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Jonathan Clements on 007’s Japanese trail

Japan’s idyllic Inland Sea is the setting for several crucial events in the life of James Bond, who, you will remember, read Oriental Studies at university, and revealed in You Only Live Twice (or in Japanese, just to be difficult, Die Twice) that he spoke fluent Japanese. In the original book, he ended up living for several months as a fisherman on the coast of the Inland Sea, shacked up with Kissy Suzuki and waiting for his memory to return after some sort of SMERSHy trauma. Unknown to him at the time, when he left, Kissy Suzuki was pregnant with his son, James Suzuki, who turns up in a later James Bond story.

In 2002, author Raymond Benson wrote a follow-up called The Man With the Red Tattoo. Officially approved by the Ian Fleming estate, it featured an older James Bond returning to Japan to hunt down the origins of a deadly poison. He ends up back on the Inland Sea, on a tiny little island called Naoshima, which has now gained its own James Bond Museum. It is a single large room containing Japanese language histories and paraphernalia about James Bond, as well as a section dedicated to The Man with a Red Tattoo. This includes Raymond Benson’s first-draft outline for his magnum opus, as well as the inadvisably legible manuscript of his booze-soaked “research trip” to Japan. Here’s a man who knows his way around junkets, who managed to get a chunk of his holiday paid for by the Japanese National Tourist Board, on the understanding that he would write something about Naoshima.

Considering that one of the non-Fleming James Bond novels (Icebreaker) is literally the worst book I have ever read, I doubt that Benson’s effort will set the world on fire. However, it has obviously charmed the locals on Naoshima, who were ecstatic that someone mentioned their pokey little island in a book, and have clearly been praying for the last decade that someone will be mad enough to turn Benson’s novel into the next Bond film, and thereby put it firmly on the international tourist map.

Pride of place in the museum is given to a TV running a constant loop of From Naoshima With Love, a clumsily written, leadenly-paced, “thriller” about a British secret agent who is sent to Naoshima on a quest for a vaguely defined MacGuffin. On the way, he discusses artwork installations with various stuffed shirts. Clearly, at a long and boozy lunch, the local bigwigs of Naoshima had voted to spend their 2007 tourism budget on making a film about their island, in which they themselves starred as the local equivalents of Q and Tiger Tanaka.

Hence, we have a handsome but wooden British “actor” (played by the local JET coordinator, Andrew Cockburn), stumbling around Naoshima, for a series of scenes with even woodener middle-aged Japanese civil servants, who robotically recite dull details about the island. Cockburn’s character refers to himself as “JB”, and the inattentive visitor who only stays for five minutes is presumably expected to believe that this is a bona fide, Fleming-approved James Bond story. The sign next to the screen optimistically calls this a “television show” although it is difficult to imagine any other television that is likely to be showing it apart from the one in the museum itself.

At the end, “JB” ends up shagging his Japanese assistant in a boat on the beach, while a Moneypenny substitute tells him that the mission was a diversion merely to give him a day’s vacation in Naoshima. I pondered the implication that Naoshima tour guides are actually pimped out by the town council to visiting Englishmen – hopefully that wasn’t on Raymond Benson’s itinerary, but who knows? The final title pops up with “James Bond will return to Naoshima again… hopefully”.

I found the whole thing rather sweet. Where else would a town devote so much time and effort to celebrating a mere media tie-in novel (the prison-shower bitch of the writing world)? And no matter how doomed to failure, imagine the money it would have made for Naoshima if it had somehow worked – well worth the effort, and hopefully a creative leap that other small towns should embrace. And just think of the fun they must have had – a JET coordinator is responsible, among other things, for improving their district’s cultural relations. This usually means making sure that nothing obscenely inappropriate is written on the municipal website in English, but can also mean they get to play at being producers and event organisers. Mr Cockburn, who graduated in Japanese and Management from the University of Leeds, clearly had a whale of a time spending Kagawa Prefecture’s tourism budget on making a silly movie. The local girl he gets to mount in the final scene apparently won her role in a talent contest. Make your own jokes.

The Naoshima James Bond Museum is one of those bizarre curios that makes travel on Japan’s backroads such a  joy, and should surely be on the itinerary of any Bond fan. You can even have your photo taken dressed as Bond, and inexplicably punching a sock monkey. So, something for everyone.

The Naoshima James Bond Museum is a short walk from the ferry terminal at Miyanoura. Open 9-5 364 days a year except New Year’s day. Admission free.

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