Narratives Of Collapse And Generation: Komatsu Sakyō's Disaster Novels And The Metabolist Movement

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Japan Forum


In the summer following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 2011, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo opened the exhibition ‘Metabolism: The City of the Future’, a major retrospective of the works of architects, designers and critics associated with the Metabolist movement. As suggested by its subtitle ‘Dreams and Visions of Reconstruction in Postwar and Present-Day Japan’, the exhibition provided a unique opportunity to examine the legacy of postwar Japanese avant-garde architecture and city planning, in the context of the serious questioning of Japan's future direction regarding the built and natural environments, life styles, and social structures following the triple disaster. This article examines the writings and designs of the Metabolists, as well as the works of science fiction and disaster novel author Komatsu Sakyō, who collaborated with a number of Metabolist architects in the preparations for the 1970 Osaka Expo. Like the writings of the Metabolists, Komatsu's works, such as the seismic disaster novel Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan sinks, 1973), expose new links between the built environment and the geological and biological environments, pointing to both the vulnerability of the human domain as well as its generative and adaptive capabilities. In the process, Komatsu's works both critique and reproduce elements of the Japanese postwar reconstruction ethos, while offering avenues for re-imagining the future through dramatic inversions of center and periphery. I will argue that Metabolist works and Komatsu's novels challenge us not only to expand our imagination of both construction and catastrophe on a grand scale, but also to see isomorphic patterns and triggering events on the molecular level – a multi-scaled vision that could be generative in imagining the future beyond the disasters of March 2011.


Komatsu Sakyō, Metabolism, Fukushima, disaster

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