“Prize Stock” and other early Oe fictions

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The strangely elegiac horror-story/parable novella “Prize Stock” (“Shiiku“, 1957) launched Ôe Kenzaburo’s career. It won the Akutagawa Prize for the young (born in 1935) writer.

I don’t quite understand why the Shikoku villagers kill their African American WWII flyer, who was the sole survivor of a plane crash nearby. They don’t want to bother to transport him? (or let the region’s townspeople take him away). It is chilling that the Japanese, not just the child recalling wartime, did not consider the black flyer human. Would they have considered an exotic white American flyer dropped from the air human?

The town during wartime lacks adult males (whereas Nip the Bud,Shootthe Kids has no adults at all) It is too small to be a bombing target and the war seems far off to the villagers, who have never seen a black person before. (The captive is only seen through the eyes of a boy, nicknamed “Frog,” who considers him “a rare and wonderful domestic animal.” He treats him as a pet, though eventually turning on him and calling him “kuronbo,” which is not quite as pejorative as the translation in two different translations of the story as “nigger.”)

(BTW, there were no African American airmen in the Pacific theater of WWII, only the European, not that that affects the tale of dehumanization of the alien in Ôe’s story… or the mistreatment of prisoners of war by Japan, which was not a signatory of the Geneva Conventions on POW treatment.  Ôe was himself born in a rural village on Shikoku in 1935 and grew up there during the war. He was an outsider with a funny accent when he went to Tokyo University.)

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“Prize Stock: is engrossing, but gives me the creeps. To a lesser extent, so does Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness. The New Age (après la lettre) Aghwee, the Sky Monster doesn’t. It has some of the urban anguish of more recent work (I’m thinking of A Quiet Life, with its more external menaces and the ubiquitous retarded child to protect, though he is older there). I find Oe a very frustrating writer, yet his work haunts me, especially Echo of Heaven).

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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2 thoughts on ““Prize Stock” and other early Oe fictions”

  1. Perhaps, while growing up, Oe wondered what would happen if such a person dropped out of the sky….? Do you think the movie was merely Oe exploring his own curiosity?

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  2. I think so, especially in that there were no black airmen crashing on Japanese islands. As you know, mistreatment of prisoners by the Japanese was the norm rather than an exception, but usually by adults.

    I haven’t seen the 1961 movie adaptation directed by Ôshima Nagisa as “The Catch” (and Hugh Hurd as the captive), but meant to mention it.

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