Ikushima Yoichi sees himself as drifter, a loser, a "gutless spiritless worm." But he's down and out by choice. He threw away his career on purpose to dwell among the dregs of society.
We meet him in Amagasaki where he's just taken a job skewering pork and chicken parts for a teriyaki restaurant. The pay is atrocious, the work disgusting - and it suits him just fine. Ikushima wants nothing to do with life.
But life won't leave him alone.
He's young and cute. He's a mystery. Maybe he's a kind of sage who attracts angry and suffering spirits - like the ex-madam who employs him, the sadistic tattooist across the hall, the tattooist's luscious mistress, the neglected kid downstairs, the cheap gangster types roaming the neighborhood. No one can resist invading Ikushima's space.
The Paradise Bird Tattoo is simply and beautifully written - and subtly humorous. Ikushima's reluctant encounters with menacing characters can get pretty funny. As for his experience with the gorgeous Ayako, that's definitely the high point of his adventures in low life.
The dialog is brilliant. Ikushima's vague responses in any conversation often result in startling revelations and/or comical consequences. Being a man with no illusions doesn't save him from figuring in the illusions of others. It's fun to think about this book and what it says about the human condition - and perhaps the disillusioned Japanese work force.
I found Ikushima totally likeable. He may be a loser but he's not a whiner - and his lack of interest in self-preservation almost amounts to courage.
Author Choukitsu Kurumatani favors a genre of Japanese literature called the "I-novel." The autobiographical elements in this book make for a very convincing and engaging protagonist.
I loved The Paradise Bird Tattoo and recommend it highly to lovers of edgy, thought-provoking Japanese fiction.