"Seven ri south of Bicchuu Kasaoka, around the middle of the Seto inland sea, about where the three prefectures Okayama, Hiroshima and Kagawa meet, there is a small island barely two ri wide and its name is Prison Gate Island"
"Prison Gate Island"
Like I mentioned in the review for Yokomizo Seishi's Honjin Satsujin Jiken ("The Daimyou's Inn Murder Case"), secondary literature on the genre often include spoilers on novels. Which is of course totally acceptable if that specific plot-point needs to be discussed for the writer's argument. And like I mentioned in the same review, I have spoiled myself on same (extremely) famous Japanese detective novels in the past, as I hadn't expected I would be able to read them any time soon (and the academic articles did look very interesting).
Honjin Satsujin Jiken was one of the novels I had already spoiled for myself before I started reading it (though I enjoyed it immensely despite that). And the same holds for Yokomizo Seishi's Gokumontou ("Prison Gate Island"): I already knew the basic plot and the solution to the story thanks to an (interesting) article by Sawana on the adaption of nursery rhymes in Japanese detective fiction (see the attic). Gokumontou is the second novel in the Kindaichi Kousuke series and certainly one of the most famous Japanese detective novels of all times.
Akuma no Temariuta), indicating how popular the character had become in Japan. The boom was so big that Kindaichi also started to appear on TV that same year, with the Yokomizo Seishi TV-series starring Furuya Ikkou as Kindaichi. Because a TV-adaption of Gokumontou was shown just slightly before the theatrical release of Gokumontou, Ichikawa changed the ending of the movie so the public could still have fun guessing whodunnit. In fact, Yokomizo Seishi himself appears in the trailer of Gokumontou, saying that even he doesn't know who the murderer is!
Kindaichi Kousuke is asked by a friend to go to the titular Prison Gate Island, a small island in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea. Kindaichi is supposed to inform the Kitou family that Kitou Chimata, the heir of the Kitou family, has sadly died during his repatriation after World War II. Just before he died, Chimata seemed to have feared something terrible, crying out that his three sisters will also die if he died. Kindaichi's friend was a friend of Chimata and he hopes that Kindaichi won't just inform the Kitou family of Chimata's death, but also find out what Chimata meant with those words and if they are true, he hopes that Kindaichi can prevent the sisters' demise.
Arriving on Prison Gate Island, Kindaichi encounters the elements which would grow out to be the typical Kindaichi background setting. 1) A secluded mountaineous area with small village communities that don't particularly like strangers. Prison Gate Island is quite some way from the mainland, resulting in a very tight community on the island. This is also seen in other Kindaichi novels like Akuma no Temariuta and Yatsu Haka Mura. 2) Power struggles between wealthy and powerful main and branch families. The Kitou family is the most important family not only on Prison Gate Island, but is known on all the islands in the neighbourhood. With the heir dead, major changed are expected in the power-balance on the islands. These power-battles are also seen in Akuma no Temariuta and Yatsu Haka Mura. 3) The fear of repatriated soldiers who may have gone mad during the war. With the war just over, people are a bit afraid of ex-soldiers, who may have developed a lust for blood in the war. The war is often mentioned in the Kindaichi novels, but this particular motif is also used in Inugamike no Ichizoku.
The three sisters of Chimata, who are next in the line of succession in the main Kitou family, also seem a bit mad actually, or at least a bit immature for their age. But that doesn't really matter, as they die. Or to be precise: they are murdered. In hideous ways. One sister is hanged upside down from a tree, another is found inside a gigantic temple bell, while the third is found dressed in a priest's clothing. Kindaichi clearly fails in protecting the girls, but he sure isn't planning to let the murderer escape. The problem is: as an outsider, people seem relunctant in cooperating with him. The policeman explains it rather simple at the beginning of the story: the villagers don't trust outsiders and they'd rather lie about thefts, saying they misplaced it or something, than report the theft to the police. It almost seems unclear who Kindaichi's biggest enemy is on Prison Gate Island: the murderer or the inhabitants.
Gokumontou is considered as one of the masterpieces of Yokomizo and I totally concur: this is one of the most entertaining detective stories I know. Yokomizo was a master in creating an eerie traditional, closed community setting and the same holds for this story. But the most impressive has to be the plot structure, which like Honjin Satsujin Jiken invokes a part of traditional Japanese culture and is expertly woven into the plot. The main hint that points to the murderer is actually just as brilliant and in fact one of the best hints I've seen in a detective ever. It's just too bad that due to circumstances in Japan, it's actually very hard to use this hint in the current modern society. I actually heard they censored the hint in some TV broadcasts of this movie. Which is a bit... annoying if you want to solve the murders yourself.
As a movie, Ichikawa Kon continues the high standard he set with the previous two movies. The movie has some fantastic shots of the island that really convey the feeling of a secluded island. Ishizaka Kouji is still strong as Kindaichi Kousuke, while personally, I love the return of Sakaguchi Ryouko in the series: she played the talkative maid at the inn in Inugamike no Ichizoku, and she plays a similar role in this movie. The changed murderer in the movie was taken up quite big at the time: it seems that besides Yokomizo Seishi appearing in the trailer, special signs were placed at the theaters saying they had a different murderer! In retrospect, the change isn't as big as they'd want you to believe and it sadly changes some of the symbolism in the original story.
Just like Inugamike no Ichizoku and Akuma no Temariuta, Gokumontou is an excellent murder mystery film. Even though this movie was released the same year as Akuma no Temariuta, the quality hasn't suffered a bit and this film is at least as fun as that one. But actually, all Ichikawa Kon / Ishizaka Kouji Kindaichi Kousuke movies seem to be this good.
And no, I'm not actually planning this as a review series of the Ichikawa Kindaichi movies: things just happened to work out this way.
Original Japanese title(s): 『獄門島』