This article discusses four Hamlet adaptations produced in twentieth-century Japan: Naoya Shiga's ‘Claudius's Diary’ (1912), Hideo Kobayashi's ‘Ophelia's Testament’ (1931), Osamu Dazai's New Hamlet (1941) and Shohei Ooka's Hamlet's Diary (1955). Though differently motivated, and written in different styles, they collectively make something of a tradition, each revealing a unique, unexpected interpretation of the famous tragedy. Read as a group, they thoroughly disprove the stereotypical view that Japan has generally taken a highly respectful, imitative attitude to Western culture and Shakespeare. Hamlet has certainly been revered in Japan as the epitome of Western literary culture, but these adaptations reveal complicated, ambivalent attitudes towards Shakespeare's play: not only love and respect, but anxiety, competitiveness, resistance and criticism, all expressed alongside an opportunistic urge to appropriate the rich ‘cultural capital’ of the canonical work.
Kaori Ashizu is a professor of English literature at Kobe University, Japan. Her research focuses on the reception of Shakespeare's plays in Japan, with a particular interest in the adaptations of Hamlet. Her English publications include ‘Grave Relations: Hamlet, Jyuran Hisao's “Hamuretto”, the Emperor and the War’, Cahiers Elisabethains 87 (2015); and ‘Zen Hamlet — Kuniyoshi Munakata's Noh Adaptation of Shakespeare's Tragedy’, Shakespeare Studies 56 (2018).