Showing posts with label Edogawa Rampo | 江戸川乱歩. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edogawa Rampo | 江戸川乱歩. Show all posts

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Gold Solution

The Real Folk Blues
本当の喜びを知りたいだけ
光るものの全てが黄金とは限らない
The Real Folk Blues (山根麻衣)

The Real Folk Blues
I just want to know real happiness
Not all that glitters is gold
"The Real Folk Blues" (Yamane Mai)

The new Detective Conan film looks awesome! At least, the story seems, like Countdown to Heaven and The Raven Chaser before it, somewhat related to the bigger storyline, so excited! Now if only I can get myself in Japan around April...

Edogawa Rampo's Ougon Kamen ("The Golden Mask") is named after a mysterious figure wearing the titular item, a golden mask with only a set of slit eyes and a giant smile as its face. The Golden Mask has been responsible for the most audicious thefts in recent memory and is also considered the main suspect for several murders. The police has no idea of how to stop the illustrious thief, and the matter seems to turn into an international affair when the Golden Mask threatens to rob the French ambassador. But celebrated detective Akechi Kogorou is also involved and he claims he knows who the mysterious figure is, just based on the discovery of a note with the initials A.L.

Okay, I'll just spoil it now: it is Arsene Lupin. Yes, it was the famous French gentleman thief who had been making trouble in Tokyo wearing a golden mask. Of course, most people who read Ougon Kamen now, read it because they know Arsene Lupin appears in it, so it's not that big a spoiler.

Maurice LeBlanc famously pitted a certain consulting detective against his Arsene Lupin; Edogawa Rampo in turn pitted Lupin against his Akechi Kogorou. LeBlanc was forced to chance the name of this consulting detective to something less dangerous in the courtroom, but with the more lax copyright rules at the time (and most likely also the smaller market and people simply not knowing of the book), Lupin has always stayed Lupin in Ougon Kamen (though TV adaptations wisely didn't use his name).

Anyway, the basic idea shouldn't be hard to guess. Over the course of the novel, Akechi and Lupin have several skirmishes, each party trying to outsmart the other. As with practically all of Rampo's serialized novels, he seems to improvise most of the time, and what you get is a chaotic series of entertaining confrontations between the two. Nothing too deep, but simply fun to read. Especially one part in the middle, which takes place during a party styled after Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of Red Death, is great stuff, as well as a climax that has elements of both the Lupin and Akechi series.

Ougon Kamen was written in 1930-1931, so it is not hard to see how the fight between Arsene Lupin and Akechi Kogorou seemed to have inspired the creation of the Fiend with Twenty Faces (1936), Rampo's own thief-and-master-in-disguises. In fact, the Lupin in Ougon Kamen has some character elements that seem more like the Fiend, than the actual Lupin. Sure, Ougon Kamen's Lupin is still very popular among women, but he is also a bit more ruthless, a bit more willing to shed blood than the real Lupin. Akechi says this might be because Lupin doesn't consider Asians worthy of the same courtesy he shows his own countrymen, but still, this is a weird Lupin. But it's not hard to guess why: Akechi Kogorou is the protagonist, so Lupin has to appear as an actual villain for you to root for Akechi (the same happened to that consulting detective in LeBlanc's crossovers...). In the end we're left with a Lupin who is mostly like Lupin, but also a Lupin who obviously serves as a prototype for the Fiend. I think that Akechi Kogorou himself commented that the Lupin in Ougon Kamen was weird in Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei ga Oosugiru (the legal nightmare crossover with Ellery Queen, Hercule Poirot, Maigret and Akechi Kogorou vs. the Fiend with the Twenty Faces and Arsene Lupin).
  
Ougon Kamen is like most of Rampo's serialized novels a bit of a chaotic mess, but the kind of mess that is fun, amusing and bound to leave a smile on your face. It's written for the masses, which is not a bad thing per se, and the childish ideas might not be for everyone, but I know I was amused from start to finish.

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩 『黄金仮面』

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Look into my Eyes

Look into my eyes きっと会える
 探し続けた人も、場所も 求め続けた答えも
"Look into my Eyes" (Fayray)

Look into my eyes You will definitely find
the person you've been looking for, the place, the answer you've been searching for

Now that I think about it, this review has been waiting to be written for almost two months now. I should really work a bit faster...

The 2004 TV drama Rampo R is based on the works of Edogawa Rampo, grandfather of the Japanese mystery story, and set in contemporary times. Our protagonist is Akechi Kogorou III, grandson of the original Akechi Kogorou, the greatest detective Japan has ever known. Due to his father's sudden demise, Akechi III has to take over as the field agent of the famous Akechi Kogorou Detective Agency, which in turn brings him in contact with the strangest cases and the most grotesque of murderers. The original Akechi Kogorou is known for having solved countless of crimes featuring the most strange murderers, but can Akechi III live up to his family name, and will he be able to solve the mystery of his grandfather's nemesis the Fiend with Twenty Faces, who is said to be still alive?

