A Review By Andrew Sobol
Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) Chicago Office
Raymond Benson’s The Man with the Red Tattoo
I found The Man with the Red Tattoo to be very entertaining in terms of its broad cultural context and its classic James Bond plot. I was particularly impressed with Mr. Benson’s attention to seemingly miniscule cultural details that carried the plot along nicely and more importantly, offered incredible insight into the psyche and cultural awareness of the Japanese people.
Mr. Benson’s acuity in identifying the behavioral traits and customs of the Japanese people helped create a realistic depiction of modern Japan that includes everything from bullet trains and neon lights to the subtle humility that identifies the Japanese persona. Mr. Benson carefully includes these cultural references amongst the excitement and drama common to all James Bond plots and successfully builds a common-sense understanding of Japanese culture for the reader.
Mr. Benson creates this sense of understanding through his accurate depictions of Japan’s cities, carefully selected inferences made by Bond and other characters, and through the countless dialogues that tie the novel together. While providing the reader with vivid descriptions of major metropolitan locations such as Tokyo and Sapporo, Benson also pays close attention to the natural beauty of areas such as Kamakura and Aomori, identifying the stark contrast between Japan’s big cities and its rural areas. Likewise, Benson acknowledges the unique relationship between the old ways and modernity in Japan that is as alive in the big cities as it is in the countryside. Also marking the evident relationship between Japan’s past and present are Benson’s carefully crafted dialogues that reflect a very traditional aspect of Japanese culture–honor. Throughout the novel, Benson provides readers with an insider’s view of the Japanese social hierarchy through conversations between Japanese people and conversations between Japanese people and foreigners. In order to explain the social hierarchy as it is presented in the novel, Benson provides historical references and identifies the relationship between his historical explanations and their relevance to the plot. By the end of the novel, Bond’s insightful and often complex assumptions regarding Japanese society can be easily interpreted and accepted, even by readers with little or no previous knowledge about Japan.
Benson’s in-depth look at Japan and the structure of Japanese society offers a wonderful opportunity to familiarize readers with Japan and its people. Mr. Benson’s research and efforts are definitely apparent in his work; after reading The Man with the Red Tattoo, I would recommend the book not only for its Bond-paced excitement, but also as an introduction or refresher to the unique culture and environment that is Japan.