Wednesday, February 1, 2012

『殺意は必ず三度ある』

"認めたくないものだな。自分自身の若さゆえの過ちというものを"
『機動戦士ガンダム』

"One does not care to aknowledge the mistakes of one's youth"
"Mobile Suit Gundam"

I already said this once, but I am actually not that big a fan of Higashino Keigo, despite the fact I seem to use his name tag quite often on this blog. When he writes something good, it is really good like Meitantei no Okite ("The Laws of the Great Detective") and Yougisha X no Kenshin ("The Devotion of Suspect X"). Lately, many of his novels tend to be sad love stories with a mystery plot, but Higashino's skill in writing and a knack for coming up with neat narrative tricks usually make them very interesting to read. When he has a bad day though, his books really just feel like a checklist of detective tropes combined a love story, with little creativity.


In June 2011, Fuji TV broadcast three TV specials based on three early novels by Higashino Keigo. His early novels tend to be more orthodox detective novels as opposed to his more ambiguous later novels, but they are usually not very interesting, following the basic tropes and formula of the genre, with SUSPICOUS characters and DRAMATIC revelations and TEARBREAKING conclusions. Or something like that. They are well-suited for TV-format though, I have to admit.

11 Moji no Satsujin ("The Eleven Characters Murders") was the first of the specials, broadcast on June 10 2011 and definitely the worst of the bunch. The story is about a female detective fiction writer, who while well known, has lately been in a writing slump. One day her boyfriend is found murdered and the only message he left was "from an unhabited island, with murderous intent" (which is written Japanese in eleven characters, hence the title). While she might have troubles with her own fictional murders, the writer decides to investigate the murder herself with the help of her editor/friend, but it seems like her boyfriend's murder was not the only one to happen recently and she finds out that her boyfriend was related to an incident that happened one year ago on a small island, which may the reason of his death.

This story is really just Higashino Keigo checking off a gigantic list of tropes that seemed to fit his idea of a detective story. 11 Moji no Satsujin almost feels made for a TV adaptation as it really feels like those two-hour suspense dramas. It is only missing a denouement at a cliff overlooking the sea! In fact, it had helped this special if it had a denouement scene at a cliff overlooking the sea. Now I was just like "Oh, she solved the case. Nice for her". I had actually seen this special right after it was broadcast last summer, but it was so utterly boring that it took me until now to work the courage to watch the other two specials. The only point of interest: an alibi that crumbles due to the testimony of a blind person, which is reminiscent of a certain famous Yokomizo Seishi novel.

Brutus no Shinzou ("Brutus' Heart"), the second special broadcast on June 17 2011 is a lot better. A very succesful engineer Suenaga Takuya is seen as the new hope of a gigantic heavy industry corporation, having constructed Brutus, a high-tech robot. The CEO also intends to marry his daughter off to him and nothing stands in his way to the top. Except for his mistress Yasuko who says she is pregnant with his child and intends to blackmail him. He discovers that two other men in the corporation are being blackmailed (for the same reasons) and they decide to work together to kill her off. They come up with the plan of a murder-relay: the three men split up the murder in three parts (the actual murder in Osaka, transport to Tokyo and disposal of the body in Tokyo). By making sure they do have an alibi for the parts they don't have to do, they hope to fool the police.

Which seems like a nice plan, until they find out that the body they have been transporting was the body of one of three conspirators and that Yasuko is still alive the next day. Who killed their fellow conspirator? Was it Yasuko? Who knew of the plan? Fearing for his own life, Takuya hopes to find the murderer to cover up his relation to the murder relay.

For some reason, Fujiwara Tatsuya always seems to be playing the role of an elite arrogant young man with a murderous streak and an awful, awful laugh in detective productions. Light in Death Note, that guy whose name I forgot in the first episode of Furuhata Ninzaburou FINAL, Takuya in this Brutus no Shinzou, Fujiwara seems rather typecast for these kinds of things. Anyway, Brutus no Shinzou is really an improvement to 11 Moji no Satsujin, as the plot of a murder relay gone wrong is quite exciting. At first you think it starts out as an inverted detective, but the plot really takes a different turn when they discover that their fellow-conspirator is dead and the intended target not. Though I have to admit that the idea is a lot better than the execution, as the conclusion with the surprising identity of the murderer (in reality not really surprising) is a bit bland and the some of the subplots were really, really generic.

Luckily, they saved the best for last, as Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken ("The Kairoutei Murder Case"), the final special broadcast on June 24 2011, was actually pretty good. The wealthy Ichigahara Takaaki has died and his family, mostly brothers and sisters from different mothers, have all gathered in Kairoutei, a Japanese inn, to await the presentation of his will. Besides the family, the beautiful Miwako is also present as a representative of her mother, an old family friend. Little does the family now however that Miwako is in fact Kiryuu Eriko, the secretary of Takaaki who is said to have commited suicide half a year ago after she had an attempt on her life by her boyfriend Jirou in a forced love suicide, all at the Kairoutei. She however knows that Jirou did not commit suicide, but was killed and faked her own suicide to take revenge (having undergone plastic surgery to change her face). Now all the guests that were present that day half a year ago are here gathered at the Kairoutei again and she intends to take revenge.

Confusing? It is and the first twenty minutes I really had no idea what I was watching but the simple version is 'Eriko (pretending to be Miwako) wants to kill murderer of her boyfriend, but does not know who (s)he is'. Eriko sets a trap and having found out the identity of murder, goes to his/her room to murder to murder him/her, only to find out that her victim is already dead! Why was the murderer killed before Eriko could have done the deed? Was the victim really the murderer or was Eriko's trap faulty? As the police slowly starts to doubt Eriko's real identity, she has to hurry finding out who it was who killed her Jirou to take her revenge.

The original novel is known for a certain narrative trick, that did not translate well to the screen, but there is in fact another narrative trick hidden in this special that really worked well. I was caught completely off guard when the reveal came for that trick and that won me over. With a murderer who is planning to kill another murderer (with something going wrong, like in Brutus no Shinzou), Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken is really a great suspensful story, that despite a really confusing beginning with flashbacks and an excessively complex family tree of multiple mothers and deceased family members, really manages to deliver at the end. In fact, this special's plot really became better and better as it neared its conclusion, making it a really satisfying story. Tokiwa Takako also stole the show as a vengeful Eriko and she was definitely the best lead part of the three specials.

In the end, these specials did little more than confirming my ideas about Higashino Keigo: you have to be careful with what you read of him, as the quality of his works can vary quite a bit, especially his earlier works.

Original Japanese title(s): 東野圭吾(原) 『11文字の殺人』 / 『ブルータスの心臓』 / 『回廊亭殺人事件』

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