The following is a synopsis of the 1953 story, "R-62 gô no hatsumei," or "Invention #R-62"
All page numbers refer to the version appearing in volume 3 of the Abe Kôbô zensakuhin shû,Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1973. All translations are my own.
This synopsis, along with all other materials appearing on this website, is copyrighted. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.
The story opens with lines, "Now walking about with the intent to die, the town was surprisingly quiet, and appeared as if it were made of glass" (301). The protagonist apparently has decided to commit suicide, and is looking for the someplace to die. Wandering around the factory district he comes across a portion of a canal, and he decides that he has found the ideal spot. Apparently he is not the first or only person to find himself drawn to the spot as someone has gone so far as to post a sign reading, "Suicides Prohibited."
Just as he's wondering whether or not standard procedure dictates he should take off his shoes, a voice calls out to him. It is a student in a shabby-looking school uniform. He apologizes for interrupting and, saying that this is his part-time job, asks him why he is going to commit suicide. The man imagines that he is collecting data for a psychological study.
The student stands there for a bit, and says, "This is difficult for me to say but..." trying to gather up the courage to speak, "I'll just say it. I provide the bodies of suicides to an office, and they give me spending money. So I would like to request your permission to sell your corpse...." (302) Though the request understandably surprises and upsets the man, he eventually agrees to the request, coming to the conclusion that once he's dead it doesn't matter. The student, however, further clarifies the nature of his request, saying, "Though I said corpse, I mean one that is still alive. One that while still alive and has the intent to die" (302). Furthermore, he says, the reason for suicide has to be unemployment (303). Though the student is visibly upset by having to make such a request, he claims that if he does not bring in a body, he will not have enough to survive, and will become a candidate for suicide himself.
The man eventually acquiesces to the student's requests, and the student hands him a 1,000 yen note and a business card. On the reverse of the business card is a map showing the way to the office where he is to turn himself in. Also on the card is the number "R62," and the student explains that this is the man's number. The office doesn't open until midnight, so the student asks the man to get a hot meal and a military-style crew cut before then. An odd request, the student says, but one that was made very clear to him. They part with the promise to meet at the office at midnight.
At the office the protagonist is introduced to the secretary, Hanai-san (lit. Miss. "Flowerwell"), and Kusai-san (lit. Mr. "Grasswell" but the word itself is a homophone for "Stench"), and he is made to fill out some paperwork. Kusai verifies that the "cause of death" was indeed unemployment, and asks him to sign a form. The form, however, is but a blank piece of paper. When the man asks about this, Kusai replies that he is only from the Contract Division, and that this is what the company wants. When the man, who is now addressed only by the name #R62, asks about this, Kusai replies that he doesn't really know, just that it is regulations. At any rate, he continues, while people have a right to know under the law, R62 is now a corpse and thus falls outside of the law.
From the reception hall R62 is led around to the back of the building by Kusai where he enters through the back door. Before he enters the door he asks Kusai what the "R" in "R62" stands for, and is informed that it is an abbreviation for "robot". He is then led up the stairs to a door and enters a room that resembles an abandoned storeroom. Set in one wall is an impressive-looking door, entirely out of keeping with the rest of the room. Kusai knocks on the door, and it is opened by Miss Hanai. Hanai leads R62 through the labyrinthine corridors beyond the door. Their destination is a windowless room, lit only by two bare electric bulbs. "Chief," Hanai calls out to the man in the corner of the room. The Chief asks R62 if he is resolved to go through with it, whereupon R62 replies, "Generally speaking, I have made up my mind, but...." The Chief, somewhat taken aback, says "I just said that to be polite. That 'generally speaking' is a bit surprising. To be precise, "made up my mind" is not the appropriate phrase. To think that a dead man retains the luxury of such choice is a sad misunderstanding." R62 falls silent, after a moment says, "Suicide--that was free will," whereupon the Chief callously replies, "Unemployment is not free will" (307).
R62 is picked up and tied down onto an operating table. He violently protests, screaming at them to stop, whereupon the Chief replies, "You're certainly an unpleasant fellow, though you appear to be quite serious. It's not as if anyone made you come; if you don't want to do it, just say so. You should have seen it, the sign over the reception room, but do you know why we call this the 'Restoration Room'? We established this place just to grant the wishes of obstinate people like you. With that chair and wire over there, we can easily fulfill your wishes. Of course if you do not wish to accept the good fortune of our invitation, we can restore you to the state which you were in before..... So, what's it going to be?" R62's response is to close his eyes and let the operation proceed.
When the operation is complete, R62 is more or less the same as before, only he has been made more "rational" and a small antenna has been inserted into his cranium. The Chief tests the success of the operation by bringing out a small control box, and turning a dial. R62 hears a whistle inside of his head, and the Chief tells him to sing a song. Though he has never heard the song before, the lyrics appear in his head as he sings them, "The blue cloud of floating tears/Mother is scolded by the cloud/It passes over and beyond the mountain" (313).
