"A story about a man with a red wash basin. On a clear day, I was walking in the afternoon, when a man carrying a red wash basin on his head came walking this way. The wash basin was full of water. The man was walking slowly, very slowly, so not even a drop of water would fall out. I gathered all my courage and asked him: "Excuse me, but why are you walking around with a red wash basin on your head?" And the man answered.. The continuation of this story will come at the end of the program. This is Nakaura Takako's Midnight Japan and please accompany me until 4:00 AM!"
If my habit of using introductory quotes was stolen from Ellery Queen, then my inability to write a post without an introductory, contextualizing paragraph comes from Furuhata Ninzaburou. I need start-up time before I get into the main topic. I just can't go straight into the reviews. I just can't.
And as I don't seem to use my Furuhata Ninzaburou tag as much as I should, a short introduction: Furuhata Ninzaburou was a Japanese TV-drama, penned by playwright Mitani Kouki, that ran for well over a decade. The show was very much like Columbo, where the thrill came not from finding out who did it, but from guessing how the detective would catch his culprit. Tamura Masakazu played Furuhata Ninzaburou, a Japanese police lieutenant. Assisted by bumbling subordinate Imaizumi (played by Nishimura Masahiko) (and in the third season, also by smart, but short, sidekick Saionji (Ishii Masanori), Furuhata would use his keen mind (and utterly irritating habits which would annoy every living being) to confront his murderers, played famous Japanese people (Ichiro, SMAP, Ishikawa Kouji, Shoufukutei Tsurube and Karasawa Toshiaki to name a few).
Every show would begin with a short introduction, before the opening themes, were Furuhata would talk about some non-sequitur. Like vending machines or alarm numbers or the moon or dogs....But in fact, these little stories would often turn out to be hints pointing at the solution of every case. The stories are, as said, very much like Columbo. Furuhata would lock on every single contradiction at the crime scene or testimony and try to find the truth behind it. Not seldom would he give his suspects a chance to explain themselves, only resulting in them burying themselves in more lies till they couldn't get out. Also, in a nod to the Ellery Queen TV drama, Furuhata would always address the TV audience just before the final act, asking them whether they knew where the murderer had slipped up or how he would trap the murderer.
And yes, this is a great show. It's my favorite Japanese TV-drama (well, shared with Trick) and while Trick is more a bizarre comedy set in a mystery, Furuhata Ninzaburou is just everything a fan of the genre can wish for. And more.
Scenario-writer Mitani Kouki was mostly known for his comedic stage productions (some of which have been made into movies), and has also directed movies himself in recent years (for example Welcome Back Mr. McDonald, The Uchouten Hotel and The University of Laughs). Mitani is quite a prolific writer, as he also pens essay-books and novels. But I am actually not sure what moved him into creating Furuhata Ninzaburou. You do see a lot of his background in Furuhata Ninzaburou though. Situation comedy plays a big part in the show (you might chuckle when watching Columbo, but Furuhata Ninzaburou is actually _funny_) and I can't help but think that the small casts and the focus on fast dialogue also comes from the theater.
But anyway, the novelization of the first season of Furuhata Ninzaburou was actually penned by Mitani himself. As he writes in the afterword of Furuhata Ninzaburou - Satsujin Jiken File ("Furuhata Ninzaburou - Murder Case File"), usually scenario-writers just lend their names to ghost-writers for TV drama novelizations, but as Mitani is a honest man, he wrote it himself. The book was to be released before the final episode would appear and because of that, Mitani was only able to make novelizations of 10 episodes (of a total of 12 episodes).
As a man of the theater, Mitani didn't see the novelization as just a novelization, but more like how it works with a play. Every time a play is performed, the playwright learns something new, he sees something that needs to be changed and so the novelization differs at some points with the TV drama. Mitani deleted some scenes/lines he felt obsolete, added scenes/lines that had been cut at first. Most importantly, Mitani shifted the perspective of the stories from Furuhata, to the criminal. Furuhata Ninzaburou in the TV show is, thanks to Tamura's acting, a very recognizable character, with dozens of habits and pet-peeves (Regarding hamburgers: "One pickle in the middle, surrounded by four pickles!"). You'll see him a lot in monomane shows. In the novel however, Mitani tried to erase as much of Furuhata's presence as much as possible. And as we only see him through the eyes of the criminal, it almost seems like Furuhata is a ghost. Appearing before the eyes of the murderer after the crime, solving it, and then leaving. Because of the shift of perspective, subordinate Imaizumi was deleted from the stories entirely, which is a bit sad, but I admit it's needed if Mitani wanted to write it like this.
But onwards to the stories.
In Omedetou Ari sensei ("Congratulations, doctor Ari) [TV-version: Episode 3, Waraeru Shitai ("The Laughing Corpse")], psychologist Ari kills her lover, but sets things up to make it seem like self-defense. The fact that the corpse seems to laugh makes Furuhata thinks otherwise though (Memorable moment: Furuhata smoking through a panty, something he had hoped was impossible.). Both the way Ari killed her lover, as well as the solution are amusing, though the solution is slightly... well, not unbelievable per se, just a bit unlikely.
Rokudaime no Hanzai ("The Sixth' Crime") [Episode 2, Ugoku Shitai ("The Moving Corpse")] is about a murder committed by a kabuki actor. Besides the kabuki theater setting though, the story has no real particulars in my opinion. Not counting Sakai Masaaki playing the murderer in the TV-version.
