Monday, August 31, 2009

「昼は夢・夜ぞ現」

"Can't sleep... clown will eat me....", Bart Simpson, "The Simpsons: Lisa's First Word"

I don't like clowns. If there is one existence on this Earth I truly fear, it's clowns. And I haven't even seen Stephen King's "It". Nor am I ever planning to. Of course, coulrophobia is not a very rare phobia. Don't know about my fear for human-like dolls and that other fear though. Especially the last one seemed strange to my fellow Tokyo students apparantly.

And when I innocently started up the 1976 movie Watcher in the Attic ("Yaneura no Sanposha"), based on the short story by Edogawa Rampo, I never, ever would have thought the director would add a clown to the story. Not the figure-of-speech type of clown, but the one with a red nose. That certainly wasn't in the original. Adding a clown to a story can never be a good idea. Never. The rest of the movie was enjoyable, a more explicit version of the story of a voyeur spying on people from the attic and also contemplating about murder. And bonus points for incorporating that other Batshit-Edogawa-Insane-Awesome short story, The Human Chair in the movie. But minus points for the clown. Note that I don't have the usual movie cover beside the text. For it features the clown.

In an interview with Edogawa's son which I very coincidentally found (involving buying random manga just because his name was on it), it was revealed that Edogawa actually wanted to direct movies and it makes me wonder how Batshit-Edogawa-Insane-Awesome his movies would've been.

But after so many of these kinds of stories of Edogawa, I really needed to go back to the essentials. Detectives. Edogawa is famous for his eruogurononsense mystery stories, no doubt about that, but few people know he has written loads of criticism on the detective genre. Most of his important essays can be found in Edogawa's Gen'eijou ("The Illusion Castle"). Which was also the name of his house (now sort-of-a-museum) in Ikebukero, where I could've gone to when I was in Tokyo, if not for the little fact I didn't find out about it till way to late. Gen'eijou (the book, not the house) features texts that almost seem blog-like on what he has read lately, to more abstract analyses on detective fiction in both Japan and the United States and the United Kingdom. Some of his essays have been translated in The Edogawa Rampo Reader, with An Eccentric Idea being an interesting essay about some specific murder tricks found in fiction. The big brother of this essay, An Itemized Catalog of Tricks however is way more interesting. It's a gigantic list of all sorts of tricks used in detective fiction, categorized in tricks concerning the identity of the murderer, the murder location, time of murder, hiding places et cetera. With examples. And it's a very, very good read. If you like detectives. A full list of tricks to use when planning a murder can never be a bad idea.

And it's when you read stuff like this, you know why Edogawa is immediately associated with detective novels in Japan and not just with erogurononsense. Stuff like An Itemized Catalog of Tricks deserve a translation. Clowns however, can disappear for all I care. Of course, combinations of intricate murder tricks and clowns as victims are also acceptable. Truly, a movie directed by Edogawa about the murder of a clown (or plural) would have been Batshit-Edogawa-Insane Awesome.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

「すべての現象には必ず理由がある」

「あの問題を解いても誰も幸せにならないんだ」
『容疑者Xの献身』

"Even if you solve that problem, no happiness will come from it."

"The Devotion of Suspect X"


I watch Japanese television drama quite often nowadays, and while I had seen some drama before, I really started watching drama series with Galileo, based on the Detective Galileo books by Higashino Keigo (Meitantei no Okite). While certainly not a formal detective, the Galileo series certainly had some interesting points. Most of the stories involved seemingly supernatural phenomena like spontaneous combustion, astral projection and premonitions, usually connected to a crime in some way. Of course, at the end of each story, thanks to the insights of assistant professor Yukawa, nicknamed The Weirdo Galileo, these phenomena turn out to have a perfectly logical explanation to them. Because it's a scientific detective though, most of the mysteries are not really solvable for the normal reader as specific knowledge is needed. But the drama was quite entertaining. Especially the ridiculous over-the-top eureka scenes of Yukawa randomly writing on everything. Correction, ridiculous eureka scenes of Yukawa randomly writing on everything because he can solve everything through mathematics. Everything. Even things that can't.