Rampo R has long been lauded as one of the best Rampo adaptations available, so I didn't hesitate when I had the chance to finally see it. And it certainly didn't disappoint. I have discussed a great number of adaptations of Edogawa Rampo's works by now (Kyoufu Kikei Ningen, Kurotokage, Rampo, Rampo Noir, Moujuu, Yaneura no Sanposha, Issun Boushi VS Moujuu, Akechi Kogorou VS Kaijin Nijuu Mensou, and those are just the TV/film adaptations...), but I will declare it now, Rampo R is by far the most interesting of them all.


It is also one of the most loose adaptations of Rampo's works, but that doesn't hurt Rampo R a bit. Sure, the main story is pretty generic (grandson of the original Akechi Kogorou following his footsteps), but don't let that fool you. Every episode is based on one story (or more) by Rampo (though not all stories originally featured Akechi), set in contemporary times and often highly rewritten to fit in the time-limit of one episode. What makes this series a bit different from most Rampo adapations, is the fact the creators actually aimed for a fair detecive drama, instead of focusing on the more erotic and grotesque aspects of his works. The first episode is based on the horror short story Ningen Isu ("The Human Chair") for example, but this has been extensively rewritten to be a fair detective story. And it works! In fact, Ningen Isu has often been used as an 'element' within other Rampo film adapations (Kyoufu Kikei Ningen and Yaneura no Sanposha had it, for example), but never has it been 1) used as the main plot and 2) done so well (I will admit that Ningen Isu is one of my favorite stories, so Rampo R gets bonus points for that).

The adaptation of famous Rampo stories as fair play detective stories works mostly well. Most of the stories were written as such anyway, but an episode like Kurotokage is a bit strange; the original was a Great Detective VS Great Criminal story, but turning that into a whodunnit of sorts, doesn't work, because everyone knows who the Black Lizard is. Rampo's works often featured larger-than-life criminals (seriously, have you ever seen the titles of his books? From vampires to clowns from hell and electric men, Rampo has everything), so sometimes it feels a bit strange to have a rookie detective face off against them, but then again, he is the grandson of Akechi Kogorou.

Of course, free adaptations don't always work well. In some eyes, any change from the original might be seen as a bad thing. Some might consider minor changes, but Rampo R's changes are anything but minor. Yet, I don't think it is a bad thing per se, and I actually doubt Rampo himself would have really minded, considering a lot of his works were in fact rewritten versions of / reconfigurations of / inspired by other books / ideas / concepts. I think that Rampo, who was often moved (forced) to writing more mainstream, grotesque horror stories, would have appreciated more 'orthodox detective' versions of his own stories. And more importantly, the stories as presented in Rampo R are fun! The spirit of the original stories are kept intact and one can feel the love for Rampo's work throughout the series. And as long as the end product is good and keeps the spirit of the original intact, you won't see me complaining (and even then, I actually enjoyed the TV adaptations of Christie's The Big Four and The Labours of Hercules quite well, even though they were quite different from the spirit of the original novels).

Visually, the series does suffer a bit from being made on a TV series budget. It sorta adds to the childish atmosphere some of the Rampo stories have (a man hiding in a chair is not that scary if you think about it), but still, some of the sets seem a bit cheap. The music on the other hand is fantastic though.

Rampo R is a very free adaptation of Edogawa Rampo's work, but also one of the best. In fact, I think it's the easiest Rampo adaptation to recommend to people and a great example of how adapatations don't have to follow the original to the letter to be good, and respectful to the original at the same time.

Original Japanese title(s): 『乱歩R』

Saturday, July 28, 2012

「僕にも誰かを愛せると、その手を重ねて知らせて」

「誰にも理解されず。 誰にも理解を求めず。 他人を頼らず己を頼み。自分を食い潰しながら生きていく」
『クビキリサイクル』 

"Without understanding anyone. Without asking anyone for understanding. Relying on no one, relying on oneself. Living on while living off one self"
"Deheading Cycle

If I were to plot a graph of when I make posts here against when I am busy with exams and papers, I think it show that I actually tend to post more often when I am busy. My theory: I am usually quite lazy and good at doing absolutely nothing in my free time: so when I actually have to get active (because I have to write papers / study), I also tend to read more books / write more posts. Or I am just good at not studying.

While stories like Issunboushi were considered full-length novels at the time of their publication, contemporary readers regard them more like novellas. Therefore, Edogawa Rampo's Kotou no Oni ("The Demon of the Lonely Island") is now commonly seen as his first real full-length novel. It is also often regarded as one of his best, if not the best stories, an opinion I don't share completely, but I can certainly see why readers would regard it as such. Originally serialized in 1929, Kotou no Oni starts with our narrator Minoura, a young, not particularly attractive man, falling in love with his co-worker Hatsuyo, who returns his feelings. Their relation is not completely without troubles however, with the biggest problem being Moroto, a well-educated doctor-friend of Minoura who harbors amorous feelings for him. Moroto seemingly tries to sabotage Minoura and Hatsuyo's relation and it should not come as a big surprise that Minoura suspects Moroto of being a murderer when Hatsuyo is one day found murdered in her house. A completely locked house.

