Authors > Introducing five great Japanese writers
Ryunosuke Akutagawa was an immense talent who in his short life wrote over 100 short stories – including Rashomon, which inspired Akira Kurosawa’s classic film of the same name. Interestingly, the plot of Kurosawa’s film is actually a retelling of another Akutagawa story, In a Grove.
Peter Owen published Akutagawa’s 1927 novel Kappa, a satirical fable about a scaly, child-sized creature from Japanese folklore that has a face like a tiger and a sharp, pointed beak. Acclaimed as “a novel of exquisite precision” and “a classic of our times”, it pokes brilliant fun at twentieth-century Japanese life in the tradition of Swift and Kafka.
Kappa was one of Akutagawa’s final works as, plagued by physical and mental illness in his later years, he tragically committed suicide at just 35. Japan’s prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after him.
Shusaku Endo is one of Japan’s most important modern writers; he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times and won many major literary awards. Graham Greene called him “one of the finest living novelists”, and Peter Owen championed Shusaku Endo’s writing for decades, publishing eight of his critically acclaimed novels.
Excitingly, Endo’s work is set for Hollywood stardom early 2017! The long-awaited film adaptation of Silence, directed by no less than Martin Scorcese, will star Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as priests facing persecution in 17th-century Japan. We are releasing a special hardback edition of the book to mark the occasion, so watch out for it coming soon …
Yukio Mishima is another of Japan’s most brilliant 20th-century authors, and in 1960 Peter Owen published the semi-autobiographical novel that is widely regarded as Mishima’s greatest work: Confessions of a Mask.
The novel, which follows a Japanese boy struggling to reconcile the world he inhabits with his homosexual fantasies and deathly fascinations, has been reprinted four times – a testament to its lasting relevance, challenging beauty and surprising humour.
Christopher Isherwood praised Confessions of a Mask highly, saying “Mishima is lucid in the midst of emotional confusion, funny in the midst of despair.”
Sadly, Mishima is as infamous for the circumstances of his death as he is famous for his great literary work. He committed ritual suicide by seppuku (disembowelment) following a failed coup in 1970.
Wahei Tatematsu was a well-loved novelist and environmental campaigner in Japan. His novel Frozen Dreams, which we published to great excitement from English-speaking readers, is a Japanese modern classic and one of the greatest books about mountaineering ever written.
Based on a true story of six men caught in a terrible avalanche, this unique novel mixes the adventure and peril you might expect with a surprisingly intimate stream-of-consciousness exploration of a man’s most important reflections at the end of his life.
Natsume Soseki is often considered to be the greatest modern writer in Japanese history. After a difficult childhood and a miserable time studying in London in 1900 as ‘Japan’s first Japanese English literary scholar’ on a government scholarship, he eventually found great success with his novels and short stories.
Soseki has been cited as a strong influence by many of Japan’s most renowned novelists ever since, and even today the bestselling Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has said that Soseki is his favourite writer.
We have published four of Soseki’s novels, and each of them endures in popularity. Kokoro is probably Soseki’s most famous novel, its secretive and intriguing narrative slowly and beautifully revealing the hidden history within a friendship.
We are due another reprint of The Gate within the month, so we’ll let you know when this “masterpiece of taste and clarity” is back in stock … until then, you can enjoy the others and get a taste for Soseki’s wonderful prose.
Peter Owen is an independent British publisher founded in 1951 continuing the tradition of producing new and interesting writing.
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