The books, with Higashino Keigo's dialogue-heavy texts and good sense of kanji-usage, are also very easy to read to and the Detective Galileo books are actually the first books in Japanese I ever read. Certainly different from the It's not in the dictionary! rage I get from Edogawa Rampo's books. So I went through Galileo no Kunou ("The Agony of Galileo") pretty fast, one of the two Galileo books released last year. Two of the five short stories were already adapted as the Galileo Φ TV special, but all in all, a kinda disappointing short story collection. Similar solutions to earlier stories popped up, which is never a good sign. Nor was the suggestion of the supernatural as effective as in earlier stories.

Of course, supernatural phenomena aren't always needed for a good Galileo novel, as proven with the novel Yougisha X no Kenshin ("The Devotion of Suspect X"), which featured 0 supernatural phenomena, but was just a great story. The book was subject to quite some discussion in Japan whether it was a formal detective or not, but for me, it was and heck, I just love the theme of the book. The movie based on the book? Arguably even better. The movie didn't contain ridiculous eureka scenes with random writing though.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

「お御剣さまは、おサイフをおうばいになれたのです!」

「それは僕も不和としています。『ガリレオ』見ただけなんでぇー」、鞍馬六郎、『帰ってこさせられた33分探偵』

"I'm not really sure about that either, actually. It's just that I've seen 'Galileo'.", Kurama Rokurou, "The Forced Return of the 33 Minute Detective"


Eh, while reading detective novels you tend to pick up pieces of information, which are utterly useless in real life. This ranges from specialist words (coming up with 死亡推定時刻 (shibousuiteiijikoku ("Estimated time of demise")) during one of the first conversation classes in the first year at least left some impression on the teacher) to facts about everything and nothing. Sushi made for take out is pressed differently to prevent it from collapsing under its own weight. The bacteria thought to be the cause of periodontitis? Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans. Swallowed down some cyanide? Eating loads of nattou immediately might save your life. Something freezing over after you pull it out of the freezer? Just supercooling, nothing special.

So what was my preparation for the visit of prince Akishino (also known as the slightly longer Akishino no Miya Fumihito Shinnou) to Leiden (with a short talk with Japanese students of Leiden University) in light of 400 years of Dutch-Japanese relations on Monday? I watched my DVD's of the Japanese detective drama Furuhata Ninzaburou. Because keigo, really polite Japanese, is like a different sort of Japanese with alternative words for pretty much every verb, but it is used extensively in Furuhata Ninzaburou by the protagonist. It always helps to be extremely polite to your suspects in the hopes they slip up.

Of course, this extensive training program didn't help one bit in real life, as I didn't anticipate princess Kiko would ask me a question using the same keigo, and it took what felt like an eternity to translate it in my head. My reply, the first Japanese sentence coming from my mouth in months, probably wasn't even a full sentence. And certainly didn't contain keigo. And then the pair quickly moved on to the next table. The lesson? Keigo is difficult and not even Furuhata Ninzaburou is going save you in front of a prince and princess.

Today's song: MCYUU - ドラマ ガリレオ+古畑任三郎 (Drama Galileo + Furuhata Ninzaburou)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

『古本地獄屋敷』

"'You see,' he explained, 'I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.'", Sherlock Holmes, "A Study in Scarlet"


Packages from Japan finally arrived (filled with quite a bit more than this), which took around 7 weeks. As my reading stack was growing dangerously low lately, it came in just in time, bringing me manga, detectives (and non-detectivey books, CD's and DVD's). And there was much rejoicing.