Minoura asks his friend Miyamagi, an amateur detective, to investigate the murder of Hatsuyo and it doesn't take long for Miyamagi to discover a truly inferious plot surrounding Hatsuyo's murder. But before he is able to tell Munoura more about the case, Miyamagi is murdered. On a public beach. During the day. Surrounded by families who had come for a sunny day on the beach. And under the watchful eye of Miyamagi. Who is this monster who is able to murder people like that in impossible circumstances!

And this was just the first half of the novel. Things get really weird afterwards. Which is to be expected from Rampo. What starts out as a fairly orthodox detective with two murders commited under impossible circumstances, evolves in a science-fiction boys adventure mystery with sexual deviant themes. And I have to admit. It works. I have no idea how Rampo pulled it off, but it somehow _works_. Kotou no Oni is as chaotic and deviant as the themes it addresses, incorporating pretty much all the motifs Rampo used in his stories, including orthodox detecting, people hiding in stuff, sexual deviance, physical impairments, secret codes and treasure hunting, abnormal fixations, Japanese architecture, public showing of murder (victims), 'circus freaks' and a lot more, but it does not break despite all this weight.

Though I have to admit that I was quite surprised by the way Rampo played with the amateur detective trope. The amateur detective is a character who is featured a lot in Rampo's stories and even Akechi Kogorou started out as nothing more than an amateur with a knack for analytic reasoning. The way Miyamagi gets killed off early in the story is actually quite shocking, as he was presented as a really gifted amateur detective, who did not differ from Rampo's other amateurs (who don't get killed off).

Anywy, Kotou no Oni works despite its chaos, and that is definitely largely because of Rampo's writing style. I somehow forget it every time, so I get surprised every time I pick up one of his books, but Rampo was a master in storytelling. The conversations, the 'spoilers' he gives you to entice to continue reading, the mysterious events that pique your interests, the way the story keeps on evolving, it might not be suited for a real orthodox detective, but it sure keeps your eyes glued on the pages. You would hardly guess that it was pre-war literature (and yes, there is a much more profound difference in pre and postwar Japanese fiction in terms of writing style compared to English fiction).

I liked the first half, with the impossible murders, the best. Here Rampo sticks quite strongly to the orthodox detective model and while the locked room murder of Hatsuyo slightly resembles another famous story by him, I do consider it an interesting locked room trick if one realizes when and where Kotou no Oni was written. The beach murder works actually wonderful in conjunction with the Hatsuyo murder, because the the solutions to the murders, while completely different, really do rely on the same hint and the moment you realize the solution of one murder, you see the implications for the other murder. In that sense, Rampo really succeeded in connecting the two murders, instead of just writing stuff just as he was going (a tendency he has shown quite often in the past). The solution to the two murders is revealed at the end of the first half of this novel, also signalling the change in tone of the novel.

The second half moves away from the orthodox detecting and we are introduced to a swashbuckling science fiction adventure on the titular lonely island. Kotou no Oni was one of the major sources for the movie Horrors of Malformed Men, so people familiar with that infamous movie might not be surprised to hear about stuff like an island full of physically impaired people and ideas like one half of a Siamese twin falling in love with the other half. We also have a treasure hunt inside the caves under the island and an evil mastermind called Otottsan ("Father". No, no that Father). This is Rampo really giving in to his grotesque writing mode (as opposed to his orthodox detective writing mode), but like I said before: the shift does not feel too abrupt. Abstractly seen, Kotou no Oni actually follows Rampo's own evolution as a writer, from orthodox detective stories to more grotesque stories (that still rely strongly on a mystery theme). But the two parts definitely make up one whole and the little details spread over the two parts that comprise this story also shows that Rampo did actually plan this story up to a certain extent as a whole.

For those interested in a more academic reading of Kotou no Oni, there is a paper written by Reichert (‘Deviance and Social Darwinism in Edogawa Ranpo’s Erotique-Grotesque Thriller “Kotō no Oni”", see the attic) which addresses the themes of (sexual) deviance in the novel. It spoils everything of the novel though, so only for those who don't care about being spoiled, or those who are not planning to read the novel anyway.  Which also brings me to the question: I am pretty sure that this is a fairly early example of modern detective fiction that addresses homosexuality, but is the earliest? I mean, it is not just hinted that Moroto is gay, he is without a doubt presented as a man having strong romantic and sexual feelings for Minoura. Rampo is often quoted as a writer whose work features homosexuality, but Kotou no Oni is as far as I know the only story where it is not just simply implied (c.f. Issunboushi, which starts with an 'enigmatic' meeting between two men in a park which features a lot of hinting).

