Saturday, January 21, 2012

Detective Movie

「僕も映画界の巨匠蔵沢 明の孫なんだよ。お互い偉大な祖父を持つと苦労するね・・・」

"I am the grandson of Kurasawa Akira, the grand master of the film industry. We both suffer quite a bit by having such illustrious grandfathers, right..."
"Not really! ... I am proud of my grandpa, but I am myself!"
"The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: The Murderer of the Silver Screen"

A sharp mind is of course essential to a fictional detective, but what is also important is.... a distinctive silhouette. Sherlock Holmes. Edogawa Conan. Kindaichi Hajime. Kindaichi Kousuke. One glance and you instantly know who the character is and what kind of story you can expect. I've written several times how important Ishikawa Kon's movies, and especially Ishizaka Kouji's acting, have been for the visual image of Kindaichi Kousuke. The shoddy hakama, the long hair, it was all in the original novels, but it was Ishizaka who first succesfully depicted Yokomizo's creation on the screen in 1976's Inugamike no Ichizoku. It's that image that people nowadays recognize as Kindaichi Kousuke.

One year before Ishizaka debuted as Kindaichi, Nakao Akira starred in a movie version of the first Kindaichi Kousuke novel, Honjin Satsujin Jiken ("The Daimyou's Inn Murder Case"). The novel itself is generally seen as one of the best, if not the best Japanese locked room mystery ever, but this 1975 movie is also widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best locked room mystery movie ever. The movie tells the story of the locked room murder of a couple on their wedding night, accompanied by the horrifyingly creepy sound of someone playing madly on a koto. For more details on my thoughts on the story and the importance of Honjin Satsujin Jiken within the literary history of Japanese detective fiction, I refer to the review of the novel, but it has to be said that it is almost surprising how loyal the movie generally is to the original story.

Generally I say, because there is one big change from the original story. The original story was set just before the Second World War, but the 1975 movie is set in contemporary times and even more surprising, has a Kindaichi Kousuke dressed in jeans. This was a radical (visual) change from the original character, who always walks around in an old hakama. Just compare Nakao's Kindaichi (left) to Ishizaka's Kindaichi (right)!

I thought I would totally hate this movie because of this, but I couldn't be more wrong. Nakao's choice of dress was a bit distracing at first, but he plays a wonderful Kindaichi Kousuke, who's a bit sharper and older than Ishizaka's one. In fact, most of the acting is good and the set, a gigantic old Japanese mansion (complete with annex) is simply gorgeous. Most of the story is set around this mansion and they really went out all out with it.

This movie is also widely praised because it managed to portray the trick behind the locked room murder in an understandable, yet impressive way. And yes, it does precisely that. The trick is so much more impressive when visualized and truly deserves the praise it gets not only as the first true Japanese orthodox locked room mystery, but also as a great trick an sich. The way it is reproduced on film is wonderful and I understand well why people consider this the best locked room mystery movie ever.

My only gripe with the movie is the way Kindaichi's explanation is portrayed in the movie: it is edited as a multi-part explanation with accompanying footage (if you see it, you'll know what I mean), but it drags on for quite some time and could have been at least ten minutes shorter without any real sacrifices, I feel. I vaguely remember the explanation being split in two parts in the original novel too, but it kinda kills the suspense you build up during a denouement scene if you cut it off halfway through only to continue it later. A smooth running explanation scene feels so much better.

Ishikawa Kon and Ishizaka Kouji never did a version of Honjin Satsujin Jiken. This might have also be because of the movie-rights, but they might have also felt that it was not really needed. It might have featured a visually different Kindaichi Kousuke, but Honjin Satsujin Jiken is really an excellent adaptation of the oriignal story.

 Original Japanese title(s): 『本陣殺人事件』

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