The problem of my collection though, is that I don't have proper bookcases for a large part of my books and I occassionally have to air them out a bit and dust them. Especially because I have been away for months. Doing book maintenance always, always, means chaos in my room. Total chaos, I tell you. Especially when stacks of Meitantei Conan tumble (a complete Conan stack by the way, stands surprisingly tall). In a distant past, the books were quite managable too. Lately? Less and less. It has come to the unbelievable point I actually was surprised to find books at certain places, as I was convinced I had placed them elsewhere. Never a good sign. And people thought I had many books in my room in Japan.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

『終わりよければ全てがいいか』

「殺人事件は現代の神話だというのだ。神話というのは、神と悪魔と人間の物語だが、殺人の場合、神は探偵、悪魔は殺人、被害者は人間だと言うわけだよ。」、明智小五郎、『名探偵なんか怖くない』

"He said murder cases are the modern myths. Myths are stories of gods, devils and men, and in the case of murders, detectives are the gods, murderers are devils and victims are humans", Akechi Kogorou, "Meitantei nanka kowakunai"

Crossover fiction tend to turn out either horribly wrong or superspecialawesome. Usually, there is no middle ground. Opinions on even the mediocrest of stories can dragged all the way to the positive side, merely due to the presence of characters of different series. Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei nanka kowakunai ("Not afraid of something like great detectives") just had to be immensly entertaining, as it features four famous detectives, Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Simenon's Maigret and Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Kogorou. I hold a special interest in three of these characters, so I was really excited about this book.

But then again, I had read some other books of Nishimura Kyoutarou before. He is an insanely prolific writer, famous for his train mysteries in Japan. In pretty much every Book-Off I visited, a minimum of 30 novels of him were to be found. Heck, the small Book-Off in Ekota had at least 60 novels of him in the bookcases, and two large discount boxes filled with exclusively his books. Two stories of him are translated in English, The Mystery Train Disappears and the short story The Kindly Blackmailer (in: Ellery Queen's Japanese Golden Dozen), but both were not very impressing. Thus even though I was excited about Meitantei nanka kowakunai, I was afraid this might be one of those trainwreck crossovers.

Luckily, this was the best novel I had read of Nishimura. With a plot that revolves around the infamous 300 Million yen robbery it was an OK story on its own, but having those four detectives together makes it a worthwile book. It does spoil the solutions to some famous stories however (spoiling both Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Akroyd? Blasphemy!) and the discussion where Akechi Kogorou's hints at more than friendly relations with both his chronicler Edogawa Rampo and the kid Kobayashi, is kinda disturbing.

But overall, the book is entertaining and it even features a Queensian Challenge to the Reader, where the story stops to signify every clue needed to solve the mystery has been presented and thus the reader should be able to solve the mystery now. Fair play mysteries at its best.

Of course, having four great detectives on the scene is hardly fair to the murderer. Or to the normal people, who have to suffer quite a bit from the sarcasm and haughty behavior of those great minds. Luckily for those people, crossovers in detective fiction are not very common. 

Original Japanese title(s): 西村京太郎 『名探偵なんか怖くない』

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Vainly I had sought to borrow from my books surcease of sorrow"

"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before"
"The Raven"

The blessing and bane of really getting into a hobby is that you're never finished. There's always something left to do. The detectives-to-read list is just endless, getting longer and longer as I find out about new books everyday.

One pleasant expansion to the list though was another English Edogawa Rampo translation, which is probably quite unknown, even though it's a fairly recent publication. Edogawa Rampo's Nisen Douka ("Two Sen Copper Coin") was Edogawa's first published work and the very first original modern Japanese mystery story. The story takes it cues from Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold-Bug, but presented in a Japanese context. For readers in the Western world it is perhaps surprising to see how 'clean' this story is compared to the more erotic grotesque stories Edogawa wrote later on in his career. While on its own merits alone, this story is certainly nowhere near gold-material, but just like with Edogawa's D-zaka Satsujin Jiken ("D-Street Murder Case"), the story is important as steps towards real Japanese detective fiction. Insert Neil Armstrong quote.

