Oshikawa Shunrō

Tagged: Author

Pseudonym of Japanese author Masa'ari Oshikawa (1876-1914), whose Young Adult tales of aristocratic heroes, oceanic Robinsonades and plucky inventors were a crucial element of the Japanese zeitgeist in the Edwardian era.

Oshikawa's stories were leavened with speculative machinery, soaring martial fervour, and a sense of Japan's manifest destiny (> Imperialism). His career spanned a period when the Japanese were seen as "the British of Asia", with a nascent sense of entitlement to colonial possessions, amid speculation concerning the prospects of mechanized warfare. At a time when many Japanese authors were obsessed with pastiching Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Oshikawa clung to a genre form derived from the works of Jules Verne, particularly De la terre à la lune (1865; trans Shiken Morita as Gessekai Ryokō 1896) and Deux ans de vacances, ou un pensionnat de Robinsons (1888; trans Shiken Morita as Jūgo Shōnen Hyōryūki 1896). His "Nankyoku no Kaiji" ["A Strange Incident at the South Pole"] (January 1905 Chūgaku Sekai) posits the ruins of a Lost World in the Antarctic, implying in the process that the south seas are a Japanese sphere of interest.

Oshikawa's signature work is the series Kaitei Gunkan ["Submarine Warship"], beginning with Kaitō Bōken Kitan: Kaitei Gunkan ["Submarine Warship: A Mysterious Story of Island Adventure"] (1900). Strongly derivative of Verne's Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1870; trans Tsutomu Inoue as Kaitei Nimanryū 1884), its shipwrecked narrator finds himself on a remote Island in the Indian Ocean, and witness to the Edisonade of Captain Sakuragi, an inventor and military man who is building the undersea ram Denkōsen ["Lightning Ship"] in anticipation of an apparently inevitable war between the yellow and the white races (> Race in SF). After many logistic and flag-planting adventures, the narrator heads for home with the crew of a new battleship, but is attacked by pirates. Just as all looks lost, the Denkōsen arrives and wipes out the attackers with its superior Japanese technology.

Oshikawa continued to write the series after he joined the staff of the publisher Hakubunkan, working as a writer for Shajitsu Gahō ["Graphic Pictorial"], a magazine enjoying renewed popularity as it reported on the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). Later stories in the Kaitei Gunkan series were mainly written during the national hysteria that accompanied Japan's victory, and contributed to the thriving Future War genre, as intrepid Japanese sailors fight Russian, British and French foes, and explore the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Although he dabbled in mundane fiction, Oshikawa seemed unable to turn away from sf; his "Ōgon no Wankan" ["The Golden Bracelet"] (January 1907 Shōnen Sekai) is a deductive parable set in the exotic occidental otherworld of Great Britain, but still features a meteor shower as its backdrop. His grasp of actual science, however, was never strong. In "Gessekai Kyōsō Tanken" ["The Race to Explore the Moon"] (October 1907 Tanken Sekai Shūki Rinji Sōkan), the inventor Professor Sasayama rushes to win a newspaper-sponsored prize by leaving Earth in a Spaceship he calls an "airship", although descriptions of its "moving wings" make it sound more like an ornithopter.

Oshikawa's creative passions seemed to wilt outside a martial environment. In 1908, a year after Shajitsu Gahō folded, Oshikawa became one of the editors of Hakubunkan's Bōken Sekai ["World of Adventure"], which sublimated Japanese disappointment at lack of territorial gain in Russia into Near Future tales of even greater military glory, scientific Inventions and far-flung cultures. Oshikawa left Hakubunkan in 1911 to become the founding editor of Bukyō Sekai ["World of Daring"], which similarly emphasized sf, adventure and detection, alongside stories of sports prowess. Were it not for his untimely death aged 38, he would have surely flourished again in 1914 with the outbreak of World War One.

The first film adaptation of Oshikawa's work was the silent movie Ginzan-Ō ["King of Silver Mountain"] (1913). He seems to have enjoyed something of a renaissance in a new wave of militarism a dozen years after his death, with movie adaptations of Shin Nihontō ["New Japanese Island"] (1926), Genkotsu Sensei ["Fist Teacher"] (1927) and Tomu Uchida's Tōyō Bukyō-dan ["Daring Pacific Squadron"] (1927).

Oshikawa's modern reputation is largely, albeit misleadingly, founded on Inoshiro Honda's film Kaitei Gunkan ["Submarine Warship"] (1963; vt Atragon, 1965 US). The screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa dropped much of Oshikawa's fervid patriotism, instead adding unrelated material by Shigeru Komatsuzaki from the magazine Kaiyō Kagaku E-Monogatari Kaitei Ōkoku ["Marine Science Picture Stories: Undersea Kingdom"] (1953-1955). These additions included references to the lost continent (> Lost Worlds) of Mu and to its imperious queen, also to be found in the later Anime Shin Kaitei Gunkan ["New Submarine Battleship"] (1995; vt Super Atragon, 1998 US), a Steampunk remake incorporating tales of a Hollow Earth and giant magnetic Weapons.

Oshikawa is rightly remembered alongside Jūza Unno as one of the "fathers of Japanese science fiction", although few readers even in Japan are familiar with his original, turgid prose. Had he lived longer, he might have produced a more significant body of work, or perhaps pursued an editorial career with an influence in his home country to rival that of Hugo Gernsback in America. Instead, he was active for a mere decade, and had little chance to grow out of his martial posturings. [JonC]

Masa'ari Oshikawa

born Matsuyama, Japan: 21 March 1876

died 16 November 1914

works (selected)

series

Kaitei Gunkan

individual titles

about the author

  • Junya Yokota and Shingo Aizu. Kaidanshi: Oshikawa Shunrō ["Devil of a Fellow: Shunrō Oshikawa"] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1991) [pb/photographic]
  • Junya Yokota. Oshikawa Shunrō Kaisōchō ["Reflections of Shunrō Oshikawa"] (Tokyo: Shuppan Geijutsu-sha, 2007) [pb/photographic]

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