I wouldn't recommended Kotou no Oni as a detective story, but this novel is definitely Rampo. It features pretty all of his major themes and motifs (excluding his adolescent fiction, of course), but it doesn't feel as chaotic as you would expect it to be. In fact, for a Rampo novel, it feels remarkably as a whole and I can definitely see why people would rank Kotou no Oni as one of Rampo's best works.

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸が乱歩 『孤島の鬼』

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

番外編: The Fiend With Twenty Faces

What? The post title is not the title of a book or a quote? There is no introducing quote? Shocking! But there is a reason for that.

Because this post is more like a service announcement. Or a commercial. Some might have noticed that Kurodahan Press, who has published some interesting Edogawa Rampo novels / essays in the past, has released The Fiend with Twenty Faces a couple of days ago, the first volume in the Shounen Tantei Dan ("Boys Detective Club") series. The children's literature series stars masterdetective Akechi Kogorou and his assistens the Boys Detectives in their battles against the criminal mastermind Twenty Faces and quite famous in Japan and can been seen as the main inspiration for modern detective comic series like Conan and Kindaichi Shounen.

I had the pleasure and honor of writing the introduction to Kurodahan's The Fiend with Twenty Faces actually. Which was fun! And entertaining! Readers here might have noticed that I 1) like Edogawa Rampo and 2) I like writing about him and his works and to actually do it for an official release, well, I couldn't wish for more! It also means that I actually have the honor of having my name next to Edogawa Rampo's name on sites like Amazon. Which is really weird.

So for people interested in modern detective manga, 1930s children literature, Edogawa Rampo, Arsene Lupin and grand battles between good and evil, masterdetectives and masterthieves (not all of the above per se), take a look at Rampo's famous novel!

And now to solve the puzzle of packing for a year without making my luggage too heavy.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario

"THIS ROOM IS AN ILLUSION AND IS A TRAP DEVISUT BY SATAN. GO AHEAD DAUNTLESSLY! MAKE RAPID PROGRES!"
"Ghost'n Goblins"

Man, Super Ghouls'n Ghosts is difficult. Really difficult. Like, really really difficult. When I first saw Game Center CX's Arino struggle with the franchise, I thought that it was mainly because Arino isn't good with these sort of games, but that was not the case. It's like every enemy spawning point and every enviromental hazard is placed just so you will jump into it. Which either means you lose your armor, or your life (only two hitpoints in the game). And when you finally beat it, they tell you you have to go through the game twice to get to the real final boss! But I finally cleared the game! After a week of relentlessly replaying every level until I knew where every thing was located (and even then it's really difficult, looking at you stage 7 bosses). I probably died more often in one single level in this game than I usually do in a complete game.

But, now for something completely different. Another short shorts (short pieces on unrelated topics), because, well I have nothing I want to write extensively about. I did just realize a major flow with short shorts: there is a big chance that the things I don't want to extensively about are in fact things I don't like that much. Meaning that there is a quite a chance that the overall tone of a short shorts post can become very negative. This time: three adaptations: Moujuu tai Issunboushi, the TV special of Kamaitachi no Yoru and the first episodes of the anime Gosick. And a bit of Kindaichi Shounen.

A while back i read Edogawa Rampo's Issunboushi ("The Dwarf") and the next day I watched Moujuu tai Issunboushi ("Blind Beast vs. Dwarf"), a 2001 film by Ishii Teruo. Like the title suggests, this movie combines the plot of Rampo's Issunboushi with another of Rampo's famous novelettes, Moujuu ("Blind Beast"). These two stories originally had nothing to do with each other except for some repeated themes: both stories deal with a pyshically challenged person committing crimes (involving cutting up people and spreading the parts all across town) . And to make it even more confusing, there is also a bit based on Rampo's Odoru Issunboushi ("The Dancing Dwarf"), but this was originally an unrelated story about a different dwarf. The 1969 film of Moujuu made an impression on me, and I liked Issunboushi, so I was quite interested in this movie. For more details on the stories, I refer to their respective reviews.

I can tell you that this movie is not worth a view though. Where to start, where to start? I know it was filmed on a budget and Ishii manages to sneak in one or two nicely done shots, but the film is overall very bland, which is strengthened by the fuzzy visuals (as it was filmed on video tape and not on film). Despite the 'versus' in the title, the two 'monsters' don't actually confront each other, they only fight for screentime. The two stories develop on their own terms in the movie, with only the private detective Akechi being the only link (as he is investigating both crimes). The Moujuu-based part is inferior to the 1969 film, while the Issunboushi part is only interesting because of Rampo's original story, the audiovisual add next to nothing to it. This is certainly not a way to make an adaptation

And the same can be said of Kamaitachi no Yoru ("Night of the Kamaitachi"). This was a two-hour TV special made to promote the release of the videogame Kamaitachi no Yoru 2. I loved the first videogame and the description of the special really piqued my interest. In the original game, a guest is murdered in a ski pension and the survivors aren't able to get help because of a snowstorm. And unless the player solves the murder, more and more people will get killed. In the TV special, a group of fans (who happen to have the same names like the characters) of the videogame Kamaitachi no Yoru gather in a little pension and one of them gets murdered. The survivors aren't able to get help because of a storm. More and more people get killed. Yes, this is meta-fiction. Which actually works well for Kamaitachi no Yoru, as even within the original game itself there are alternate scenarios of the story that delve into meta-realms.


