"We're reporters. Not detectives. Leavethe search for the criminal between all the innocent people to the police. We are the ones that save the innocent people from the criminals"
Last year, in a Japanese movies class, we watched Climber's High. The 2008 movie is about a small local newspaper covering a big plane crash. It's really one of the more interesting movies of recent years, focusing on how a newspaper works, the fight against deadlines, deciding what to report and how and finding out how to outsmart the other newspapers. Add some great acting (Tsutsumi Shinichi!) and you have a really good movie.
social school detective. Even the fact that it won the 6th Japanese Detective Writers Assocation Price didn't really make the package seem any better. The Japanese Detective Writers Assocation Price book series has some great gems, like Honjin Satsujin Jiken and Geneijou, but Kao wasn't that great, so the prize isn't a guarantee for a great book. In the end, I just hoped for the best. And the fact that it was only 105 yen, so it wasn't really worth thinking about.
I turned out to be lucky though. Shakaibu Kisha is a fun little short story collection, chronicling the adventures of the city news department of the Tokyo Nippou newspaper, led by editor-in-chief Kitazaki. He and his underlings are always searching for new scoops, so what do they do when they cover a murder case? Well, solve it before anyone else does of course, and report on it! Shimada drew on his own experience as a newspaper reporter, writing the stories in very dynamic way with many developments. So in a way, the concept is very reminiscent of Leroux' Rouletabille's adventures. Surprising was that these stories are not part of the social school of detective fiction, but true orthodox detective stories with alibi tricks and double identities and stuff.
Gozen Reiji no Datsogoku ("Prison Escape at Midnight") tells the story of Shibayama, an ex-Yakuza who had killed his superior and was sent to prison for that. He has served his time, but is too scared to leave the prison, as he is sure be lynched by his former gang. The Tokyo Nippou agrees to help him escape (so that they can make a cover story about the gang's activities) and after a near escape from one of Shibayama's old friends (who is ordered to kill Shibayama), the Tokyo Nippou and Shibayama seem to be safe. The next day however, Shibayama's friend is found dead in a river and suspicion falls on Shibayama. The ending is a surprising one, with the Tokyo Nippou going out on a limb to trap the gang's leader.
Yuugun Kisha ("Reporter in Reserve") starts with the discovery of a dead student in a burnt down art academy. The Tokyo Nippou digs around a bit and finds out that the student was involved in several love triangles and that many people had their reasons for wanting her dead. Her autopsy also shows that she was already dead before the fire, apparently being hit on the head. Was she hit by a falling object, or was it foul play? The Tokyo Nippou plays big and reports on a 'mysterious death' and suggests murder, but is very surprised when their biggest rival, the Miyako Times, reports that the girl was just a victim of the fire. Both papers work hard to find out what the truth is behind this case.
In Shimbun Kisha (Newspaper Reporter"), a new play about murderous mental patients ends in a tragedy when one of the actors gets killed back-stage. The only person with some kind of a motive seems to be the writer of the play, a former member of the troupe who had been sent to a mental institution himself after he had attempted murder on another member of the troupe. He had be been released from the institution some time ago and the director still claims that he was perfectly normal when he left the place, but the director's daughter (and attending doctor at the institute) says that the man still had a long way to go. Tokyo Nippou uses its vast net of informants to locate the man and comes to a surprising conclusion.
Fuusenma ("Balloon Demon") has a wonderful opening scene, when the dead body of a lady tied to balloons floats by the office. Reporters everywhere rush on the roofs to catch a glimpse of the body, hoping to identify her and get a headstart on the others. Who is this woman and why was she flying around the city?
With that many high school detectives, writer-detectives and amateur detectives discussed here, it was fun to read stories about a line of work that actually is related to some sort of detecting. I'm also a big fan of these 'behind-the-scenes-of-a-big-organisation stories. For example, I love Odoru Daisousasen ("The Great Dancing Investigation"), which follows the happenings at Wangan Police Station and the tension between the little precinct station and the Tokyo MPD, offering a view on the Japanese policeforce you normally don't see. Here, the workings of a newspaper (like in Climber's High) were very interesting. It was a bit hard to read though because of the jargon/industry-specific words used by journalists, but I think I might look for more of these journalist-detective novels.
Original Japanese title(s): 島田一男 『社会部記者』/「午前零時の脱獄」/「遊軍記者」/「新聞記者」/「風船魔」