In this short novel, published in the 1950’s by a popular Japanese fiction writer, the themes of cruelty, moral weakness, and contempt for human life in a medical school are portrayed. In a somewhat awkward series of narrations with flashbacks within flashbacks, the reader is introduced to the characters whose participation in wartime atrocities will be studied. Japan is suffering from the ravages near the end of the war. There is little food, daily bombing, and a general sense of futility.

The two surgical interns, Suguro and Toda, are the low men on a totem pole of power. Their aging chief is one of two contenders for the Dean’s position. He and his assistants devise methods of gaining attention for the promotion which include risky surgical procedures and, ultimately, vivisection experiments on American prisoners. The story line is carried by the acceleration of evil actions as the pressure for power increases. The motivations and internal deliberations of the two interns and one nurse whose characters are explored in some depth provide the human tensions.


The issues of inhumanity, absence of regard for human life and personal autonomy, and the power of the medical profession are explored in this rather poorly structured Japanese novel. The sense of hopelessness and loss of belief in the future is nicely presented and the sea as metaphor for overwhelming external power and personal failure works well. There seem to be at least four narrators, and the viewpoint changes episodically. The transitions are abrupt and sometimes unclear, making the identity of the new first person narrator difficult to grasp.

The story is morbid in its lack of humor and sense of prevailing evil and impending doom. From it one can study the progressive loss of humanity in a dehumanizing atmosphere, made all the more frightening because the actions are directed against innocent and ignorant hospitalized Japanese, as well as helpless American prisoners. No health care professional takes a stand against the injustices, which go unpunished to the end. There are no heroes in this sordid tale, and the reader is left with a fearsome sense of total moral decay in the health care professions during this time and in this place.


Translated by Michael Gallagher. Published in Japan, Bungei Shunju, 1958.


Peter Owen

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Secondary Source