This TV special did manage to recreate the disturbing, suspenseful atmosphere of the original game (as the story continues, everyone gets a bit hysterical) and the meta-humour works quite well actually, but the second half (well, the denouement) is such an unbelievable mess... The fact that the first half was so entertaining made the second half feel even worse. It poses to be an actual, orthodox mystery (like the main storyline of the original game), but ends up with a supernatural explanation for things. Which makes no sense at all (which is pointed out in the special itself (!), but handwaved way). Even as an alternate scenario, this story would rank as the worst. As a promotion for the second game, this is really weird (though it does incorporates elements of Kamaitachi no Yoru 2), as the main storylines of these games are really orthodox detectives. And not supernatural horror stories.

I also finally cleared all scenarios in Kamaitachi no Yoru. There are some great little hidden stories there (not all mystery stories though) and I really should pick up the second game someday. But a fantastic game. I actually like Kamaitachi no Yoru a lot more than the widely praised 999 - Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, as there is a lot more to do in Kamaitachi. And it's better written, and more interesting and funnier and...

Gosick, written by Sakuraba Kazuki, is one of the few mystery light novels that is also available in English, but for some reason I never got around to it. And then an anime was made of it last year. And for some reason I never got around to it. Which was partly because of the premise. I have watched anime since I was a child, but I. Just. Can't. Get. Into. This. Moe. Stuff. It is really hard for me. With NisiOisiN's Zaregoto series, there's at least fantastic writing (and you are not constantly confronted with moe characters), but the cute little doll-like super-detective Victorique who acts so tsundere with transfer student Kujou? I had doubts about the series ever since I heard about it. The setting, Interbellum Europe, was interesting though and as there are few mystery series with nice visuals (no, I still haven't watched Another) and I had nothing better to do, I finally tried the first three episodes of Gosick, which were based on the first novel of series.


I think I have to give up on this series. The whole Kujou/Victorique angle is hard to handle anyway (so Kujou only wants to protect Victorique... because she is a girl and therefore needs protection? From him... because he is a Japanese man? Ha?!), but if combined with a predictable, boring plot... The story starts with a locked room murder (with the most obvious solution being the right solution) and then a series of murders on a ghost ship, but we've all seen the tricks and stuff in other series before and done much better too. There is absolutely nothing to the plot of these three episodes to surprise you. I suspect that this is not solely a problem of the original story, but I also think that the director of this series isn't used to doing a proper orthodox detective series. Anyway, there was absolutely nothing appealing to me in these three episodes, something I really regret as there are just too few orthodox mystery anime series.

Though the two kings are still doing good. This week brought us news that there will be a new Conan live action special this special (with the same crew as the TV drama series), starring Shinichi and Hattori. On the Kindaichi Shounen side of things, it was announced that Kindaichi Shounen will back to a fixed seralization schedule from March on! Since the restart, the series has been serialized unregularly, with one or two story (10~15 chapters) a year, but from now on it will run regularly again (weekly/monthly?). It's been twelve years since the ending of Kindaichi's serialization, so something to be happy about!

A while back I read Kindaichi Shounen no Suiri Miss ("Young Kindaichi's Deduction Misses"), a little book compiled by the Setagaya Trick Research Club. Like the title suggests, this book looks at the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series, going over the deductions made by Kindaichi and other utterances made by characters in the stories to see if they are logically correct. Yes, this is a book by fans for fans. Kindaichi Shounen no Suiri Miss collects a great number of short essays, concerning the first 10 volumes of the manga, which means it ends somewhere around the Foreigner Hotel Murder Case (with the Santa and the red chamber). Sounds neat, right? I am actually pretty bad at these kind of logical exercises, but that makes it all the more interesting to see what other people make of it.

Too bad that few of the essays actually concern 'deduction misses young Kindaichi' makes. Most of the essays concern plotholes... on a plotting-level (that is writer Kanari Yozaburou's department) and not on a logical-deductive level (like the title suggests). And I could live with that if not for the fact that about 80% of all these essays concern plotholes that aren't really plotholes and actually a great many of them end on a tone of: 'well, I guess it can be logically handwaved away if you say this or that'. The irony being that it is being handwaved like that in the story (thus negating points raised in the essay to moot) and most of the 'plotholes' aren't even really relevant to the mystery. Which, you would think, be the focal point of such an excersive.

Maybe I should start looking for new reading material....

