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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Paradise Bird Tattoo

Kurumatani Choukitsu

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To purchase The Paradise Bird Tattoo

Title: The Paradise Bird Tattoo
Author: Kurumatani Choukitsu
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 223 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Paradise Bird Tattoo - US
The Paradise Bird Tattoo - UK
The Paradise Bird Tattoo - Canada
The Paradise Bird Tattoo - India
Versuchter Liebestod - Deutschland
  • (or, Attempted Double-Suicide)
  • Japanese title: 赤目四十八瀧心中未遂
  • Translated by Kenneth J. Bryson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : atmospheric novel of life on the Japanese margins

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 21/3/2011 .
Die Welt . 4/8/2012 Ilija Trojanow

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though the writing is at times overwrought to the point of absurdity, Kurumatani's tight control creates an electrifying emotional intensity." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Ikushima erweist sich als Cicerone der eigenen Höllenfahrt, in einer merkwürdigen Mischung aus Distanziertheit und Anteilnahme, seltsam anmutig und anrührend. (...) Wer auf ihn zutritt, will ihn meist nur ausnutzen, als Kurier, als Schwarzgeldhüter, als Liebhaber." - Ilija Trojanow, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Paradise Bird Tattoo is a Japanese down-and-out story but not a sob story, its narrator, Ikushima Yoichi, describing without self-pity the years he spent in Amagasaki, spending his days living in a shabby room, eking out a bare living: "cutting up beef and pork organs and dissecting poultry, impaling the meat on skewers" -- cheap meat dregs (definitely not FDA-approved) that he processes in part of a shady local food-supply chain.
       Ikushima is a university-educated intellectual, and he started off working in advertising, in a proper office job, but he ditched that life. After quitting his office job:

I fooled around aimlessly for two and a half years until I ended up with absolutely nothing left to my name. In other words, I slid into both economic and social bankruptcy while wasting time in a state of total indecision.
       He hits rock bottom, and settles for this life on the margins, in dubious and sordid surroundings, with the minimal security of a room on which the lock doesn't even work and solitary employment cutting up meat of the most questionable quality. One gets the sense that Ikushima isn't so much resigned to his fate but rather that he feels this is what he deserves. He mentions that he was born (like author Kurumatani) in 1945: "in the summer of the final year of the war, the year of total defeat", and he seems stuck in that completely defeated rut still.
       Even though he tries to remain inconspicuous, he can't help but stand out. "Everyone's watching you, you know", someone points out to him, while he's also described as: "like the mummy of some boy from ancient times that somehow came to life in the modern world." And, of course, he doesn't fit in: as someone tells him:
     You're not going to make it here, Mister Ikushima. You're not like us.
       Of course, the local version of 'making it' seems to mean little beyond bare survival.
       A tattoo artist, Horimayu-san, lives cross the hall, and asks Ikushima to store a small box for him -- knowing it is safe with him (despite the lock on the door not working) and knowing that Ikushima is too scared to look and see what's in the box. Ikushima is drawn into some slightly shady dealings, including eventually delivering the box (when he also finds out what was inside), finding himself at the periphery of a dangerous world.
       Dangerous also is his involvement with Aya-chan, the woman with the paradise-bird tattoo of the title. He's warned away from her, but only very late, when matters have gotten near-desperate, does he find out what burdens she carries, putting his essentially voluntary servitude and penance into perspective. The parenthetical subtitle has signaled from the get-go where this is all headed -- but also at the outcome. Indeed, Ikushima's entire voyage, his years in Amagasaki, can be seen as an attempted suicide of sorts.
       Right at the beginning, Ikushima already notes that he returned to Tokyo, and to an office job, so there's never any question that his account of his long years in Amagasaki were only an episode in his life, a low-point but not end-point.
       Well into his account we learn that, when he was younger, Ikushima had also written and published a book; an old friend seeks him out in Amagasaki and urges him to return to his writing, but The Paradise Bird Tattoo is only very incidentally about a writer finding himself and his craft again: Ikushima has buried that part of his life -- like so much else -- very deeply, and even if these events play a role in bringing it back to the surface, there's little of that evident in the novel itself (beyond the fact that there is now this first-person written account of those events).
       The Paradise Bird Tattoo is a fine, dark novel of life on the Japanese margins, Ikushima never fully part of it -- he is marginalized in other ways and, as he comes to realize, this life in Amagasaki isn't a true alternative for him either -- but much more than just a sightseer or reporter. The sense of menace also works well, as does the mystery surrounding Aya-chan and her situation -- one of hopelessness and helplessness next to which Ikushima's pales.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 December 2015

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The Paradise Bird Tattoo: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kurumatani Choukitsu (車谷長吉) was born in 1945.

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