's] graduation thesis was entitled, Wiriamu Morisu Kenkyū (A Study of William Morris).

He was like Morris in his surrender to the fascination of the Middle Ages, but he had none of the practical reforming tendencies of that artist socialist. He has been more aptly compared to Flaubert for the seriousness with which he took his art and the preciousness of his style. And the...

(The entire section is 819 words.)

Robert Halsband (essay date 1953)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Fresh Tales from Japan,” in The Saturday Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 10, March 7, 1953, pp. 59–60.

[In the following review, Halsband offers high praise for the English translation of Rashomon.]

The recent success in this country of the Japanese film Roshomon probably explains why there has now been published Roshomon and Other Stories, by Ryuonsuke Akutagawa. The six stories which it contains need no recommendation except their own merits—which are fresh and striking. Their themes are varied: a pair of stories deal with murder and with seduction and rape; a pair are comic, about a glutton cured by gorging, and a mischievous priest deceived by his own deception; the remaining two relate the robbing of a thief, and the martyrdom of a saintly boy-girl. All are brief and incisive, yet with a wealth of over-tone which enlarges their meanings beyond specific people and places. The sensibility with which they are presented by Akutagawa—who died a suicide in 1927—is cynical and subtle.

Here, obviously, is no pretty-pretty playing with Japanese garden life, but a relentless stripping of character and motive. The rationalization of a ghoulish thief is as bitterly sensitive as the thoughts of an unfaithful wife who prepares to substitute herself for her husband to be killed by her lover. The translation by Takashi Kajima, except for a few clumsy phrases, is clean and lucid; and the volume itself is tastefully printed, illustrated, and priced. The unusual excellence of the stories suggests that more of contemporary Japanese literature deserves publication in English.

Patricia M. Lewis (essay date 1971)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Akutagawa's Rashomon: The Development of the Theme Through Setting and Symbolism,” in Literature East and West, Vol. 15, No. 4, December, 1971, pp. 867–71.

[In the following essay, Lewis examines the meaning of the story “Rashomon” through its setting and symbolism.]

In “Rashomon,” a short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the central theme—the destruction of conventional morality—is skillfully conveyed primarily through patterns of imagery and the setting. Through a combination of casual events and psychological justifications, the protagonist shatters the facade of noble principles that would eventually result in his death by his realization...

(The entire section is 1592 words.)

Makoto Ueda (essay date 1976)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Akutagawa Ryunosuke,” in Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, Stanford University Press, 1976, pp. 111–44.

[In the following essay, Ueda discusses Akutagawa's interest in literary criticism and the representation of the artist's life in his short stories.]

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892–1927) was a writer who could easily have become a scholar or literary critic. An extremely self-conscious man, he never failed to criticize the artist within himself, usually with unforgiving scrutiny. Naturally the basic problems of art and artist are abundantly reflected in his works. “The Hell Screen,” a masterpiece of his early period, centers on a...

(The entire section is 13287 words.)

Beongcheon Yu (essay date 1976)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Flight to Parnassus,” in Akutagawa: An Introduction, Wayne State University Press, 1972, pp. 15–42.

[In the following essay, Yu examines major themes in Akutagawa's short stories, focusing on “The Nose” as the starting point of his fiction career.]


Of Akutagawa's early writings, only a handful—translations of France and Yeats,1 and pieces like “The Old Man” (written in 1914) and “Youths and Death” (1914)—appeared in the third New Thought. None of these writings attracted critical attention; nor did his more ambitious “Rashomon” (1915), which he managed to place in another little...

(The entire section is 10840 words.)

Noriko Mizuta Lippit (essay date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “From Tale to Short Story: Akutagawa's Toshishun and It's Chinese Origins,” in Reality and Fiction in Modern Japanese Literature, M. E. Sharpe Inc., 1980, pp. 39–54.

[In the following essay, Lippit argues that Akutagawa's use of traditional existing stories allows him to shift his focus away from the problems of modern storytelling and instead deal more directly with the story elements themselves.]

Following in the path of Mori Ogai and Natsume Sōseki, writers whom he especially admired, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892–1927) started his writing by rejecting the confessional self-revelation and open self-search which characterized Japan's I-novelists,...

(The entire section is 5796 words.)

Donald Keene (essay date 1984)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Akutagawa Ryunosuke,” in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, Henry Holt and Company, 1984, pp. 556–93.

[In the following essay, Keene presents an overview of Akutagawa's short stories and his place in modern fiction.]

The most striking literary figure of the fifteen years of the Taishō era was Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892–1927). He established his reputation early in his brief career, and even when his style and manner had greatly changed he retained his hold on the mass of readers. His short stories, especially those of the early period, have acquired the status of classics, and are read in the schools and frequently reprinted. He...

(The entire section is 13974 words.)

Florence Goyet (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Akutagawa and the ‘Western’ Short Story,” in Revue de Litterature Comparee, Vol. 65, No. 2, April, 1991, pp. 175–83.

[In the following essay, Goyet contends that Akutagawa's short stories are stylistically and thematically situated in-between the standards of Western and Eastern short fiction.]

The Japanese did not have a special word for “short story” before the last years of the XIXth century. Up to that time, the same word monogatari was used indifferently: e.g., for the Genji monogatari and its thousands of pages, and for the Ugetsu monogatari of Ueda Akinari, tales of a few pages each. Length had never been a criterion...

(The entire section is 3932 words.)