Original Japanese title(s): 戸川乱歩(原) 『盲獣対一寸法師』 / 『かまいたちの夜』 / 桜庭 一樹 (原)『GOSICK』 / 世田谷トリック研究会 『金田一少年の推理ミス』

Thursday, February 16, 2012

「事件に大きいも小さいもない!」

「音楽家が不調和音に敏感な様に探偵は真実の不調和に敏感であることが必要かも知れません」
『一寸法師』

"Like how a musician is sensitive to dissonance, it might be necessary for a detective to be sensitive to dissonance to the truth"
"The Dwarf"

I was contemplating making a 'crazy-dwarf-playing-with-dismembered-body-parts' tag for this post, but then I remembered I have a batshit-Edogawa-insane-awesome tag here! For when things get so grotesquely absurd that no other word can describe the amount of awesomeness.

Issunboushi ("The Dwarf") starts with a young man, Kobayashi Monzou, taking a walk at night through Asakusa, when he spots a dwarf sitting in the park. The dwarf, as he leaves the park, accidently drops a parcel on the ground. The parcel contains a human hand to Monzou's great surprise and he decides to follow this mysterious dwarf. After long walk through Asakusa, the dwarf disappears into a temple. The following day, the newspapers are all reporting about the discovery of a chopped off female hand and Monzou decides to look for the dwarf again, but the monk at the temple swears no dwarf lives there. Confused, Monzou leaves the temple again and comes across Yamano Yurie, the young and beautiful wife of an acquaintance. It seems like her stepdaughter Michiko has run away from her home and Yurie wants to ask Monzou's friend, the famous amateur detective Akechi Kogorou to help him find her. Akechi however suspects that Michiko might not have left her home on her own will. And as more dismembered pieces of a female body are found throughout the city, it doesn't take long for Monzou to connect the pieces. Who is this dwarf and what is his connection to the Yamano family?

Issunboushi was Rampo's first novel serialized in a newspaper (in 1926), which is pretty much proof of his immense popularity. A novel serialization in a newspaper in those times was like having a TV drama now! In the foreword, Rampo warned the readers that his particular kind of detective fiction was not like the classics, nor like the works of other, contemporary detective writers. His brand of detective fiction was indeed different, borrowing heavily from horror and also distinctly modern and aimed at the masses, which is what made him so widely popular. Rampo did not rate Issunboushi too well in later years, but it was a hit with the public at the time and was also the first Rampo story that made the jump to the silver screen in 1927 (and was remade a couple of times later).

As a detective story, this is actually quite decent. While the grotesque horror plots elements are overshadowing the detective plot, the latter is still constructed adequately and Issunboushi can still be considered an orthodox detective story with layered solutions even and both hard and psychological evidence. There are some really farfetched parts in the story too though (like how the dwarf keeps disappearing), but the main mystery is perfectly solvable based on the hints given to the reader. What is interesting to the mystery though, is how the story at first doesn't look like a real mystery (I mean, the book is called The Dwarf and we have a dwarf dropping body parts). It takes some time for the plot to really settle (and it might hard to recognize it because of the sheer weirdness of the dwarf's actions), but it is there and it is quite good.

The appearance of Akechi Kogorou in this story is pretty unique. Akechi hadn't starred in any of Rampo's stories for some time now, so the story starts with explaining how he had been on business in Shanghai. Which somehow explains why Akechi suddenly decided to dress in traditional Chinese dress. Wait, no, it doesn't. Why would he dress like that? Anyway, Akechi is officially still an amateur detective in this story, but he has assistants (not young Kobayashi though) and as his name was actually know to Yurie, it seems like Akechi was already slowly going towards the image of the dandy gentleman detective he would end up to be. Except for you know, the Chinese clothing. It is interesting though that despite Akechi's presence, Monzou is also seen detecting on his own. It made sense in D-Zaka no Satsujin Jiken ("The Murder Case of D-Slope"), as Akechi was not an established character at that time and thus a viable suspect, but why have two amateur detectives in Issunboushi?

Yesterday I already wrote about voyeurism in Rampo's work, which is related to this I guess, but a couple of Rampo's stories play with the notion of the public showing of something criminal. This is related to that famous idea in one of Poe's short stories about hiding things in plain sight: in Rampo's work an object that is the proof of a crime is placed before the eyes of the public, but they are not (immediately) recognized as such. It is the realization of what the object is that leads to an incredible feeling of horror. In Issunboushi for example, the arm of a woman is replaced with the arm of a mannequin in a busy department store in the Ginza. At first everybody is just admiring the mannequin, until two boys ask themselves the question: why is that one arm a lot more detailed than the other? The horror you feel when you realize that the thing you have been looking at the whole time was an actual, cut off arm, must be amazing. This is very different from Queen's way of publicly showing grotesque things (like in The French Powder Mystery), as his bodies are usually not meant to be found. In Rampo's work, tension is created because the criminal actually wants the objects to be found, because he wants the people to realize that the object they have been watching is actually an arm or a leg or something. Exhibitionism, I guess.The mind should go like [that is a plastic arm] [wouldn't it be weird if that was a real arm] [but that would be impossible] [or would it....] and then go into panic mode. Other stories by Rampo that play with this include Odoru Issunboushi ("The Dancing Dwarf", no relation to Issunboushi), Hakuchuumu ("The Daydream") and Mojuu ("Blind Beast"). Especially the latter is very similar to Issunboushi, with the latter half of the story focusing on the blind masseur gone mad (= not making this up) who leaves dismembered body parts of women all over town. For fun.

