『ゲームセンターＣＸ #31 「海腹川背」どうでしょう?課長リターンズ』
"Another one from Hakata? Does this company have a Hakata quotum? We have three Hakata cards here!"
"Game Center CX #31 - How about 'Umihara Kawase'? The Section Chief Returns"
Another historical mystery? Do I have a historical mystery quotum? We've had three historical mysteries in a row now!
Judge Dee last week, so I'll just refer to that post for the basics and characteristics of that series. Anyway, this week I finally had a chance to look at Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders, a 1974 telefilm based on van Gulik's 1961 novel The Haunted Monastery. I haven't read that book, so I have no idea whether it is faithful to the original story or not, but most people on the internet, to refer to an anonymous entity, seem to agree that it is mostly faithful. Anyway, the story starts off very Scooby Doo-like. Judge Dee, his three wives and Tao Gan (and other servants) are forced to spend a night at a Taoist monastery because the axle of
And just like that most of Scooby Doo's episodes are fun, this is a truly entertaining telefilm. Which is partly because of the great production values. The titular haunted monastery really seems haunted, as the sets are wonderfully gloomy and eerie. There is a distinct atmosphere of pressure and fear throughout the story, as the judge wanders through the lonely hallways of the monestary and you never know what might be hiding around the corner. Indeed, just like a Scooby Doo episode.
One thing I really liked about this production were the use of still frames that turn into illustrations (I suppose they functioned as eye-catchers for the commercial breaks). It was reminiscent of the late anime director Dezaki Osamu's 'postcard memories' technique, where he would also use still frames that turned into actual illustrations (instead of motionless animation) at dramatic moments. In fact, the overall production values for this telefilm are quite high, and while some of the artistic decisions were a bit doubtful (I was not a fan of the color-schemes of the clothing, for example), this is a really well-made movie.
While Khigh Dhiegh physically does not resemble the Judge Dee of the illustrations by van Gulik, I was not really bothered by that. In fact, the whole production conveyed the atmosphere from the series very good (even though I have not read this specific story) and I suspect that some of the dialogue are lifted (almost?) completely from the book. I also think that the reason this telefilm works so well is because the story is located in one specific place without too many references to the outside world. It works perfectly as a stand-alone telefilm, with not too much series-luggage and not too many (temporal specific) cultural references. The down-side is that the setting sometimes leans towards very non-specific, stereotypical depictions of 'Ancient China', but it works in the context of this particular story. It's a shame they didn't continue with a whole series based in this telefilm.
Anyway, I had fun watching this movie and it is certainly recommended to fans of the Judge Dee series.