"Seven ri south of Bicchuu Kasaoka, around the middle of the Seto Inland Sea, about where the three prefectures Okayama, Hiroshima and Kagawa meet, there is a small island barely two ri wide and its name is Prison Gate Island"
"Prison Gate Island"
"Prison Gate Island"
I don't think I will write a seperate review for it, but lately, I've been watching the Japanese drama IQ246 (which is running this season). It's a Sherlock Holmes-inspired inverted mystery series starring Oda Yuuji as the highly eccentric, but undeniably genius aristocrat Houmonji Sharaku (Oda is best known on this blog as the actor of Aoshima in classic police procedural drama comedy Odorou Daisousasen/Bayside Shakedown). To be honest, the plots are not especially innovative, and there have been many, many comments on the voice Oda chose for his character, but still, both production values and fairly funny characters make it a pleasant watch each week.But now to today's topic, which is also a television production.
Yokomizo Seishi's detective Kindaichi Kousuke first appeared in 1946's Honjin Satsujin Jiken, one of the classics of locked room murder mysteries in Japanese fiction. The second appearance of the somewhat shy, but brilliant detective who always wears an worn-down hakama is in Gokumontou ("Prison Gate Island"), which was serialized between 1947-1948, and first published as a standalone release in 1971. Gokumontou is the most respected Japanese mystery novel. It ranked first in both the original Tozai Mystery Best 100 of 1985, and the more recent one dating from 2013 (both lists were compiled through votes by mystery writers, critics and other mystery-related persons and institutions). It is a brilliant book with atmosphere that mixes elements of Japanese culture with the 'Western' puzzle plot in a surprising way, that is undoubtely a work of its time, but can be enjoyed even now. There is no English translation of the book available, though I think there's a Spanish one. There have also been several adaptations of this classic: I reviewed the 1977 film in the past already, but there have been more film, and TV adaptations.
I already wrote a bit more on the details of the story, and how it relates to often-used tropes in Yokomizo Seishi's novels in my review of the 1977 film, so I recommend reading that too for more background information (or: I'm not even going to try to come up with something new on the story, because I'm sure I'll just repeat myself).
A while back, I reviewed a drama based on Norizuki Rintarou's Ichi no Higeki ("The Tragedy of One"), starring Hasegawa Hiroki as the mystery writer Rintarou. I think it was announced just before that special aired that Hasegawa would also play Kindaichi Kousuke in NHK's Gokumontou. Obviously, this was quite surprising, as that meant that Hasegawa would play the lead in two mystery novel adaptations in a relatively short period. I myself had never seen something with Hasegawa before, but I really liked his take on Rintarou, so I was looking forward to Gokumontou.
NHK's Gokumontou is a very faithful adaptation of the original novel. And yes, it's not always a given that an adaptation is loyal to the original work (see also: the more recent Tommy & Tuppence adaptations), but there's a bit of a curse on Gokumontou, actually. For example, I reviewed the 1977 film in the past, which was enjoyable, but which featured an original conclusion. Why? A four-part TV adaptation was broadcast earlier the same year, so a new ending was written so even people who had read the original novel, or seen the TV adaptation could go to the theaters without knowing whodunit. The marketing campaign even had writer Yokomizo Seishi saying he confessing he didn't know who the murderer was. Another problem is that a certain, major hint to the solution in the book involves language that is considered inappropriate for TV broadcast, which means a lot of the older adaptations had to rewritten. These issues however do not pop up in NHK's Gokumontou adaptation, and the result is a very faithful adaptation that does its job fairly well in the two-hour runtime (at times, it does feel a bit rushed, but a single two-hour adaptation is of course already quite lengthy). As a mystery story, Gokumontou is still fantastic, and it shows in this special.
Hasegawa Hiroki as Kindaichi Kousuke was, in a word, interesting. I think the first thing that caught my attention was his relatively high voice, compared to other major Kindaichi Kousuke actors. Ishizaka Kouji (of the Ichikawa Kon films) and Furuya Ikkou (actor who played Kindaichi Kousuke for severa decades on TV) both had relatively low voices, as did voice-actor Kamiya Akira (the original Mouri Kogorou of Detective Conan) in the cassette tape dramas. Hasegawa's Kindaichi is quite open, like Furuya's Kindaichi, but can act fairly frustrated at times: I think this is the first Kindaichi Kousuke adaptation I've seen where you can actually see that Kindaichi Kousuke fought in the war. You don't see this aspect of his life appear prominently, like with Lord Peter's trauma, but especially near the ending, you see a side to the character no other actor has really shown before in adaptations, so I think Hasegawa's was quite memorable.
The choice of music however was horrible. Modern rock music as the theme song? For a story set in 1946 just after the war in a rural, closed community?
But in short: Gokumontou was a good, faithful adaptation of one of Japan's most beloved mystery novels that still managed to be surprising at times in regards to the acting. The special ends with a direct reference to Akuma ga Kitarite Fue wo Fuku ("The Devil Comes, Playing the Flute"), which is actually the first Yokomizo I read in Japanese, so let's hope more of these specials starring Hasegawa will follow!
Original Japanese title(s):横溝正史（原） 『獄門島』