R62 is then shut up in a room for a week to recuperate. Though he is not prohibited from leaving the room--indeed he does so whenever he wants to go to the bathroom--he feels no desire to explore. Rather, "Just like a vegetable, he was self-sufficient" (314). While he is in the room, Miss Hanai brings him his meals three times a day, and they would often talk with one another. Though, or rather because, he forgot the conversations the minute she left the room, he felt as if he knew the innermost depths of her heart. At one point he suddenly stands up and embraces her, verifying her love for him. Just as he embraces her he hears the whistle inside his head and the sound of a laughing voice. Miss Hanai does not appear to have been particularly surprised by his action, and R62 feels uneasy for the first time since the operation when she says, "Before you, there was a young Robot #58, and when he, like you, tried to do this, he caught his antenna on the table and collapsed just like that" (314).
His second attack of uneasiness occurs when he sees a procession of red flags and placards pass by on the street below his window. He feels a sudden sense of panic when he realizes that he cannot recall who he was prior to the operation. This passes in an instant, however, as the whistle inside his head began to blow again.
While R62 is in his room recuperating, the Chief is speaking at the first meeting of the "R Club" in another part of the building. The audience consists mainly of presidents of companies and banks from all over the world. Speaking of the Club and of the robots, the Chief extols the virtues of their achievements in the following scene:
Eventually the Chief summons R62 to the conference hall for a demonstration. The Chief then continues with an analysis of the significance of the robot before them. He talks of the advances that technology has made, and of the tremendous help machines have been in streamlining production and replacing unskilled workers whose increasing unionization has become the scourge of the century. He likens the machine to a human body, saying, "The workers are the blood of the machines, the scientists the hormones and our elite group the heart and soul" (319). The Chief details the R Club's plans to "robotize" large numbers of human beings (i.e. workers). In this, he says, they will solve two problems. Firstly, profit is increased by "upgrading" from troublesome inefficient humans to passive, extremely efficient robots, and secondly, as the main source for the robots is the bodies of the unnecessary workers, the problem of unrest among unemployed workers is also eliminated.
Following the presentation the Chief collects money from a bank president in the audience in order to continue his research and arranges for the president of a factory to take R62 on a trial basis. By coincidence, the owner of the factory, Takamizu, is the same man who fired R62 before he became a robot. He is somewhat concerned about this both because the man was considered a substandard worker and because the man's younger brother is active in the organization of unions. The Chief assures Takamizu that R62's memories have been erased, and that he will be completely loyal to the president, whose firm is currently experiencing substantial labor unrest. Furthermore, as a result of the operation, his ability to work is virtually limitless so long as he is only used for seven hours per day.
In the next scene, seven months have passed and R62 is about to unveil the machine tool that he has developed. The robot speaks to a group of people consisting of the bank president who had invested in the R Club, Takamizu, at whose factory the robot worked, and the Chief of the R Club, as well as various important personages of the R Club.
The machine is unveiled, and as Takamizu is the company president, he is brought up to be the first one to try it out. R62 turns it on, and the machine suddenly grows to about double its size and silently pulls in Takamizu, locking him in so that he cannot escape. Several sharp-looking blades emerge from the machine. R62 continues with his explanation in a very business-like manner. "When the green lights on the buttons in front of you light up, please push the appropriate button right away. If you take more than 2.4 seconds to push the button, your finger will be cut off. Even if it is cut off, please be sure to push the button right away. As you only have ten fingers you only have ten chances. If you fail more than ten times, you will be stabbed in the chest and will die" (323). The machine begins operating and a light goes on. While Takamizu's finger isn't cut off, he is nicked, and blood sprays out in an arc. "Ok, I get it already" Takamizu protests, but the machine doesn't stop. Ignoring him, R62 only says, "Once the machine begins it cannot be stopped for four hours" (323). The lights flash on in no discernable pattern. Whenever Takamizu thinks that he has discovered a pattern or rhythm to the lights, the pattern dissolves into chaos. In the end there isn't even time for him to breathe.
When his second finger is cut off, Takamizu becomes consumed with the fantasy that the striking workers gathered outside will break down the gate and switch off the power in the generator room. He hears the striking workers outside, shouting "don't sell out to America." Soon Takamizu has only the fingers of his left hand remaining. The bank president has covered his face with his hands, but peeking through his fingers--a reflex--he keenly feels that he has been defrauded on his investment in the R Club. The Chief feels a strong sense of inspiration. Takamizu, after losing his seventh finger, tries to pull free of the machine, and is killed in the process.
The machine comes to a halt, and one can hear the sirens of police vans mingling with the roar of the workers outside. The Chief asks the robot, in an unexpectedly kind voice, "R62 - what exactly does this machine make?" There is no response, after a while he asks again, using the control box, and this time R62 simply stares out in space and begins to laugh in a faint voice. "The Chief's face warped into an expression of ever greater terror" (324). The Chief then yells at him angrily, "What did you intend to make?" (325) The story ends with the following lines: "The screaming voice jostling against him, R62 could see only a bluish face and its large, convulsing tongue" (325).