The story is to be found in Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938 (Compiler: William J. Tyler), an anthology of precisely what it says on the cover. Modernist fiction from 1913-1938. It also contains new translations of Edogawa's The Caterpillar and The Man Traveling with the Brocade Portrait, which were already available in the excellent Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Modanizumu is not a normal anthology, but meant for the more serious reader also interested in Japanese history/sociology, as it tries to show the influence of modernism in the early 20th century on literature, accompanied with history-heavy introductions. Other highlights in this book however are the scenario of the strange, strange movie A Page of Madness (part of the Japanese and Korean Movies course in Leiden), a haunting trip to the past in Streets of Fiendish Ghosts, a strangely entertaining Tale of Trouble from the Bar Roulette about the troublesome partnership between a Japanese and a Dutchman (with the German name Karl Richter...) as owners of a bar and Tanizaki Junichirou's The Censor, which makes a great read on the literature censoring system in those times.

The censoring system also makes its appearence in the 1994 movie Rampo ("The Mystery of Rampo"), which like a lot of other Edogawa-based movies gave me strange visuals which left me wondering what the heck I was watching. Beginning with an animated version of The Appearance of O-den (translated in The Edogawa Rampo Reader) and then offering a continuation on that story, the movie puts confusing layers upon layers of narrative, until it really, really lost me at the end about which narrative was about what and when. Of course watching movies while reading might not be the optimal way of watching movies, but it helps shorten the reading list. And as I sat there reading my book and watching the movie, I pondered, maybe the reading stack will once shorten to a normal length, like long before. Quoth the raven, "nevermore".

Sunday, August 9, 2009

『どんと来い、超常現象』

"There was something eerie about the image of this lone man who, hav-ing no means to communicate his wishes apart from moving his eyes, stared unwaveringly at one spot in the dead of night. Although she felt his mind had lost much of its sharpness and grown dull, wasn't it possible that a completely different world now possessed the inside of the head of this man who had been so terribly disfigured - a world wholly different from the one in which she and others like her resided? It frightened her to think he might be wan-dering in such a place now.", Edogawa Rampo, "The Caterpillar"

Buying many manga to read, but sending them back with seamail in the last week of course means it is going to take ages before I actually get to see those books again. Luckily though, I had brought back some manga in my own luggage.

I bought Arijigoku vs BaraBara Shoujo ("Antlion vs BaraBara Girl") when I attended a small signing event of Kago Shintarou to promote the release of this volume, as I needed something he could actually place a signature on. But Arijigoku vs BaraBara Shoujo is a pretty amazing book on it's own, even without Kago's signature on it. With signature? Even more amazing.

Kago Shintarou's work is full of erotic grotesque imagery like body mutilations, accompanied by a dose of comedy and satire. Arijigoku vs BaraBara Shoujo is an anthology of his typical comedy/horror stories (yes, that is a possible combination) and pretty much all of them are batshit-insane-awesome. At times as creepy as the works of Umezu or Itou, at times as unpredictable crazy as Boboboubo Boubobo. One of the more impressive stories, Rinne no Umi ("The Sea of Reincarnation") is somewhat similar to the classic shoujo manga Please Save My Earth. Only this one has loads of gruesome deaths. If Please Save My Earth was more like Rinne no Umi, I would have read more of it.

Kago Shintarou's clean artwork combined a strong sense of comedy work makes his work pretty accessible, if not weak to erotic grotesque imagery. I found the works of Maruo Suehiro, another manga artist in the erogurononsense field to be somewhat less accessible in general, because his works tend to focus even more on dreamy imagery, making his stories harder to follow. But then again, Kago's humor can be so nonsensical at times, it's just way over the top. Kago has also been producing short animations and live action shorts (he also has some up at his YouTube account). Having been shown two hours of these shorts at his signing event, I can say some of them are really entertaining, but the gap in quality between these shorts and his manga works are big.

