Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Paradise Bird Tattoo

Counterpoint Press has built up a great catalogue of translated Japanese fiction including; Manzuru and Shot By Both Sides, the latest is The Paradise Bird Tattoo, or attempted double suicide, by Kurumatani Choukitsu,  translated by Kenneth J. Bryson, and is intriguingly described as an I-novel. The novel was adapted to an award winning film in 2003, directed by Genjiro Arato. Taking place largely towards the end of the 1970's the novel covers a period of the narrator's life whilst working in Amagasaki skewering meat for a yakitori place. In the opening of the novel we learn that the narrator - Ikushima (Yoichi), used to work in an advertising agency, but had to get away from the job as he was working himself into non-existence, his exhaustion manifesting itself into physical illness, pushing him to the brink of karoshi, 'Amid the day to day routine of selling ads I had an uneasy feeling, as if my individuality were somehow being washed away.' His recollection of Amagasaki begins after encountering a rather clingy woman who follows him to a local library. When Ikushima first arrives at Amagasaki he's met in the street by a man with bloodshot eyes who thrusts a 10,000 Yen note into his hand. He works in his tenement apartment, the meat being delivered in the morning, he's expected to skewer 1000 pieces of meat a day at 3 Yen a piece. His employer is Seiko Nesasn, a woman in her fifties who  surmises of him after their brief interview as, 'one of those who got dealt a good hand, but go bust anyway', but remains puzzled as to why Ikushima wants to waste away in a dead end job, her suspicions of Ikushima are shared by the other tenant's of the building, who are slightly intimidated by his presence. Ikushima is ill at ease in Seiko Nesan's presence, as he feels she is attracted to him, and in a despair ladened confession she tells him that after the war she was a pan-pan girl. As Ikushima works away he begins to hear groans and moans through the thin walls of the building, his imagination offers up ideas as to their source; prostitution, gangster torture sessions?.

Slowly Ikushima's knowledge of the comings and goings of the building begins to grow, Ayako, who he met briefly with Seiko Nesan, he discovers lives in the apartment below, Horimayu-san who met him in the street is a tattooist working in rooms adjacent to him, and he notes the movements of the local gangs connected to Horimayu-san who boast of being Kusubori, (burn-outs). Ikushima forms a friendship with Shimpei, who he thinks at first is Ayako's brother, but their relationship is slightly enigmatic, he becomes increasingly attracted to Ayako who's brush off's end when she visits his room one night out of the blue, but then disappears again. Ikushima is an interestingly crafted character, he has dreams early in the novel of himself running around with his back on fire, which is an alarmingly symbolic depiction of his drifting-like existence after turning away from his ad agency job, he loathed falling into the 'middle class life style'. He labours under self deprecation and has an aversion to eating raw eggs, and also a beleaguered defiance against those who try to persuade him off his path. Slowly he gets embroiled into the world of Seiko Nesan and Horimayu-san's shady dealings, all the while trying to keep  his infatuation with Ayako in check. Seiko Nesan lays him off unexpectedly and he finds a note from  Ayako asking him to meet her in Osaka,  eventually Ikushima learns that Ayako's brother is in deep trouble with the gangs, it threatens to put them both on a route to the waterfalls of Akame neither of them seemingly can escape from.  

Kurumatani Choukitsu was born in Hyogo in 1945, Akame shijuya-taki shinju misui/Attempted Suicide at the Forty Eight Waterfalls of Akame, published in 1998 won the Naoki Prize. Kurumatani has also won many other literary awards including the Mishima Prize in 1993 for Shiotsubo no saji/Spoon of Salt, a novel centered around suicide, and also the Kawabata Prize in 2001, with the novel Musahimaru.  


mel u said...

I hope you and your family are all safe-

me. said...

Many thanks for the message Mel, I'm currently not in Japan, but my family are ok. It's been terrible to watch the events unfolding, thoughts go out to all those caught up in this.

Will said...

I read a manuscript of this when I was interning at a publishing house...I absolutely hated it (though I only made about two/thirds through) and told my editor not to even look at it. I don't think I made the wrong choice but I suppose I'm sort of glad that it's still getting published, just so there's a wider availability of Japanese fiction in translation. But I still can't figure out why this of all things was picked up by the JLPP...maybe it was because of the acclaimed movie.

me. said...

Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy this, I've not seen the film version yet but would like to see it.Maybe a little more information on the author and his works would have been welcome as an addition.