I am not sure whether the term nursery rhyme murder is fitting. But this pattern has popped up in all sorts of mystery novels. This pattern, this formula where murders follow a nursery rhyme, a counting song or a poem. They sometimes call it a mitate satsujin, a murder made to appear like something.
"Here in Japan, a famous example would be The Devil's OO Song, right?"
"In that novel, the song used was made up by the writer. So he could just create one to fit his story. But it's difficult when you have to use something that already exist. From the same writer, there is Prison OO Island"
"Now that you mention it, that mother goose song thing and our case with the lullaby seem awfully alike..."
"So you noticed it," Tenkaichi smiled. "It seems like our writer has been busy copying other books"
"The Laws of the Great Detective"
The very first time I used something detective-related in my academic career was when I discussed Ichikawa Kon's 1976 movie Inugamike no Ichizoku ("The Inugami Clan") for a course on Japanese and Korean movies. Ichikawa is one of the more famous Japanese film directors and there is quite some (academic) information to be found about him and many of his movies, but his six Kindaichi Kousuke films are usually skimmed over in the material. 'Cause they're just detective movies based on some popular novels.
Of course, Ichikawa did often base his films on books and his Kindaichi Kousuke films rank among the most popular of his movies with the public, so I still don't see any good reason to exclude these movies from academic analyses... But besides that: Ichikawa Kon's Kindaichi Kousuke films, starring Ishizawa Kouji as the long-haired private detective, are excellent movies. When people think of Kindaichi Kousuke, they think of the image that was established in this series (also because Ichizawa was the first actor who actually was trying his best to stick to the character of the novels). The first movie in the series (and the first movie of Kadokawa studios), Inugamike no Ichizoku, was such a blockbuster (in 1976) that it actually sparked a Kindaichi Kousuke boom in Japan, with other film studios also trying to cash in on the boom with other Kindaichi movies. Few productions have the flair the Ichikawa/Ishizaka films have though.
trailer). Whereas the previous movie was set around the mansion of a wealthy family, Akuma no Temariuta is set in a small mountain village on the border of the Hyougo and Okayama prefecture: Onikobe ("Demon's Head") Village. Kindaichi Kousuke is asked by an old friend, police inspector Isokawa, to come to this village because the inspector wants Kindaichi to solve a case he handled 20 years ago. He fears that he made a huge mistake in the past and he wants Kindaichi to settle the case once and for all.
The case of the past soon has to make way for the present though: things get complicated when Kindaichi and the inspector discover that a villager has disappeared, with signs of violence in his house. This is quickly followed by the discovery of the dead body of a girl, Yura Yasuko. The murder scene is truly grotesque: after strangling Yasuko, the body was placed beneath a waterfall, with a funnel in her mouth, thus leading the water, through a vassal, straight into the poor girl's mouth!
It is first thought that the girl might be the victim of an old family fued between her family and the Nure family. Yasuko and Nire Fumiko also happened to be fighting over the same boy, so that also forms a motive. However, old granny Yura tells Kindaichi something frightening: it seems that the bizarre murder scene of her granddaughter was exactly like the lyrics of an old handball song in the village. Children would sing the song while playing with a ball in the time when the granny was a young girl. The song actually has three parts, but sadly enough, granny Yura can't remember the lyrics to the whole song. With more murders occuring in the village, it takes a lot of head scratching by Kindaichi to solve this case.
Murders following the lyrics of a song? Yes, this was Yokomizo Seishi's second try at a nursery rhyme mystery. The first try, Gokumontou ("Prison Gate Island") actually used haiku from that old master Matsuo Bashou, but it seems like Yokomizo also wanted to write a nursery rhyme mystery with... a real children's song. He had actually almost given up on it as he couldn't find a suitable song until someone gave him the rather obvious advice: come up with your own song if you can't find one. The result is a very engaging mystery, as Yokomizo combines the nursery rhyme plot with the remote, secluded community setting he excels in. The power-struggle witin the large families of the village, the fights between the younger generation and the older generation, the strange lyrics of the handball song and the case of 20 years ago Kindaichi was asked to solve, they serve as the main elements of a two-and-a-half hour treat of a mystery film.
It's not just the original story: Akuma no Temariuta is really an engaging mystery film. Ishizaka Kouji's second time as Kindaichi Kousuke is really fun to watch and is the definite Kindaichi in my opinion. I read the novels with his face, his voice, his mannerisms in my head. The film is filmed at location and the mountains and the village serve as a fantastic background for the murders. As the Kindaichi Kousuke film series only became an actual series with this second entry, it's fun to look at the little parallels with Inugamike no Ichizoku. Scenes like Kindaichi talking with the maid at his hostel, Kindaichi refusing any pay at the end of the movie and him leaving on a train are all clear references to the previous movie. It's also quite funny to see Katou Takeshi in this movie: he played Tachibana, the police inspector in charge in Inugamike no Ichizoku and he actually plays another inspector Tachibana in this movie. The two Tachibana characters played by Katou are in fact two totally different characters (their names are actually written differently, but they share the same mannerisms). Katou actually plays three different police inspectors in Ichikawa Kon's Kindaichi Kousuke film series (two Tachibana's and a Todoroki), each time having a different relation with Kindaichi.
Like Inugamike no Ichizoku, Akuma no Temariuta is an impressive movie, as both purely a film and as a mystery. I know that Ichikawa Kon's own 2006 remake of Inugamike no Ichizoku was shown in the States but as 'Japanese' movies seem to be quite popular lately (even older movies) and with the acting of Ishizaka, the directing of Ichikawa and the original source story by Yokomizo, you'd think something could be done with the Kindaichi Kousuke film series?
Original Japanese title(s): 『悪魔の手毬唄』