"It's a rule that the criminal will start talking about the motive and everything when he's cornered"
Hmm, so now half of the posts of this month are on audio dramas. My amount of audio dramas I haven't heard yet is also getting dangerously low. Contemplating about rereading Queen's nationality novels for reviews. Not sure yet. Ah, choices, choices.
But anyway... back to one of the main pillars of this blog: Edogawa Rampo. I can always rely on you!
Akechi Kogorou is Edogawa Rampo's most famous fictional detective and a study of the character is in fact a study of Edogawa Rampo's complete work. Akechi first debuted in D-Zaka no Satsujin Jiken ("The Murder Case on D Slope"), where the amateur-detective Akechi solves a murder that happened in a sealed space (bookshop). Afterwards, Akechi sporadically made appearences in Rampo's work, like Shinri Shiken ("The Psychological Test"), Yaneura no Sanposha ("The Wanderer on the Attic") and even in a slightly disguised form in Nanimono ("Who"; translation available at this blog). The character of Akechi slowly changed as he started to appear more often in Rampo's stories and while he started out as an amateur detective / student clad in traditional Japanese clothing, he ends up as a dandy gentleman private detective. This Akechi Kogorou is used in several of the high-profile adult stories of Rampo, like Kurotokage ("The Black Lizard"). In Kyuuketsuki ("Vampire"), we are first introduced to young Kobayashi, Akechi's assistent. Both Akechi and Kobayashi would be used for Rampo's children's series Shounen Tantei Dan (with especially Kobayashi gaining fame in that series), but both characters thus in fact originated from Rampo's particular brand of grotesque mystery stories. Akechi is thus a character that has been used for a wide variety of stories by Rampo, from his early orthodox detective stories to the more popular ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) nonsense stories to children's stories.
NHK's radio drama based on the book, titled Kenin Gengi yori: Akechi Kogorou Saigo no Jiken ("The Last Case of Akechi Kogorou - Based on The Inhuman Illusion Game"). The story is set in postwar Japan, with a 50 year old Akechi, who is still happily married to the beautiful and smart Fumiyo. "Boy Detective" Kobayashi isn't a boy anymore and all is well. But not for long, of course. One day, Akechi is invited by ex-nobleman Ookawara and his wife Yumiko to their summer house in Atami. As the three, joined by Ookawara's secretary, are enjoying the view from the balcony with binoculars (Yumiko has a fascination for lenses), they witness a man falling from a cliff across the house into the sea. The victim turns out to be Himeda, an employee and confidante of Ookawara himself. Ookawara hires Akechi, wanting to know whether this was just an accident or a murder and Akechi gladly accepts, also because he sees the case, if there really is a case, as a personal challenge to him as a masterdetective.
And there is a case. While it might not be clear whether Himeda's death was an accident or not in the beginning, the fact that potential suspects get bumped off one after another (including one in a locked room) suggest that there is something sinister going on. Has it something to do with the white feather that was sent to Himeda just before he died and which he seemed to fear? Is the fact that the Ookawaras like detective novels and that they love coming up with murder methods relevant? And is an elderly Akechi still capable of the deductive feats that made him famous?
My first comment is not about the actual contents, but the length of this radio drama. Kenin Gengi yori: Akechi Kogorou Saigo no Jiken was originally broadcast in 1983 in twenty (almost) 15-minute installments, so the complete runtime is nearly five hours. Listening to five hours of old and slightly less than perfect audio-circumstances in Japanese is pretty tiring, I can tell you. In fact, I've tried listening to this radio drama several times in the past, but always gave up because it was just too difficult to keep concentrated on it for a long time (by which I mean, I always gave up after thirty minutes, because I kept falling asleep). It took me two years and the fact I have no books I want to read at hand to listen to this drama.
But this was actually pretty fun. Most surprisingly, Kenin Gengi yori: Akechi Kogorou Saigo no Jiken is an actual attempt of Rampo to write an orthodox detective novel, something he hadn't done in years! Alibi tricks, a locked room murder, a layered plot, this is a story that feels very different from the popular pulp stories of pre-war Rampo. Which is also why the original novel kinda bombed in Japan. The story featured orthodox detective tropes, but it is not particularly impressive, with a rather easy locked room murder, alibi tricks that seem kinda dependent on luck and it is quite easy to point out the murderer. In an era where Yokomizo and Akimitsu had already shown what an orthodox detective could be, Kenin Gengi was too simple. For the fans of Rampo's ero-guro nonsense pulp stories, Kenin Gengi was just too tame and normal, missing the bizarre and grotesque taste from Rampo's other works.
I on the other hand quite enjoyed the story, as a kind of throwback to the old orthodox Akechi Kogorou stories. One fun part was the way Fumiyo (Akechi's wife) and Kobayashi helped Akechi with his investigations. I had never seen (heard) Fumiyo in action before, but she seems to be a very capable assistant herself, actively questioning people and even going undercover to help her husband. The Akechis are an interesting detecting couple and I'll definitely try to read/see/hear more of them. Also, the use of tropes like disguises and layered plots felt perfectly normal and natural to me, as they are commonly used plot devices in early Rampo short stories. Yumiko's fascination for lenses of course comes from Rampo's own fascination for lenses, as expressed in an essay and stories like Kagami Jigoku ("Hell of Mirrors"). And while I have to admit that the tricks employed by Rampo in this story were relatively simple, it made perfect sense in-universe for them to be like that. Had they been more complex, the conclusion and the identity of the murderer would have made no sense at all and that would have been a shame, because Rampo came up with a really memorable villain.
Which is of course something he excelled in. But the villain in Kenin Gengi is very different from criminals like Twenty Faces, the Black Lizard, Golden Mask or The Clown From Hell. This time the murderer has no crazy name or weird modus operandi. It seems like a Poirot-saying, but it is the psychology behind the murders that is really impressive and that makes the murderer in this story memorable. It was not really conveyed well in the audio drama actually, but doing a bit of background research really brought this interesting aspect of the original story to my attention. Kenin Gengi's murderer differs so greatly from the Funnily Named Criminals of the past that Akechi Kogorou actually claims that the belle epoch of weird criminals has passed and that maybe it is also time for him to quit being a detective, as things have changed too much after the war (explaining the title The Last Case of Akechi Kogorou of the radio drama). Despite this lamenting by Akechi though, I do feel that this murderer does fit with the characters of some other early criminals Akechi apprehended in his early stories. This culprit fits perfectly with NiSiOiSiN's Zaregoto series too.
And I am not sure whether this was also like this in the original novel or not, but I loved the Kyushu dialect speaking police inspector Minoura! How nostalgic! And probably very distracting if you have never heard dialect from places like Fukuoka (Hakata), Nagasaki or Kumamoto before! But how utterly weird too, from a directing point of view (or if it was in the original novel, from the writer's point of view). Naturally, it is conceivable that someone from Hakata would become inspector in Tokyo in real life, but why would you choose to have someone speak in thick Kyushu dialect in the Tokyo/Shizuoka area? To set him apart as an outsider? To characterize him as a typical, high-handed Kyushu-male? They certainly didn't really succeed with either of these choices at any rate... It seems like that there is no real creative reason for him to speak like Kyushu dialect, besides appealing to me for nostalgic reasons, but I doubt that they would have foreseen that when they produced this radio drama.
But I still think that a five hour radio drama based on one novel is way too long! It took people in 1983 a whole month to go through this series! Madness!
Edit: not sure why I didn't notice earlier I was copying and pasting 'gen'i' the whole time instead of 'gengi' as the story's title... >_>
Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩（原） 『化人幻戯より明智小五郎最後の事件』