Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Assassination on the Small Screen: Images and Writing in Oe Kenzaburo

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Assassination on the Small Screen: Images and Writing in Oe Kenzaburo

Article excerpt

On the afternoon of 12 October 1960, a young student slipped unnoticed into the large auditorium at Hibiya Hall in Tokyo. He surveyed the stage about ten rows in front of him, and then carefully pulled out the short sword hidden beneath his large overcoat. The brief intermission had just ended and the speaker at the podium, Chairman of the Japan Socialists, the country's largest opposition party, had just resumed his talk. The youth, seeing no security officials in his path, took off toward the front of the hall. Clutching the sword in both hands, he bounded up on stage and ran toward the Chairman, colliding with him at great speed and driving the outstretched blade deep into his lower chest (Sawaki 134).

The assassination of Asanuma Inejiro, unfolding before the thousand-plus audience at Hibiya Hall, was captured by the television cameras recording the event, and within minutes, the video was broadcast to the hundreds of thousands of viewers watching television that afternoon. The shocking footage, played over and over again in the days and weeks that followed, transfixed an already anxious public. Coming after a turbulent political summer, the killing, "the most dramatic scene in television's brief history," as one magazine at the time put it, seemed to document a resurgent right-wing force in postwar Japan, a force eerily similar, in its jingoistic patriotism and its terrorist tactics, to the militarist groups that assassinated Prime Minister Inukai in 1932 and helped end the country's brief engagement with civilian democracy and party government ("Asanuma" 81). When the youth, three weeks later, hanged himself in prison, the networks ran the now numbingly familiar footage as they described his noose (made from torn bed sheets) and his brief 'suicide note' (written in toothpaste on the wall), proclaiming his eternal devotion to the Emperor (Sawaki 135).

Two months later, a leading literary magazine published the first half of a story in its January 1961 issue by the acclaimed young writer Oe Kenzaburo, an author best known now for his 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. This early story, titled "Seventeen" (Sebuntiin), chronicles a hapless youth's radical turn to political extremism, describing in obsessive, first-person prose his growing attraction to the anger-filled ideologies of the right. In the story's second half, "The Political Youth Dies: Seventeen, Part II," published the following month, the boy grows increasingly fanatical. His emperor-centred fantasies, which include an autoerotic fixation on the "floating, golden presence" of his Majesty, expand into plans of political assassination, plans that are soon realized in the stabbing death of a Party Chairman during a televised political speech. The boy is arrested, and by the story's conclusion, his body is discovered hanging lifelessly in his cell, a self-made noose around his neck. An adjoining prisoner, we are told, reported hearing faint cries of orgasm from the boy early that evening. "It was reported," the final line reads, "that the middle-aged officer who dragged down the hanging body smelled semen" (47).1

The story, appearing in the volatile atmosphere of early 1961, set off a firestorm of protest. The publisher received numerous threats from right-wing organizations and OO e himself, besieged by letters and late-night phone calls, found his home surrounded by angry demonstrators. The magazine quickly responded to conservative pressure, driven in part by the growing scandal at a rival publishing house. A few months earlier, the Chuo Koron company had published Fukazawa Shichiro's "The Story of a Dream of Courtly Elegance" (Furyuu mutan), a story that, because of its satirical depiction of the imperial family's violent demise, had sparked strong rightwing protests and calls for the magazine to cease production. The protest over that story peaked in early February when a seventeen-year-old boy, aligned with ultranationalist groups, burst into the home of the publishing company's president, stabbing his wife and killing his maid (Treat 101). …

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