Thursday, November 5, 2015

Snow White

We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig dig
Up everything in sight
"Heigh Ho" (from: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)

Sticking the words "Murder Case" or "Mystery" behind something probably doesn't result in the most most original title for a detective story, but it is often quite effective. Like today: the effect the "Murder Case" has on an otherwise familiar set of words is actually quite a lot more than you'd initially expect.

The body of a beautiful woman, horribly stabbed to death and then set fire to, is discovered in a national park in Nagano. She is identified as Miki Noriko, an office worker of the cosmetics company responsible for the popular "Snow White" soap. Risako, a co-worker of Miki, contacts an old friend of hers, Akahoshi Yuuji, a director on a TV news show who has been waiting for a scoop. Through interviews with several of Risako's other collegues, Akahoshi learns that Miki Noriko's (less striking) collegue Shirono Miki has gone missing since the murder and that Shirono was at very bad terms with the victim, as Shirono was under the impression the victim stole her love interest. The reportage Akahoshi produces however raises questions with people who knew Shirono from the past and as more and more people react on Akahoshi's show through SNS like Twitter, it becomes clear that this case might not be as simple as Akahoshi had though in the 2014 film Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken ("The Snow White Murder Case").

Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is a 2014 film based on a 2012 novel by Minato Kanae, who made it big internationally with Kokuhaku ("Confessions"), as both the novel and the film based on it went worldwide. I've only read Kokuhaku by Minato, and it was an entertaining crime novel, though there was not much detecting. But it was okay, so I started in Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken with reasonable expectations.

And I was a bit disappointed at some parts, while impressed at other parts. The biggest disappointment to me is that once again, Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is not a real whodunnit. Even though the question of who killed Miki Noriko is definitely at the base of everything, there aren't really (fair) clues for the viewer that point to the murderer and I find that very disappointing, because the plot of Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is definitely capable of presenting a fair puzzle plot to the viewer (with some slight tweaks), I think.

The plot structure of Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is quite similar to that of Kokuhaku: while the main storyline is about Akahoshi and his quest for finding the murderer on Miki Noriko, the story is split into several segments where interested parties talk about both the victim Miki Noriko and the suspect Shirono Miki. The viewer is thus presented with different testimonies, often told from a certain point of view. It reminds of Christie's Five Little Pigs (which has Poirot investigating a case that happened many years ago, so he can only ask questions to the interested parties), or even Akutagawa Ryuunosuke's Yabu no Naka (where three testimonies about the same incident all differ; also known for the Rashomon effect). It is really neat how situations that are mentioned in one testimony, are inversed in other testimonies and gives the viewer the feeling that the whole picture is slowly being completed.

But the solution to the murder is also presented arbitrarily to the viewer (it basically comes falling from the sky) and while the structure mentioned above would have been perfect for hiding clues, clues to the identity of the murderer are rather weak and much too vague. A bit more work would have made it perfect, but now it falls short and it is not really possible to solve the case on your own based on the facts given to you in the narrative up to that point.

A big theme of Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken are SNS, especially Twitter. Protagonist Akahoshi constantly tweets about his progress in the investiation and tweets that react to him appear constantly on the screen and help move the story forward. It's too bad that things like SNS and the effect of mass media appear so little in detective fiction effectively actually. In Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken, it is mostly used as a vehicle to do some social commentary, which is the most orthodox way for it to appear in detective fiction, I guess (mass media is used in a very interesting way in a certain part of the story though). Detective Conan: Dimensional Sniper did the same thing too, as another recent example. But I've yet to see a good puzzle plot detective story completely built around things like Twitter, identities on the internet and the power of the mass media (rather than feature it as something on the background).

Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is a fairly entertaining crime film, that fills it two-hours-something with a simple plot, but with good presentation. Some of the themes addressed do a really good job at captivating the viewer too. My only complaint is really just that the plot could have been a lot more fair as a detective story with minimal effort. As it is now, it's still a reasonably fun film though.

Original Japanese title(s): 湊かなえ(原) 『白ゆき姫殺人事件』


  1. Thanks for the review. :) I think I saw it on the movies catalogue for an inter-continental flight, though I seem to recall watching something else instead. A pity that the narrative potential was not developed into a solid mystery story... A puzzle involving mass media sounds like an interesting premise!

    1. Lately, I've seen more and more appearances of mass media and SNS in detective fiction, so I think it's only a matter of time before we see a masterpiece puzzle plot story involving mass media / SNS /the like!

  2. why did you delete the translation of "the ripper"?

    1. I removed a number of translations from the blog when I got involved with officially published translations, as it had always been a rather grey area.

  3. I watched this on my flight to Japan this summer, and I agree with a lot of what you said. It's definitely not a fair play whodunnit; in the end, I feel like it was more of a lateral thinking puzzle. I can definitely see how going into it thinking it'll be a fair play whodunnit can diminish the experience, though.

    One thing I did especially like was how we got to see the same event from multiple points of view. (Rot-13) Naq va gur raq, zbfg bs gubfr qvfpercnapvrf jrer sebz gur xvyyre pbirevat ure genpxf, juvpu V gubhtug jnf n arng, fhogyr pyhr.

    Also, I really liked how the solution came out. (Rot-13) Nxnubfuv, va gur raq, jnf whfg gur xvyyre'f cnja, naq vairfgvtngvat naq 'cebivat' gung Fuvebab jnf gur xvyyre jnf cneg bs gur xvyyre'f cyna. Fb gur gehr fbyhgvba pbzrf sebz gur cbyvpr, gur crbcyr jubfr *npghny* wbo jnf gb vairfgvtngr naq fbyir gur pevzr. Fb juvyr nyy gur fghss gung jr, gur ivrjref, fnj jnf tbvat ba, gur cbyvpr jrer pbaqhpgvat gurve npghny, cebcre vairfgvtngvba, juvpu yrnq gb gur gehr pevzvany. Fb juvyr gur fbyhgvba pbzrf bhg bs gur oyhr sbe gur ivrjre, V gubhtug vg znqr n ybg bs frafr naq jbexrq ernyyl jryy va gur pbagrkg bs gur fgbel.

    1. Well, I didn't go in expecting a fair play whodunnit; it was only after watching it I realized that this story could've been made a lot more fair with mininimal tweaking (you point out a good example; with a bit more attention to that point, the plot would've been a lot easier to deduce, rather than guess).