Monday, December 16, 2013

Little Wing


 "I'm relieved you can still look lightly at the harshness of society. It's better than only feel despair without any hope of light"
"The Wings of the Kirin"

As always using this first paragraph to say something random: I had played Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon only once, when it was first released and remembered it as the game where you had to solve a crate pushing puzzle every two minutes. But thinking I might have just made it seem more horrible in my memory, I played the game again recently. But it turns out Broken Sword 3 was indeed riddled with crate puzzles. Sigh. But now back to today's topic.

Kaga Kyouichirou series
Sotsugyou ("Graduation") (1986)
Nemuri no Mori ("Forest of Sleep") (1989)
Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita ("One of the Two Killed Her") (1996)
Akui ("Malice") (1996)
Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita ("I Killed Him") (1999)
Uso wo Mou Hitotsu Dake ("One More Lie") (2000)
Akai Yubi ("Red Fingers")  (2006)
Shinzanmono ("Newcomer") (2009)
Kirin no Tsubasa ("The Wings of the Kirin") (2011)
Inori no Maku ga Oriru Toki ("When the Curtains of Hope Come Down") (2013)

It is said that Nihonbashi is where all roads start in Japan, being the starting point of the Edo five routes. To Aoyagi Takeaki, Nihonbashi Bridge meant the ending point of his life. Aoyagi was stabbed in a underpass near the bridge, but for some reason walked, staggered all the way to the bridge, without asking for help from anyone, only to pass away in front of the winged Kirin statue on Nihonbashi bridge. Why was he so anxious to get to the Kirin statue? Around the same time, a young man Yajima Fyuki is found holding Aoyagi's belongings, but he is hit by a car during a chase by policemen. How are the two incidents connected? Kaga Kyouichirou from Nihonbashi station sets out once more to find what tragedy lies behind this all in Kirin no Tsubasa ("The Wings of the Kirin").

As you can see above, I've reviewed most of Higashino Keigo's Kaga Kyouichirou series, though it's not just novels; the reviews of the books until 2000's Uso wo Mou Hitotsu Dake are all based on the novels, but I wrote my thoughts on Akai Yubi and Shinzanmono based on their TV adaptations starring Abe Hiroshi as Kaga Kyouichirou. Kirin no Tsubasa (2012) is the motion picture set in the same series, with the same actors / production team behind it.

As a mystery film, Kirin no Tsubasa leaves a lot to be desired for. Like Shinzanmono and Akai Yubi, most of the film you'll be seeing scenes of how those left behind (Aoyagi's family and Yajima's girlfriend) are coping with their losses and how the police investigation forces them to rethink what a family is. Kaga is always there, doing his work, but he serves more like a bridge between these more emotional scenes. This was admittedly also the case with Shinzanmono and Akai Yubi, but they worked in their own, specific ways: Shinzanmono was a TV show, so you had a conclusion of some sorts every episode (every episode a small mystery was solved), while Akai Yubi was an inverted detective, where you know the family in focus was actually involved with the crime, so you had a sense of suspense watching how the family stuck together in an attempt to deceive Kaga. With Kirin no Tsubasa, you're just watching and waiting for something to happen. And you will have to wait for a long, long time for anything to happen (but crying and yelling).

And then the production team suddenly remembered this is a mystery film and they have a dead guy in their story. In the last thirty, forty minutes of the film, the viewer is suddenly presented with a lot of information and developments which kinda come out of nowhere, without proper foreshadowing and hinting. And before you know it, the case is solved.

I was stumped.

The last half of the film basically said,  "A large part of the first part of this two hour film you're watching, well, you can forget about that. That one character we paid so much attention to? Forget her. We will too. Oh, you need clues? Well, we kinda forget them in the first half, so we'll show them to you now, right before we use them to progress in the story. That way, you can't say there were no hints!". Storylines pop up from nowhere, and a lot of the parallel storytelling and linking up to the Winged Kirin statue disappear. As if you're watching two different films.

Kirin no Tsubasa in the end is more of a character study than a proper mystery film, and while Higashino Keigo's works often walk along a vague line of mystery/character drama, I can't help but feel that either he, or the film production committee went overboard with the human drama stuff. Of course better for the general public and the Shinzanmono, Akai Yubi and Kirin no Tsubasa productions might indeed purposedly focus more on human drama, but even within this set Kirin no Tsubasa feels off.

But this might be said of the Kaga Kyouichirou series in general. The earlier novels like Sotsguyou are classic puzzle plots, and Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita and Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita are fun puzzle experiments due to those stories not having a proper solution (i.e. the hints are there and it is possible to deduce the murderer, but names are not mentioned in the text itself), but the last few entries in the series are lighter on mystery and heavier on drama. Though that might be because I only saw the adaptations.

Shinzanmono had a whole season to flesh out the city of Ningyouchou as a setting and did that wonderfully; Kirin no Tsubasa had only two hours to do the same and it didn't work out that well. Nihonbashi bridge does form an excellent starting point of the film, and it is wonderful how the story keeps leading us back to this starting point of all roads, but even though the rest of Nihonbashi is also important to the story, there is just too little time to really present it as a believable setting; they're just points on a map. A shame, because I thought setting was one of the things Shinzanmono did really well.

I haven't read the original novel, so I don't know how faithful the Kirin no Tsubasa film is to the original, but it does not work as a mystery film. It just doesn't. It drags on, it offers little payback and the things that made Shinzanmono work as a human drama - mystery film hybrid, are precisely the elements that are not present in this production.

Original Japanese title(s): 東野圭吾 (原) 『麒麟の翼』

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