"The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic."
"The Blue Cross"
It's actually amazing how many one-shot adaptations they make of mystery novels in Japan. It's almost like every other weekend there's a two-hour special based on a best-selling novel. You hardly see that outside of Japan, I think, where they usually try to go for a film adaptation. There's the occassional Christie TV special or mini-series adaptation, but that's at best once in a couple of years.
Miyabe Miyuki is one of the best-known female writers in Japan, specializing in genres like crime and fantasy. I myself haven't read that many of her works (Kasha and R.P.G., off the top of my head), but she's also one of the Japanese writers who is actually fairly well represented in English language translations. Mohouhan ("The Copy Cat Crime") is one of her best-known books, and also one of her longest (or actually, I think it is her longest story). The original seralization, which started in 1995, took about four years, and the currently available pocket paperback version consists of no less than five sizeable volumes. An English translation of the book is available on e-book (also split up in multiple volumes), with the title Puppet Master.
Mohouhan had been adapted for the silver screen in 2002, but Miyabe Miyuki Suspense - Mohouhan was the first time it had been adapted for TV. The drama consists of two, two-hour parts, and was broadcast on September 21-22, 2016. The 2002 film apparently has quite some changes compared to the plot of the original novel, assumably partly because of the runtime, but the 2016 TV drama version has been praised as a very faithful adaptation of the book. Four hours to adapt one book is actually a lot, but considering the size of the original work, I guess this was the best way to do it.
Mohouhan is not a puzzle plot mystery, but a pure crime thriller. In the first part of the drama, the narrative mainly jumps between Shigeko's POV, that of the police investigation, and the POV of the grandfather of Mariko. It is in this part where we see the true horrors of the crime, as the people left behind try to make sense of everything that has happened. Shigeko, as a freelance writer. tries to get close to the families of the victims in the hopes of getting a scoop, but writing about a mysterious serial murderer gets a lot more personal when you actually see the family of the victims break under all the pressure. The narrative jumps cleverly among all the involved parties, showing the crimes from multiple angles. The investigation in this first part of the drama features very little progress though, focusing more on the impact of the crimes. The big reveals and shocks are only revealed in the last thirty minutes or so. The second part of the drama in turn shows the denouement of the story from the POV of both Shigeko and.... the murderer. The murderer cleverly makes use of the media to conjure up a fake story about the murders, which the media, and the people in the country, love to believe. By putting different parties involved with the crimes (family of victims, freelance writer Shigeko, etc.) against each other, the mastermind manages to cause more chaos in the perception of the crimes. But for what cause?
The story is very much rooted in the foundations of shakai-ha (social school of crime fiction). The narrative of Mohouhan shows the interaction between all the parties involved with a horrible serial murder: the (family of the) victim, the murderer, the police, the media writing about the case and the general public. The story especially gives a harsh, but realistic look at the power of the media (in Japan). Do they side with the victims? With the police? Can the media write a narrative where someone else is the victim? Can the narrative in the media actually create new guilty parties? Questions like these are of course nowadays more relevant than ever, with internet and SNS giving everyone a stage to present and spread a narrative to the general public. The TV drama was set in the present day, even though the book was written twenty years ago, but the use of SNS and internet throughout the drama really didn't hurt the story, but only enhanced the role of the media. Another mystery story I discussed here where media played a role is Shirayuki Hime Satsujin Jiken, and to a lesser extent, I guess Detective Conan: Dimensional Sniper also had elements of that.
I didn't really like the murderer in this story though. It's a rare thing for me to be talking about motives on this blog (motives are usually not that big an issue in puzzle plot mysteries), but I had some trouble following the train of thought of the murderer. Like the title of the English publication suggests, there's a puppet master, a sadistic, manipulating psychopath, walking around and that can be fun: fiction like Death Note and Aku no Kyouten work because of that, but I can't help but think that the murderer of Mohouhan did a lot that would eventually always lead to their own destruction. And sometimes that is the plan, but it doesn't seem likely in this case. It appears a more hands-off approach to managing would've been better for this murderer.
Overall though, Miyabe Miyuki Suspense - Mohouhan was an enjoyable crime thriller yarn. It's quite long, four hours for just one story, but I never felt like it was dragging or boring.The narrative keeps a good sense of pacing throughout and the characters are interesting enough to make you want to see where they'll end up.
Original Japanese title(s): 宮部みゆき（原） 『 宮部みゆきサスペンス 模倣犯』