Komatsu Sakyō


(1931-2011) Pseudonym of Minoru Komatsu, a Japanese author and essayist widely regarded as the premier sf writer of his country. He began producing work of interest in 1949 with several Manga under the pseudonym Minoru Mori; none of these has appeared in English format. After publishing Fanzine fiction in 1952, he drifted into the professional field in the late 1950s, in genre Magazines and Japanese newspapers alike, as well as text stories in magazines otherwise devoted to comics, such as Shūkan Manga Times and Manga Yomihon. He graduated in Italian Studies in 1954 with a thesis on Luigi Pirandello, and received an honorary doctorate from Jōsai University in 2007.

Like his colleague Shinichi Hoshi, Komatsu thrived in the punchy world of short-shorts, with a single representative work such as Aru Ikimono no Kiroku ["Record of a Living Being"] (coll 1966) cramming in seventy stories. His early sf novelette "Chi ni wa Heiwa wo" ["Peace on Earth"] (1963 Uchūjin) was later nominated for the Naoki Award, Japan's most prestigious literary prize; it was reprinted in Chi ni wa Heiwa wo (coll 1963) along with other early short fiction. Komatsu's first novel was Nihon Apache-zoku ["The Japanese Apache"] (1964); his most important work of sf may be Hateshinaki Nagare no Hate ni ["At the End of the Endless Stream"] (February-November 1965 SF Magazine; 1966), in which time-travellers flee a Dying Earth by leaping into the past, only to meddle with local technology and change the future.

Komatsu wrote the original stories that formed the basis for the combined Anime and live-action television series Uchūjin Pipi ["Pipi the Alien"] (1965, NHK) and the sf puppet show Kūchū Toshi 008 ["Aerial City 008"] (1969, NHK), and collaborated with Kōji Tanaka and Aritsune Toyota on the scenario for the series Saru no Gundan ["Army of the Apes"] (1974, TBS; cut trans 1975 as television movie Time of the Apes, 1987 US), a derivative cash-in on the Planet of the Apes films. The US version was considered sufficiently awful to grace the parody show Mystery Science Theater 3000 twice (1989, 1991). His collection Jikan Agent ["Time Agent"] (coll 1975) was adapted into the Time Travel series for children Boku to Mari no Jikan Ryokō ["My Time Travel Journey with Mari"] (1980, NHK), in which a private investigator in contemporary Tokyo uncovers the secret office of the Time Patrol, policing the activities of criminals from the twenty-fourth century. In later life, he lent his name to the Komatsu Sakyō Anime Gekijō ["Sakyō Komatsu Anime Theater"] (1989, MBS), for which a number of his stories were adapted by Hiroyuki Yamaga.

Despite such prominence in the Japanese sf field, Komatsu's work has rarely been translated into English. His most popular work, in Japan and in translation, is the Disaster novel Nippon Chinbotsu (1973; cut trans Michael Gallagher as Japan Sinks 1976; vt Death of the Dragon 1978). It won the 1974 Seiun Award for Long-Form Fiction, sold about four million copies in Japan and was filmed by Toho Eiga as Nippon Chinbotsu (1973) with a very limited release in the West as The Submersion of Japan; the film was later re-released in the West as Tidal Wave (1974), cut by a third and with new scenes added by producer Roger Corman. In the novel the Japanese archipelago begins to slide inexorably into the Japan Trench. Beyond its well worked-out geological basis, Japan Sinks is effective as a deeply felt elegy for Japan herself in all her physical and cultural fragility: the story has no heroes or villains, the main focus of our attention being the dying of the country. Komatsu would return to a similar theme with his later novel Shuto Shōshitsu ["The Disappearance of Tokyo"] (1985), in which mass failure of communications and power in Japan's capital forces the rest of the country to subsist without its hub, with varying degrees of success. This novel won the 1985 Nippon SF Taishō ["Grand Prix"].

Komatsu's sf novel, Sayonara Jupiter (1982), features a scheme to turn Jupiter into a small Sun to render the outer solar system habitable (see Outer Planets); it also won a Seiun Award (in 1983) and was filmed as Sayonara Jupiter (1984; vt Bye-Bye Jupiter), scripted, produced and co-directed by Komatsu himself; the book itself predated Arthur C Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two (1982), which uses the same central image. Komatsu's more recent novel, Kyomu Kairo ["Gallery of Nothingness"] (1987), has an immortal "Artificial Existence" (developed in an AI laboratory) riding a spaceship to research a mysterious "SS" (super-structure), a cylinder 1.2 light years in diameter and two light years in length, which suddenly appears 5.8 light years from Earth (see Macrostructures). Komatsu's other main works include Nippon Apache-zoku ["Japanese Apache"] (1964), and Fukkatsu no Hi ["Resurrection Day"] (1964), filmed as Fukkatsu no Hi (1981; vt Virus).

Komatsu received another Seiun Award for long-form fiction in 1971 for Tsugu no wa dare ka? ["Who Succeeds Humanity?" or "Who Will Inherit?"] (June-December 1968 SF Magazine; 1972). He has additionally won the short-form Seiun for "Kesshō Seidan" ["Crystal Star Cluster"] (September 1972 SF Magazine; title story of Kesshō Seidan, coll 1973); for "Bomisa" (July 1975 SF Magazine); and for "Gordias no Musubime" ["The Gordian Knot"] (January 1976 Yasei Jidai; title story of Gordias no Musubime, coll 1977).

Komatsu's prolific output, both juveniles and serious works for adults, was often serialized in national newspapers, reaching an audience far beyond most science fiction in the West. It even extended into the traditional Japanese performance-poetry form known as kyōgen, for which he wrote Kitsune to Uchūjin ["The Fox and the Alien"] (1990). His nonfiction publications include compilations of essays, opinion pieces, lectures and "cross-talks" (third-party transcripts of conversations with other celebrities, a common phenomenon in Japanese magazines). Komatsu was active also as a publicist – for example, as a consultant for and organizer of Expos. In 1970 he conducted the "International SF Symposium" in Tokyo, following upon a successful gathering under the same rubric the previous year in Brazil, and recognized as the first truly worldwide conference primarily involving sf authors, including five delegates from the USSR as well as Brian W Aldiss, Arthur C Clarke and Frederik Pohl. His most important works have consistently dealt with large subjects: the destiny of the Universe and Homo sapiens's place within it. They are highly regarded for their panoramic vision and the encyclopedic knowledge they display. [JonC/TSh/JC]

see also: Worldcon.

Sakyō Komatsu

born Osaka, Japan: 28 January 1931

died Osaka, Japan: 26 July 2011


manga as by Minoru Mori

individual titles



films as original author

nonfiction (selected)

Komatsu's nonfiction work, spanning everything from a guide to Japanese food to futurist speculations for in-flight magazines, fills 59 volumes alone.