This tendency of public showing might have to do with the modern culture in Tokyo at the time, with its department stores to show off the newest products or the Asakusa Twelve-Stories showing off the newest technology in the world. Indeed, most of the story is set around Asakusa, the main entertainment area of Tokyo and home of the masses who liked a good show. And of gay couples, as Issunboushi starts in a park where apparently gay couples meet (with Monzou curious to the customs of how those people strike up a conversation). The depiction of gay relations in Rampo's work is actually a pretty popular topic, I think I have seen titles of quite a lot of academic articles in the last few years. This was the first time I came across it in Rampo's work though.

And this was actually the first point I wrote down, but somehow it ended up last: man, this book was really written in a different time and place. The depiction of pyshically impaired people as evil is of course one thing. The theme occasionally pops up in Rampo's work like in Mojuu ("Blind Beast"), though they might also be the victim, like in Imomushi ("Catterpillar"). Here however, it seemed like Rampo wanted to make the dwarf evil no matter what and some passages might be considered discriminatory nowadays. I was kinda surprised to see how Rampo changed the image of the dwarf throughout the book: [Evil] -> [Maybe he is a tragic, misunderstood person] to finally -> [No, he was definitely pure evil and let's leave it at that]. Akechi also does something unforgivable at the end of the book, which really emphasized the 'dwarf=abnormal=evil <-> beauty=normal=good' ideas Rampo employed for this book. Which was weird, considering Rampo of all people is usually a writer who manages to depict social deviance as something more sympathetic.

I think I also saw a couple of words in the book that are considered discriminatory nowadays.Not that I would have wanted for the publishers to have changed that: like I said, this was written in a different time, so it was quite interesting to see this all-star parade of words you don't see to often anymore in modern media because they are considered offensive. Which can be quite troublesome at times, with for example a famous hint from a novel by Yokomizo Seishi actually being censored nowadays.

So the short story: this is overall a fun book, that manages to mix an orthodox detective plot with Rampo's trademark grotesque horror in a (mostly) satisfying way. Hmm, did this post turn out to be long? I sometimes have trouble writing an acceptable amount of words for these things, but with Rampo's work the words flow out of me quite easily. And less focused. Mostly ramblings. Let's stop here.

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩 『一寸法師』

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

『殺人現場では靴をお脱ぎください』

オレンジ色した 極楽特急に乗り込んで 彼に会いに行くよ
すごいスピードで駅をとばし
あの小さな部屋へ
心がここにない私にね何言ってもムダなの
100万キロのスピード上げて彼のもとへ向かうよ
『恋の極楽特急』(小島麻由美)

Stepping into the orange heaven express, I go to my boyfriend
Passing stations at an incredible speed
To his small room
It's no use talking to me, as my heart is not here
Speeding up to a million kilometers, towards him
"Love's Heaven Express" (Kojima Mayumi)

Like I said in the previous post, I can always rely on Edogawa Rampo. Struck down by a cold and confined to my bed, I spent the last two days going through some works of that old master of Japanese mystery fiction. Most of Rampo's work might be quite different from orthodox detective fiction, the main focus at this blog, but I always make an exception for Rampo.Which reminds me, Rampo is pretty much the only writer where I have to read up a bit on a story before I actually start reading it. Why? Because Rampo was not the most consistent of writers, even having several unfinished stories. You really have to be careful with Rampo sometimes. Anyway, this time I took a look at two (relatively) early orthodox detective stories by Rampo.

Nisen Douka ("The Two Sen Copper Coin") is commonly known as Rampo's debut work and widely praised as the first truly original Japanese detective story when it was first published in 1923 in the magazine Shinseinen. Rampo however wrote Ichimai no Kippu ("A Single Ticket") simultenously with Nisen Douka. So why is only the latter known as Rampo's debut work? The editors at Shinseinen thought that the story of Ichimai no Kippu was too good and suspected that Rampo had based it on some foreign story! The plot of Nisen Douka revolves around a code that was purely Japanese, so the editors had no doubts about the authenticity of that story, but there was nothing typical Japanese in Ichimai no Kippu, so the publication was delayed as the editors researched whether it was based on a different story. It wasn't.