Less accessible was F.C.R. by Hanakuma Yuusaku. Especially his artwork is very, very crude, which makes it hard to get into for most people. I got to know his work through Tokyo Zombie, which was plain crazy. The author said himself about Tokyo Zombie:

"I made sure to give fans what they wanted (or at least I tried). I crammed in zombies, trucks, pro wrestling, martial arts, factories, Mt. Fuji, pigs, intense battles, wealthy people, slaves, porno, gym teachers, a little dog, Calpis, tonkatsu, a prince, a professor and so on, to try and create a comic that was a sort of fin de siecle celebration of manliness."

Tokyo Zombie was either some kind of genius allegory for the Japanese mass consumption society or something created through the use of psychedelic drugs, but at any rate very entertaining. Apparently, there is even a live action movie starring Asano Tadanobu (and including a cameo by horror-mangaka Umezu Kazuo). F.C.R. is an anthology of short stories, which, while less entertaining in comparison, is just as weird as Tokyo Zombie. I won't even try to describe it. The book says: "The Men who bought and saved the free cockmen". That should say enough. Or not.
Of course, having bought the book at Nakano's strange, strange store Taco Che, it had to be weird.

But I really, really want to read some less grotesque, more mainstream manga now. If there are bodily parts to be chopped of, let it be normal horror or functional dismemberment.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

「あなたは誰?」

「人間と言うのは本来、醜い面と美しい面を併せ持っているものなのかも知れない。誰でも両方を少しずつ見せたり隠したりしながら生きている。」
『金田一少年の事件簿:殺戮のディープブルー』


"Maybe people by nature hold both an ugly and a beautiful side. Every man lives showing and hiding bits of both sides." "The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: Deep Blue Massacre"

Some things you read or watch because you know what to expect, especially with longer running series. So when I started with Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo: Satsuriku no Deep Blue ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: Deep Blue Massacre"), I was expecting several things. Gruesome murders. A motive rant made by the murderer. Possibly followed by a 'Shut Up Mokuba Hannibal' by Kindaichi. And token catchphrases like "nazo wa subete toketa" ("All the riddles are solved!") and "jicchan no na ni kakete" ("In the name of gramps!"). Because catchphrases are superspecialawesome. And of course, all these things were present in the book. Especially the gruesome murder was quite... gruesome with hearts being ripped out from chests. Nyeh.

The story starts with a terrorist hostage situation, with Kindaichi as one of the hostages and a leader/murderer calling himself King Shiisaa (it took me half the book to realize it was not meant as King Caesar, which in Japan contrary to the English-speaking world, is apparently actually pronounced in the right way). And stuff happens. Blah Blah Blah, Attack mode, Blah. Mediocre story, probably due it being originally meant as a movie set-up. And of course, everyone knows Morse code and everything is online. It felt more like a Kindaichi story by early writer Kanari instead of a novel written by the superior current writer-in-charge Amagi.

But still, as long as I am not robbed of my catchphrases and bloody murders, I tend to be fairly mild with my Brooklyn Rage towards mediocre Kindaichi stories compared to other mediocre detectives. Screw consistency, I have money. Or something like that. The offer of new Kindaichi material has been minimal these last few years (this year it's two Nintendo DS games and one story), but at least it's consistent. Of course, a new drama series based on the newer stories would be superspecialawesome and bound to attract a new audience of fans, if not only because Kindaichi drama always feature Johnny artists as protagonist Hajime and are always widely popular (then again, Johnny's are everywhere.)

