Oe Kenzaburo, born in 1935, is perhaps one of the most important figures in contemporary Japanese literature, especially considering his achievement in receiving the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature. Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, written while he was still at Tokyo University studying French Literature in 1958, was Oe’s first novel, and it laid the foundations for his extensive literary career.
Oe’s interest in French Literature should not be understated; Oe was deeply influenced by a variety of Western writers and literary traditions, which led to his primary involvement in the Japanese kindaishugi, or modernist, movement. Not to be confused with the concept of modanizumu or Western modernism, kindaishugi was focused on “an attempt, even though critical and fraught with ambiguities, to revive those same ‘grand narratives’ in order to build a coherent, unitary subject, grounded in history and in national identity” (Suter 23). In addition, many of Oe’s themes and literary methods can be foreshadowed in the kindaishugi’s “insistence on social and political commitment” (Suter 28). Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids exemplifies this kindaishugi ideology through its focus on social and political issues: the animalistic nature of humans, wartime trauma, racism, group solidarity, child abuse, and much more. One fitting example of this commentary is vocalized by Li, a Korean child, as he explains, "They kill each other…the Japanese kill each other. The MPs, the constables and the peasants with their bamboo spears; a load of people hunt down those who’ve got away into the mountains and stab them to death. I don’t understand what they do" (174).
Nip the Buds effectively established Oe’s career, thus propelling him to the heights of the junbungaku tradition, or what is literally “pure literature.” By drawing from both the intellectual and kindaishugi elements of his work (both Nip the Buds and his later novels) along with his role as a major post-war figure, Oe effectively supports a binary that distinguishes between high and low art; he notes a vast difference in both the importance between “true” literature and “commercial” literature. Oe has considered much of this “commercial” literature as “mere reflections of the vast consumer culture of Tokyo” (Snyder).
Having read both Battle Royale and Nip the Buds, it is clear that the two works share many of the same themes and concerns, but, when considering the junbungaku tradition, the difference between high and low art is highlighted. What specifically marks the difference between pure and pulp in these two novels? Can commercial appeal and high aesthetics co-exist, or should there be a separation between the two?
Snyder, Stephen, and Philipa Gabriel. Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i, 1999.
Suter, Rebecca. The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki between Japan and the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2008.