Sunday, November 24, 2013

From a View to a Museum

NOTE:  The following article appears in Volume 29:3 of the MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, edited by Janet Rudolph. Janet has kindly allowed me to re-print the article here. For more info on Mystery Readers Journal and how to subscribe, see Mystery Readers-- RB)

Most readers probably know me as the third continuation author of the James Bond novels.  I was the first American to be commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate and the publishing arm, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., to write new adventures, which I did between 1996 and 2002.  During those seven years, I traveled the world.  Since Bond novels are known not only for a bit of action/adventure, they also contain some “travelogue” aspects.  It was essential that I walk in 007’s footsteps, so to speak, and visit the  places I was writing about. 

In the spring of 2001, my friend and guide, James McMahon, and I flew to Japan in order for me to research my sixth and final Bond novel, The Man With the Red Tattoo.  James could speak the language and knew his way around, so his presence was vital.  We spent a lot of time in Tokyo, but also traveled to more remote parts of the country, including the cities of Kamakura, Hakone, and Aomori, as well as to the northern island of Hokkaido and its cities of Sapporo, Noboribetsu and Shiraoi. 

But the most significant place we visited was the island of Naoshima, located in the Inland Sea in Kagawa Prefecture (a prefecture is the equivalent of a state in America). 

It was James who had called my attention to the place.  It’s a rather sleepy little island and would otherwise not be on anyone’s radar except that it hosts one of the country’s most spectacular art museums.  When I first viewed pictures of Benesse House—a combination art museum and hotel—I knew I had to use it as a setting in my novel.  Its designer was the great Tadao Ando, perhaps Japan’s leading architect, and it looked as if it belonged in a James Bond film.  The building, with its unusual angles and curves, reminded me of the work of Ken Adam, the designer who had brought a similar, singular look to the early 007 pictures.  Benesse House  is also full of wonderful artwork by contemporary artists from all over the world. 

To get there, James and I took the bullet train from Tokyo to Okayama (four hours) on the southwest portion of the main island of Honshu, passing Mount Fuji on the way.  We changed to a smaller train to Uno, and then walked to the ferry port.  A press interview I had done a couple days earlier in Tokyo had hit the newspapers, and I had said I would be going to Naoshima Island over the weekend.  Well, my picture was in the paper along with the story.  When we arrived at the ferry station, the ticket lady was expecting us and had the newspaper open to the page with my photograph.  She was excited and asked for my autograph.  As we waited for the ferry, several other people ran up to me and asked for an autograph.  (One person even wanted James’ autograph!)

Eventually we boarded the ferry and it took us to Naoshima, about a twenty-minute ride from the Uno port.  When we got to the island, a crowd of about fifty people stood on the dock, waiting for me!  I had to sign autographs, pose for pictures… it was unbelievable.  I had never received that kind of attention.  Two young female guides from Benesse House, Kayo and Yukiko, were there to meet us and take us by car to our lodgings.  Benesse Corporation had purchased a portion of the island and renamed that section Benesse Island.  The president and CEO of Benesse Corporation, Soichiro Fukutake, has a kind of Richard Branson-style mystique in Japan.  He is very wealthy, owns several islands, yachts, and art museums.  He is also President of Berlitz Corporation. 

When we arrived in Naoshima Cultural Village, we were met by reps from their city government, including the mayor, and were treated to a traditional Tsutsuji Daiko drum performance by local elementary and junior high school students, performed in my honor.  After that bit of flattering pomp and circumstance, we were rushed to Benesse House.  Our rooms were in the “Annex,” which was another Bond-like building up the hill from the main museum, accessible by cable car.  My room was the largest, with a huge glass wall overlooking the sea.  With a push of a button, the entire wall descended into the floor, opening up onto the terrace!  Simply amazing, and very Bondian. 

Koya and Yukiko gave us a tour of the island, showing us several ongoing art projects in Naoshima Cultural Village.  We saw the City Hall and other sites, but the main attraction, naturally, was Benesse House.  That night, we had a special kaiseki dinner thrown by Mr. Fukutake himself.  He couldn’t have been friendlier.  We even met Tadao Ando, who was on the island appearing in a documentary being filmed at the time, Mrs. Fukutake, and other reps from the museum.  Ando-san presented me with an autographed catalogue of his works.  We had something in common in that he also knew I. M. Pei, the architect for whom I worked in the late 1980s in Manhattan. 

We spent the next morning exploring Benesse House as I planned the logistics of my story.  A climactic scene would take place inside the main art gallery and I had to make sure that what I wanted to do was feasible.  A fictional G-7 summit meeting was to take place there, and the bad guys unleash a swarm of deadly genetically-engineered mosquitoes in the room.  Typical 007 stuff.  Of course, the building worked like a charm for my purposes. 

The book was published in 2002, completing my contract with the Fleming company.  My tenure as the Bond author had ended, but that wasn’t the finish of my involvement with Naoshima and Kagawa Prefecture.

In 2004, the prefectural government contacted me and the Fleming company with a request for permission to erect on the island a museum dedicated to my novel.  The necessary legal hoops were leaped through, and in 2005, “The 007 Man With the Red Tattoo Museum” officially opened on Naoshima Island.  The organizers had commissioned art students to create paintings and sculptures that illustrated the story of the novel.  These were displayed so that visitors would get a sense of the tale as they walked through.  The museum also included Bond memorabilia from the films and novels, and a glass case containing ephemera about me and my work.  I had donated my research materials to the museum. 

On top of that, the prefectural government appointed me an official Ambassador of Kagawa Prefecture, and I remain in the position to this day.

In short, this was the biggest perk and honor I received when I was the Bond author.  Nothing else has come close.  After all, I suppose there aren’t many writers who can claim to have a permanent museum dedicated to their work! 

I’m still pinching myself.


Some interesting links about the museum, Naoshima, and Kagawa Prefecture—

·         An information page on The 007 Man With the Red Tattoo Museum:  Click Here
·         The official Benesse House website:  Click Here 

·         Another page about the museum:  Click Here

·         The official museum site (in Japanese):  Click Here
·         A Time Magazine article about Naoshima, mentioning the museum: Click Here
·         And, finally, the official Kagawa Prefecture site: Click Here

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review of Criterion's "THE UNINVITED"

My review of The Criterion Collection's blu-ray release of the 1944 ghost story, "THE UNINVITED," starring Ray Milland, is at Cinema Retro.