Banzuiin Dai, Hashiru ("Run, Banzuiin Dai") [Episode 4, Koroshi no Fax ("The Murder Fax")] is memorable to me, because it's the first Furuhata story I ever saw. Mystery-writer Banzuiin's wife has disappeared and Banzuiin is sent fax-messages from a kidnapper demanding money. But actually, Banzuiin has killed his wife himself and has set his fax on a timer to send the 'messages from the kidnapper' to himself, as this would make him seem innocent in the eyes of the police. Furuhata was called in just in case by his superiors (as Furuhata handles murders, not kidnapping cases), but some sharp observations ruin all of Banzuiin's plans. And it seems even my modern readings are old: I chuckled when reading the line saying using something like a fax for an alibi trick must be unprecedented. Times move fast.
Chinami no Ie ("Chinami's House") [Episode 1 Shisha kara no Dengon ("A Message from the Dead")] I have actually translated. Features a dying message without a message. Or something like that. Read it.
Iguchi Kaoru no Requiem ("Iguchi Kaoru's Requiem") [Episode 6, Piano Lesson] is very similar to Rokudaime no Hanzai. Both stories are set in a 'special' environment. Where Rokudaime no Hanzai was set at a kabuki theater, Iguchi Kaoru no Requiem is set at a music school. Both stories also feature a solution that hinges the culprit's misunderstanding of circumstances.
Kuroda Seinen no Yuutsu ("Young Kuroda's Melancholy") [Episode 9. Satsujin Koukai Housou ("Open Broadcast Murder")] is a fun little episode, where the self-proclaimed psychic Kuroda shows his powers to the world in live broadcast show. His 'powers' are quickly proven to be nothing more than mere parlor tricks by a scientist. But just as it looks like game over for Kuroda, he senses and finds the body of a dead man. Live on TV! I actually enjoyed the novelization more than the original TV version; reading it from Kuroda's perspective makes the character a lot more interesting (he has the same character development in the TV-show, but there it's rather sudden). And this time, Furuhata doesn't even make a real appearance, as he only tells the scientist some thoughts he had while watching the broadcast...
Sakotsubo Hisho no Nagai Yoru ("Private Secretary Sakotsubo's Long Night") [Episode 10, Mujun darake no Shitai ("The Corpse full of Contradictions")] feels a bit like those shakai-ha (Social) detective novels. Sakotsubo, the private secretary of a Diet member accidentilly kills his boss' lover as Sakotsubo and his boss tried to convince her to break up with, in fear of a scandal. When his boss orders him to make it look like Sakotsubo had a relation with the woman and that she comitted suicide because he dumped her, Sakotsubo snaps and kills his boss. Or so he thinks. Even though he went through the trouble setting things up to look like a double suicide, he is quite surprised to see the police handling the lover's death as a murder, while his boss wasn't dead, only heavily wounded! And as if that wasn't enough, that annoying police lieutenant keeps rambling about things...
Sayonara Otakasan ("Goodbye, Miss Otaka") [Episode 11, Sayonara, DJ ("Goodbye, DJ")] is one of my favorite stories. Once again a 'special' environment is used, this time a TV/radio station, where DJ Otaka manages to kill her assistent while on-air! The setting of TV/radio station is used perfectly and Mitani would revisit the radio-station setting in the wonderful movie Welcome Back Mr. McDonald,
Nakagawa Gekabuchou no Coat ("Chief Surgery Nakagawa's Coat") [Episode 8, Satsujin Tokkyuu ("Murder Express")] is just fun, because it features a murder on a train. On a Shinkansen to be exactly. With topics like ekiben, yakuza and train manners in Japan, this story is also one of the more cultural interesting ones, I think.
Kogure Keibu Saigo no Jiken ("Police Inspector Kogure's Last Case") [Episode 12, Saigo no Aisatsu ("The Final Greeting")] is indeed about Police Inspector Kogure's last case. The murderer of Kogure's granddaughter was never convicted by the judge, so Kogure took matters into his own hands. Furuhata immediately suspects his superior, but it seems like he has an iron-clad alibie. This story once again features a solution that hinges on the culprit's misunderstanding of circumstances and I don't really like it, as the solution is rather hard to deduce yourself. It makes sense in hindsight, but it's a bit unbelievable and the whole story is only just memorable for some scenes where Furuhata explains that he never uses a gun (he always pretended to be sick when they had shooting exams) and eating MOS burger.
It's just too bad it ends with this though! I wish Mitani had wrote more novelized versions, as there are great stories in later seasons too. Especially season two's opening episode, Shaberisugiru otoko ("The Too Talkative Man") can be considered one of the better known detective stories in Japan (having Akashiya Sanma as the culprit might help) and in fact, I'm pretty sure that episode is where Takumi Shuu got his inspiration for Gyakuten Saiban from, as it features a case solved in the court and incessant pouncing on contradictions in testimony that is the essence of Gyakuten Saiban.
Original Japanese title(s): 三谷幸喜『古畑任三郎・殺人事件ファイル』/「おめでとうアリ先生」/「六代目の犯罪」/「幡随院大、走る」/「ちなみの家」/「井口薫のレクイエム」/「黒田青年の憂鬱」/「迫坪の長い夜」/「さよならおたかさん」/「中川外科部長のコート」/「木暮警部最後の事件」