Still reeling from the effects of war, Tokyo, in 1948, was ripe with intrigue, not to mention men and women capable of plotting monstrous crimes. Akimitsu Takagi’s crime mystery “The Tattoo Murder Case” was first published that year and his gritty scenes of the city are described with the authenticity of an eyewitness.
Takagi’s repertoire of characters also reflect the time and include a student of forensic medicine suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving as a war medic in the Philippines; a flaneur in the Edo Period mold by the name of Doctor Tattoo; and a ravishing looking woman with a sharp tongue and a rare tattoo on her back of a writhing snake in purples, indigos and vermillion.
Women and tattoos have long been a volatile mixture, a blend of the diabolic and the sexual. As the novel unfolds in the city’s labyrinthine shanty alleys, drinking dens and private rooms, the question, how could a tattoo be sufficiently valuable to justify the dismembering of a body and the removal of its owner’s torso, surfaces time and again.
The pursuit of motive and the assigning of guilt assume a complexity comparable with the twisting, ramshackle medina that is the hastily built, temporary Tokyo of the novel. Takagi’s factional environment is reminiscent of the postwar photos of Tadahiko Hayashi, who captured telling images of demobbed soldiers, bars set up on garbage pits, bicycle rickshaws, smoking street waifs and striptease joints. More than a mere novel, Takagi has left us a document of the times.