Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Woman in the Dunes was one of the first internationally acclaimed Japanese novels. Though Japanese in detail, it is certainly universal in its implications and was and still is one of the most famous Japanese novels in English. In 1962, it was awarded the Yomiuri Literature Prize in Japan and was made into an internationally acclaimed film in 1963 by Hiroshi Teshigahara, winning the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that same year. In 1964, it was translated into English.

Known as the least Japanese of the Japanese postwar writers, Kb Abe is closer to Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Fyodor Dostoevski than he is to his Japanese contemporaries Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata. In 1948, after having received a medical degree that would never be used, he wrote his first novel, Owarishi michino shirubeni (as a signpost for the road I have come). In 1951, he won the Akutagawa Prize for his story “S. Karuma-shi no hanzai” (the crime of Mr. S. Karuma). Tanin no kao (1964; The Face of Another, 1966) was also made into a film by Teshigahara. Among Abe’s other works are the novel Moetsukita chizu (1967; The Ruined Map, 1969), the play Tomodachi (1967; Friends, 1969), the novel Hakootoko (1973; The Box Man, 1974), and the radio play Bo ni natta otoko (1957, 1969; The Man Who Turned into a Stick, 1975).