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Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011


Death of a sci-fi pioneer

On July 26, Komatsu Sakyo, a pioneer in Japanese science fiction, died at the age of 80. Born in Osaka in 1931, he witnessed firsthand the devastation of World War II. After graduating from Kyoto University with a degree in Italian literature (he wrote a thesis on Pirandello), he worked as a reporter and writer of comic manzai skits before entering a writing contest sponsored by SF Magazine in 1959.

One of the "Big Three," along with Hoshi Shin'ichi and Tsutsui Yasutaka, of the first generation of science-fiction writers in Japan, Komatsu is best known for his 1973 novel "Japan Sinks," in which the eruption of Mount Fuji is the first of a series of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunami that lay waste to Japan.

By chance, the announcement in the book by an American geodesic group of a massive shift in the earth's crust centered on the Japanese archipelago takes place on March 11, with Mount Fuji erupting the next day.

Rather than writing a simple disaster novel, Komatsu wanted to use such a catastrophic event to examine the fundamental nature of Japan and the Japanese.

In his 2006 autobiography he explains that he was motivated to write "Japan Sinks" by the war. Barely 20 years after the Japanese had been united and prepared to fight to the death to protect the homeland, they had hosted the Tokyo Olympics and seemed drunk on their new prosperity.

What would happen, he wondered, if they were faced with a new threat to their land?

A polymath with a wide range of interests form existentialist philosophy to sociology, history and anthropology — he was nicknamed "Renaissance Man" and the "human computer" — Komatsu embodied the energy, positive spirit and intellectual curiosity that powered Japan's recovery after its defeat in World War II.

It is reported that during his last illness, after entering the hospital, he said that although Japan was in a severe pinch, he was convinced it would overcome the crisis. He believed in Japan and the Japanese, and in the possibility of the creation of a utopia in the future.

His long-eyed vision and imagination will certainly be missed, now more than ever.

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