Kafka’s Nightmare Tale, ‘A Country Doctor,’ Told in Award-Winning Japanese Animation

Here’s a good sto­ry for a cold Decem­ber night: Franz Kafka’s cryp­tic, hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry tale of “A Coun­try Doc­tor.”

Writ­ten in Prague dur­ing the icy win­ter of 1916–1917, Kafka’s sto­ry unfolds in one long para­graph like a fevered night­mare. “I was in great per­plex­i­ty,” says the nar­ra­tor, an old doc­tor, as he sets out in a bliz­zard at night on an urgent but vague mis­sion. But he can’t go any­where. His horse, worn out by the win­ter, has just died and his ser­vant girl is going door to door plead­ing for help. A sur­re­al sequence of events fol­low.

“A Coun­try Doc­tor” is per­me­at­ed with the qual­i­ties John Updike found so com­pelling in Kaf­ka: “a sen­sa­tion of anx­i­ety and shame whose cen­ter can­not be locat­ed and there­fore can­not be pla­cat­ed; a sense of an infi­nite dif­fi­cul­ty with­in things, imped­ing every step; a sen­si­tiv­i­ty acute beyond use­ful­ness, as if the ner­vous sys­tem, flayed of its old hide of social usage and reli­gious belief, must record every touch as pain.”

In 2007 the award-win­ning Japan­ese ani­ma­tor Koji Yama­mu­ra made a 21-minute film (see above) which cap­tures some of the strange­ness and beau­ty of Kafka’s sto­ry. It seems some­how appro­pri­ate that the dream­like nar­ra­tive has been trans­mut­ed into a form and lan­guage unknown to Kaf­ka. And if you aren’t famil­iar with the orig­i­nal, you can read a trans­la­tion of “A Coun­try Doc­tor” by Willa and Edwin Muir. You can also find Kafka’s sto­ries in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks.

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Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Franz Kaf­ka: The Ani­mat­ed Short Film

Orson Welles Nar­rates Ani­mat­ed Ver­sion of Kafka’s Para­ble, “Before the Law”

Four Franz Kaf­ka Ani­ma­tions: Enjoy Cre­ative Ani­mat­ed Shorts from Poland, Japan, Rus­sia & Cana­da


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