The Man Who Turned Into a Stick

by Kobo Abe

Start Free Trial

Critical Overview

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Abe’s The Man Who Turned into a Stick received very little attention outside of Japan. Although it was not a hit with the traditional theatergoing crowds in Japan, the play did receive an outstanding reception, given its surreal and avant-garde themes, settings, and style, as well as it having its main production held in Abe’s small studio that seated only sixty people. Despite the fact that the play was used by Abe at his Kobo Abe Studio ‘‘as a studio exercise by the most junior members of the troupe,’’ it still played to over one thousand spectators.

Donald Keene, writing the Introduction to Abe’s play The Man Who Turned into a Stick, states, ‘‘The play was a popular as well as an artistic success.’’ Keene then relates, in a more general statement about Abe, that besides being respected as a writer

Abe’s commitment to the theatre has gone far beyond creating plays of literary excellence; he is profoundly concerned with techniques of acting, the effectiveness of gestures and speech, even the mechanisms of stage lighting and sound effects[.] He is, in short, a truly professional dramatist.

There are no specific reviews of this play written in English. However, there are studies of Abe’s work written by academics. J. Thomas Rimer, in his book Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions: An Introduction, writes that ‘‘Abe has always been a fashionable writer. His early work, especially in the theater, shows the powerful influence of Marxism, so important in the Japanese intellectual scene during the early postwar years.’’ Rimer also compares Abe’s writing to Franz Kafka’s and further states that it is ‘‘most conspicuously ‘avantgarde,’’’ and adds that his ‘‘literary strategies emphasize wit and satire.’’ Rimer, this time writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, credits Abe with not only changing the face of Japanese theatre but also, through his plays, attracting international attention.

Abe’s protean literary activities during complex postwar times in Japan helped strengthen creative currents drawn from international developments in literature rather than from purely Japanese sources . . . [and] helped attract international attention to issues in postwar Japanese life.

However, Rimer also brings up the fact that, because Abe shed ‘‘too much of the Japanese literary tradition,’’ Japanese audiences regarded him as an inauthentic mirror of their culture. Meanwhile, Western critics paid little attention to Abe’s writing for basically the same reason: ‘‘Abe’s concerns and obsessions resemble those of other contemporary writers around the world.’’ In other words, Western critics expected Japanese writers like Abe to reflect a more specifically Japanese world. Rimer concludes his article by stating that, although Abe may not have received a lot of critical attention in his time, his influence is being felt in a new generation of Japanese writers, thus making Abe’s work a ‘‘harbinger of a broad new Japanese sensibility.’’

Currie compliments Abe’s use of metaphor. He writes that Abe

uses strong, universal metaphors in such a way that they become a basis for his narrative art. By using metaphors, Abe expresses complex ideas not by analysis, nor by making an abstract statement, but by a sudden perception of an objective relation. This relation is expressed in one commanding image.

Many of Abe’s other plays received critical acclaim and won awards. One such play, The Ghost Is Here (1958, 1967), even traveled to East Germany where it played for two years. The Man Who Turned into a Stick was the first play that Abe himself directed.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Essays and Criticism