Yearbook Japan, 2019, vol. 48, pp. 437–462

DOI: 10.24411/0235-8182-2019-10018

Dazai Osamu’s “New Hamlet”: A “confessional” adaptation of the classical story

E.S. Shorokhova

Abstract. Dazai Osamu is recognized as the classic of modern Japanese literature and one of the most outstanding authors of I-novel (watakushi sho:setsu) genre. Like Shiga Naoya and Kobayashi Hideo, Osamu was trying to find some new literature plots to express his usual existential experiences, so he used some classical Western stories quite often. Dazai took Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ for his story and managed to reverse a lot of original plot details and also managed to create some kind of literature phenomenon which can be called ‘I-closet drama’ (‘confessional’ closet drama). This publication is dedicated to the analysis of literature features of Osamu’s play in the wide context of comparison with the classical Western story and in the specific context of ‘confessional’ features of Dazai Osamu’s literature art. As Okuno Takeo was noticing, ‘New Hamlet’ has more common features with the original story than any other adaptation: the plot and main characters are almost the same. But the image of the ‘new’ Hamlet is personifying all of the philosophical and personal issues which are one of the key points of Osamu’s literature: inability of self-determination, the problem of ‘buffoonery’ as the only way of communication with the world, the problem of suspiciousness and complete lack of trust for people. Unlike Shakespeare’s ‘slow’, ‘hesitant’ and ‘spineless’ Hamlet who finds the reasons of his philosophical dissonance in inability of ‘tuning’ the reality under his moral principles, Dazai’s ‘new Hamlet’ did not even try to ‘tune’ the reality: the only and the most important problem for him was his own personality, his own ‘I’. Any changes in the world around him seemed totally impossible. He thought his main ‘mission’ was being a clown, using the buffoonery which, as Kamei Katsuichiro points, is one of the main ways of ‘serving people’ and also the only possible way to love them. In other words, the portrait of Osamu’s ‘new’ Hamlet continues the gallery of typical ‘anti-hero’ portraits of the writer’s art. Many critics pointed that these ‘anti-heroes’ are nothing else but some kind of confessional expression of Dazai’s true feelings and personal issues. But, in the opinion of Ando Hiroshi and Kamei Katsuichiro, the main ‘confessional’ concept of Osamu’s literature is actually a deliberate falsification based on the metamorphose of the writer’s multiple literature ‘I’.

Keywords: Dazai Osamu, watakushi sho:setsu, Hamlet, adaptation, confessional features, universal hero.

Author: Shorokhova Ellina S., research student, Tokyo University. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Contents of the issue: Yearbook Japan, 2019, Vol. 48.