Maybe it's the English major in me making a comeback or perhaps it's because I just can't afford to binge on imported DVDs anymore, but I've been reading a lot lately. And that's not a bad thing. An advance galley of The Paradise Bird Tattoo (or Attempted Double Suicide) was by my side for days and hasn't left my head for a week now.
The newly translated edition of Choukitsu Kurumatani's novel has a cheesy title that recalls neon-colored airbrushed art from the '80s, but it's closer in spirit to the classic, claustrophobic first-person explorations of Dostoevsky and Genet, full of self-hate and purposeful neglect. Never to be confused with the weak-sauce modern substitutes of self-pitying emo waifs, reactionary action heroes, or celebrities suffering meltdowns, the protagonist is simply too intelligent to be sated by a typical existence.
Having left a stable career in advertising simply because he finds no value in it, Ikushima bumps around crummy towns and dirty jobs, and ends up in Amagasaki where a former madam gives him a gig skewering the guts of sick animals for a restaurant. The neighbors of the apartment where he works include hookers, thugs, and a tattoo artist. It's a thankless, monotonous, and unhygienic job, but the drifter doesn't resent it or view it as beneath him–and seems to find it more tolerable than his white-collar past.
Although Kurumatani doesn't waste much space explaining what made the ex-aspiring writer snap, he generously provides paragraph after paragraph expanding upon the narrator's cold-yet-truthful observations about living in squalor, danger, and lust. Unaffected by notions of career, family, or social norms, Ikushima acts and reacts to his surroundings honestly and willfully. He is withdrawn but not unlikable–and the novel translated by Kenneth J. Bryson reads the same way.