On a side note, the book Yokai Attack! - The Japanese Monster Survival Guide makes a very interesting read on youkai, Japanese monsters/spirits and the like. Series like Umezu's Cat-Eyed Boy, Takahashi's Inu Yasha, Tezuka's Dororo and Mizuki's GeGeGe no Kitarou all feature loads of youkai, both by incorporating classic ones or by making new youkai based on classics. From well known traditional youkai like kappa, tengu and onibaba to more recent urban legend-like ones like Kuchisake Onna ("Slit-mouth woman") and Toilet no Hanako ("Hanako of the Toilet"), there all here in one handy guide. If in the least interested in monsters, mythology, Japan and horror (in all possible combinations of the above) this is a must-read. In America.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

「過去を振り返る時期は過ぎて、これからは未来を見つめる時です。」

"What would be the fun of that? Where's your planning? Where's your clues?"
"I don't want any clues. I want to murder you. What do I want with clues?"
"
Well, if you haven't got any clues, where's your book?"
"
I am not talking about writing books, I'm talking about killing you!",
 "Shadow of a Doubt"


While I like to read Japanese detectives, my Japanese language skills just aren't sufficient enough to even try to emulate my reading speed in English. Which means I still can't really practice the ancient Japanese art of tachiyomi and it also means that 'normal' length books take ages to read in Japanese. Luckily, I am more of a short story reader.

But I do read longer books occasionally and it took almost my whole week, but I finally finished Nikaidou Reito's Kyuuketsu no Ie ("House of Blood Suckers"). Nikaidou is one of the most famous modern orthodox mystery writers in Japan, but because his work has not been translated, he is hardly known in the West (c.f. Shimada Souji, Norizuki Rintarou whose work have been translated). The one mention I found about Nikaidou in English even had his name wrong (Reijin and Reihito). Anyway, Nikaidou's tend to be very long and he might even hold the record for longest detective novel, as his Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") is approximately 2600 pages long. Luckily, Kyuuketsu no Ie was a mere 600 pages long.

Nikaidou is known as the Japanese Carr (a nickname which he shares with Yokomizo Seishi, by the way), which is not bad company. It does show in Kyuuketsu no Ie, where we are treated to a locked room murder and two impossible crime situations, all connected to a family curse. It just breathes Carr with suggestions of the supernatural. Definately going to try more of Nikaidou. The relatively shorter books at least.

The writer is also very S.S. van Dine-ish in his use of the footnote. Don't be surprised if one chapter has more than 10 footnotes. However, the question remains however if the use of footnotes is fair. Some footnotes are Dine-ish extra information on certain point (like me trying to wikify every word in my posts), but some footnotes are (mis)directions how certain statements are (not) important. Even more enigmatic are the ones in the conclusion, where Nikaidou uses his footnotes to "prove" he planted the clues in earlier parts. But he also planted clues in the footnotes (as in information not mentioned anywhere in the book, except for in the footnotes), which is kinda misleading as in my opinion, vital information should never be in footnotes (or in brackets). Of course, the art of detective fiction is the art of misdirection, but come on, the footnotes! That is like writing the name of the murderer in the fine print! I did enjoy his copulous references to other detective novels. It's clear where Nikaidou got his inspiration from, with pages of dialogue devoted just to discussion about classic detective fiction.

At least it was a lot better than Gyakuten Houtei - Saiban'in Kouryaku Dokuhon ("Turnabout Courtroom - Jury Member Walkthrough"), a book based on the Gyakuten Saiban ("Phoenix Wright") game series. Alright, it is not very difficult to write a better story than this one. It is supposed to be a detective story that using the Gyakuten Saiban characters introduces the new Japanese jury system (implemented in May 2009) and background information to err... I guess gamers. And it did offer me a lot of information concerning the jury system in Japan in easy to read Japanese, flowcharts and cute characters (information which somehow, someday surely will come in handy), but it was a ridiculous story, disappointing in both the usage of the characters as well as the plot. Ah, if only I wasn't so susceptible to Gyakuten Saiban merchandise...

And as I am writing about the Japanese Carr and games anyway, I am pretty psyched about the upcoming Nintendo DS title Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo: Akuma no Satsujin Koukai ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: The Devil's Murder Voyage"). Because I am very susceptible to Kindaichi merchandise. 必ず買ってみせる、名探偵と言われたジッチャンの名にかけて!

Today's song: The Alfee - Justice for True Love