Sunday, July 12, 2009

「頭脳明晰、容姿端麗、神出鬼没の名探偵」

ケモノ道でケモノに会って いばらの道にもバラが咲いて
いつかきっといいことあるって 信じて頑張って
来週も 再来週も 何度も倒されて 笑われても
僕は ああ 負けたくないんだ


"On a beasts' road you'll meet beasts, but even on thorny roads roses bloom
One day something good will surely happen." Believing that, I try my best,
Be it next week or the week after that, no matter how many times I'm knocked down and laughed at,
I just... don't wanna lose.


馬場俊英 (Baba Toshihide)、ファイティングポースの詩 ("Song of the Fighting Pose")
(Ending theme of Meitantei no Okite)

When I started this blog, I expected to write more about Japanese detectives, but mainly because Tokyo was superspecialawesome, I didn't have the time (nor energy left) to read as many detectives as I should have. Which means I have a large backlog now. Which means I have a lot to read. Which is nothing to complain about. So, until I'm back in Japan in October, this blog will mostly about (Japanese) detectives. And slightly related stuff. 日本だからできる。

And today, we begin with:

名探偵の掟 (Meitantei no Okite, "The Laws of the Great Detective")

Before, I only knew the writer Higashino Keigo from the Galileo series, a pseudo-scientific detective with the physicist Yukawa, nicknamed "The Freak Galileo", as the protagonist, revealing seemingly occult happenings as products of the many laws of nature. I enjoyed the series, enjoyed the quite moving Yougisha X no Kenshin ("The Devotion of Suspect X") even more, but with the dodgy exception of the last one, Galileo isn't an orthodox detective. Far from it.

Thus, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I read Meitantei no Okite by Higashino, as it is an excellent parody on the Golden Age detective novel (in Japan known as the orthodox detective novel), as we know from writers as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen and G.K. Chesterton. The idea behind the book is that the protagonist, the great detective Tenkaichi Daigorou is aware he is the protagonist of a book. He knows he is a great detective (introducing himself as 'the great detective with a bright mind, far-reaching knowledge, versatile talents and unparalled activity'), he knows every cliche in the genre and he knows those cliches are bound to appear in his world. While the people in the stories might think Tenkaichi is some kind of nut, the great detective works hard to comply to all the rules of the orthodox detective novel in order to please the reader. Because those laws are like promises to the reader, which never ever should be broken.

And Tenkaichi succeeds. Every chapter of the short story collection is built around one of the cliches in the genre, ranging from a locked room murder to the disappearing murder weapon, from the detective falling in love with a suspect to the dying message. And while the stories comply to the cliches, the solutions still manage to surprise everytime (don't forget, this is a parody!). The book kind of reminds me of Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime. But Okite is better.


In April 2009, a Japanese drama was broadcast based on this novel, starring Matsuda Shouta as the great detective Tenkaichi Daigorou (Matsuda Shouta's father by the way, played the detective Kudou Shunsaku, protagonist in the legendary Tantei Monogatari series and the image of Japanese badassness). Minor changes included the... inclusion of female detective Fujii, who according to the genre rules, is a love interest for the detective Tenkaichi. Maybe. Anyway, the drama didn't disappoint (including original cliches not found in the book). As there's another Tenkaichi book (see the next part), I am hoping for a (movie) sequel.

The best point of the book (and the drama) is probably that it's quite accesible for both fans and people not in the know. Another (great) Japanese detective parody drama
33 pun Tantei ("33 Minute Detective") pretty much expected people to know the cliches and built upon that, which makes it a little harder to follow at times. Meitantei no Okite on the other hand explains the cliches to the unknowing, while still managing to be ridicilously funny for those who don't need extra explanations.

Selfnote: 「密室宣言ートリックの王様」、「以外な殺人ーフーダニット」、「屋敷を孤立させる理由(わけ)ー閉ざされた空間」、「最後の一言ーダイイングメッセージ」、「アリバイ宣言ー時刻表トリック」、「『花のOL湯けむり温泉殺人事件』論ー二時間ドラマ」、「切り裂きの理由ーバラバラ死体」、「トリックの正体ー???」、「殺すなら今ー童謡殺人」、「アンフェアの見本ーミステリのルール」、「禁句ー首なし死体」、「凶器の話ー殺人手段」

名探偵の呪縛 (Meitantei no Jubaku, "The Curse of the Great Detective")

In this novel-length... novel, the great detective Tenkaichi appears again! Or does he? A writer in our world wakes up one day to find himself in the identity of the great detective Tenkaichi Daigorou, who is called to a strange little town. A mysterious town indeed, as it is a town where no one has ever heard of the word "detective novel" and no such novel even exists in their word! But with "Tenkaichi" appearing in the world, strange, detective-like incidents start to happen. Like murder.

I finished the book today and am kinda in doubt what to think about it. It is completely different from the previous book, but it was clearly not meant as detective parody in the first place. Where Higashino managed to express his love for the orthodox detective in
Meitantei no Okite by making fun of it, here he expresses his love by lamenting about the loss of the orthodox detective novel in the real world. It's the same, but different. I enjoyed Meitantei no Okite more, but Meitantei no Jubaku manages to hit sentimental notes in the heart of a orthodox detective fan.

In overall, Higashino manages to show his love for the orthodox detective novel in both of the Tenkaichi Daigorou books, but I
really recommend Meitantei no Okite, be it in book form or drama form. Or both. As a detective parody it succeeds tremendously. As a comedy series, it manages to be very accesible without making light out of the long history of orthodox detectives. Even better, it serves as quite an interesting introduction in what makes the genre great.

Currently reading: 横溝正史 (Yokomizo Seishi) - 金田一耕助の新冒険 (The New Adventures of Kindaichi Kousuke)

5 comments :

  1. I think I should really watch Meitantei no Okite. I've had the first two episodes on my laptop for 2 months(?) now, but your review finally motivated me to actually watch it.


    plus, the picture of Matsuda did help 8D

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  2. Hm, the plot and setting of "The Curse of the Great Detective" reminds me a lot of Ellery Queen's "And on the Eighth Day," in which Ellery gets lost in the desert and discovers an isolated religious community, where crime and detection is unheard-of. That, of course, will all change from the moment Ellery sets foot in the village.

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  3. Actually, there are more common points between "Meitantei no Jubaku" and "And on the Eight Day", but explaining that would involve tremendous spoilers for both books. I fear my copy of "And the Eight Day" by the way, as the Jesus-sculpure on the cover keeps staring into the depths of my soul.

    @エリ: The first episode of "Meitantei no Okite" might be a bit weak, but the second is hilarious. But of course, if you're just watching it for Matsuda, it doesn't really matter ;)

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  4. I had the opposite impression. I preferred Jubaku over Okite.

    Okite I felt didn't really do anything interesting with the fourth-wall breaking premise beyond pointing out mystery cliches. I didn't find it funny as well for this reason. Also, I didn't feel that being a parody excuses questionable solutions to the mysteries.

    Jubaku, on the other hand, I felt made use of the premise much better. I like that it featured into the central mystery, and was actually very coherently constructed. The fourth-wall breaking didn't feel shoehorned in. It also manages to say something (philosophically) interesting about mysteries beyond pointing out cliches.

    But hey, that's just my opinion. I really like metafiction in stories, so I'm more picky about how they're used.

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    1. The two books were very different in tone, IIRC, so I can understand if you prefer Jubaku over Okite. Personally, I preferred the over-the-top comedy of Okite, and the 'barely-fair-solutions' approach to the genre, but Jubaku was definitely the (relatively) more thoughtful meta-mystery.

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