The Metabolist Imagination

Visions of the City in Postwar Japanese Architecture and Science Fiction

2020
Author:

William O. Gardner

The Metabolist Imagination

Japan’s postwar urban imagination through the Metabolism architecture movement and visionary science fiction authors

William O. Gardner explores the unique Metabolism movement, which allied with science fiction authors to foresee the global cities that would emerge in the postwar era. These studies are underscored by Gardner’s insightful approach—treating architecture as a form of speculative fiction while positioning science fiction as an intervention into urban design—making it a necessary read for today’s visionaries.

"A compelling and visionary analysis. William O. Gardner traces shared imaginations of the future city in postwar Japanese fiction, film, and architecture, brilliantly demonstrating the originality of Japanese visions of cities and societies to come. At the same time, he shows how even the most innovative urban visions of recent novels and anime are anchored in ancient Japanese aesthetic and building traditions. A must-read for anyone interested in urban studies, architecture, and science fiction—or, quite simply, the future."—Ursula K. Heise, author of Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species

The devastation of the Second World War gave rise to imaginations both utopian and apocalyptic. In Japan, a fascinating confluence of architects and science fiction writers took advantage of this space to begin remaking urban design. In The Metabolist Imagination, William O. Gardner explores the unique Metabolism movement, which allied with science fiction authors to foresee the global cities that would emerge in the postwar era.

This first comparative study of postwar Japanese architecture and science fiction builds on the resurgence of interest in Metabolist architecture while establishing new directions for exploration. Gardner focuses on how these innovators created unique versions of shared concepts—including futurity, megastructures, capsules, and cybercities—making lasting contributions that resonate with contemporary conversations around cyberpunk, climate change, anime, and more.

The Metabolist Imagination features original documentation of collaborations between giants of postwar Japanese art and architecture, such as the landmark 1970 Osaka Expo. It also provides the most sustained English-language discussion to date of the work of Komatsu Sakyō, considered one of the “big three” authors of postwar Japanese science fiction. These studies are underscored by Gardner’s insightful approach—treating architecture as a form of speculative fiction while positioning science fiction as an intervention into urban design—making it a necessary read for today’s visionaries.
The Metabolist Imagination

William O. Gardner is professor of Japanese language, literature, and film at Swarthmore College. He is author of Advertising Tower: Japanese Modernism and Modernity in the 1920s.

The Metabolist Imagination

A compelling and visionary analysis. William O. Gardner traces shared imaginations of the future city in postwar Japanese fiction, film, and architecture, brilliantly demonstrating the originality of Japanese visions of cities and societies to come. At the same time, he shows how even the most innovative urban visions of recent novels and anime are anchored in ancient Japanese aesthetic and building traditions. A must-read for anyone interested in urban studies, architecture, and science fiction—or, quite simply, the future.

Ursula K. Heise, author of Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species

The Metabolist Imagination is an ambitious and meticulously researched study of the intersections of science fiction and architectural discourse in postwar through contemporary Japan, an innovative pairing that leads to numerous insights across disciplines.

Seiji Lippit, author of Topographies of Japanese Modernism

William O. Gardner is a splendid scholar-critic of Japanese cityscape. The Metabolist Imagination brilliantly foregrounds the postmodern transactions between cutting edge architecture and emergent Japanese science fiction. No one has ever succeeded in exploring so provocatively the singular point between Metabolist works exhibited at EXPO70 and hardcore science fiction novels as represented by Sakyo Komatsu, one of the producers of the very exposition.

Takayuki Tatsumi, Keio University

The Metabolist Imagination

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. City Visions: Metabolism and Science Fiction

2. Ruined Cities: Isozaki Arata and Komatsu Sakyô

3. Planetary Cities: Komatsu Sakyô’s Disaster Fiction

4. Future City: The 1970 Osaka Expo

5. Liquid Cities: The Technopolis from Expo to Cyberpunk

6. Metabolist Echoes: Akira, Patlabor, and Yanobe Kenji

Notes

Selected Filmography

Bibliography

Index