Structurally, the story of Ichimai no Kippu resembles its more famous twin brother Nisen Douka. Both stories are built around the conversation of two people (the story-telling party (not the narrator) and a listening party) who participate in some kind of amateur detecting. In this story, the listener (Matsumura) is told the details of a murder case by his friend Souda. The eminent professor Tomita, a person Souda respects as a scholar, has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of his wife, who was ran over by the train near their home. It was found out that the wife was drugged and further police investigation made it seem like the professor did away with his wife. Souda however suspects that the professor is innocent, based on the discovery of a train ticket he found near the scene of the crime. The next day, Matsumura is astonished to find a letter of Souda published in the newspaper, revealing the truth behind the case, all based on a single ticket.

This is actually quite an ingeneous story by Rampo. It is short, but it is pretty impressive, which has a lot to do with Rampo's gift for storytelling. His plots might not have been always that good, but he sure could write. Many years may have passed, but there is something timeless to his writings. Which you could also say of stories by Doyle and Christie, but there have been tremendous changes in both the written and spoken Japanese language since 1920, with modernization, great social changes and the Second World War as examples, but Rampo's work does not feel as nearly as old as contemporary Japanese writings. Yay for mass fiction!

The plot of Ichimai no Kippu is also quite good. The story is split in two parts (the details of the case and then the explanation by Souda), mirroring a problem / challenge to the reader structure and while it is not completely fair, the plot is (almost surprisingly) logical and satisfying. Realizing that Rampo wrote this in 1923 as one of his two debut works, as an original attempt at what was until then a purely Western literary genre,  Ichimai no Kippu is an impressive short story and I think I actually like this story more than Nisen Douka, due to its more serious tone (though the conclusion to Nisen Douka is admittedly a classic, even among Rampo's work).

Ichimai no Kippu also resembles Rampo's later story Nanimono ("Who?") (translation available), with its focus on footsteps in wet ground and other similar clues and story developments. As a whole, I think Ichimai no Kippu is a better story, but Nanimono is still pretty awesome as an orthodox detective story written in a time when Rampo kinda stopped writing those kind of stories.

Another early orthodox detective story by Rampo is Kohantei Jiken ("The Lakeside Pavillion Case"), his second serialized novel. Since his debut in 1923, Rampo only wrote short stories and it wasn't until 1926 when he first started to write serialized novels. Kohantei Jiken was his second novel, serialized in the magazine Sunday Mainichi, and Rampo himself admits that at that time, he pretty much took on any offer he got, without planning his stories. Which explains why around this period he wrote a lot of unfinished and/or simply disappointing stories. He just winged his way through Kohantei Jiken too with each installment, but it actually turned out  surprisingly good in my opinion. Considering that it was a completely unplanned story.

The narrator is residing at the Lakeside Pavillion, a small hostel in the mountains (facing a lake) to recover from a nervous breakdown. It does not take long for him to be utterly bored and hoping to find some excitement in this place, he remembers he has taken a peculiar invention of his with him on this trip. The narrator has always had a fascination for lenses and he once built a portable peek-machine, a contraption of lenses and mirrors which would allow him peek at places unnoticed. A kind of webcam. He sets the contraption so he is able to look into the dressing room (for the bath) from his own room and spends his days on voyeurism. Until one day, he sees a woman being murdered in the bathroom! He runs to the scene of the crime, only to find out that there is no trace of murderer, victim or even blood in the bathroom. Was it just a dream? The next day however, he discovers that a woman has disappeared and our narrator starts wondering what he did see in his mirror-contraption.

And then things happen. Hey, it is a serialized novel so stuff had to happen every installment and Rampo really just came up with stuff everytime, until he thought he should wrap things up.

A lot of Rampo's protagonists are probably what we nowadays call hikikomori or otaku, with their tendencies to stay inside their room focusing on sometimes bizarre interests. These characters know they are what many would call abnormal, but they seem to have peace with that and just live their lives the way they want to, spending time with what they like. Rampo's descriptions of the psychology characters is really good though and really captivating. Rampo himself had a fascination for lenses, cameras and other apperati that change ones views on 'reality' and this is I think one of the first stories where he really goes into that subject. The description of the narrator of Kohantei Jiken of his love for lenses is bizarre, almost grotesque, yet very amusing and appealing. There is something alluring to the idea of a single sheet of glass changing the surroundings into an almost inrecognizable world. Other famous lens/mirror lovers in Rampo works are the "him" from Kagami Jigoku (1926, "The Hell of Mirrors") and Ookawara Yumiko from Kenin Gengi.

In Kohantei Jiken, the lenses and mirrors are used to peek into the dressing room. Voyeurism is also a big theme in Rampo's work, with the most famous examples being the inverted detective story Yaneura no Sanposha (1925, "The Walker in the Attic"), featuring a man who peeks on his fellow inhabitants of a lodge house from the loft, and the horror story Ningen Isu (1925, "The Human Chair"), where a craftsman builds himself into a chair, allowing him to have very close physical contact with however sits on him. This time though, the voyeur is not the criminal in the story (though peeking is also a crime).

Like I said before, for a mostly improvised story, Kohantei Jiken isn't even that bad. Yes, there are some plotlines that seem to go nowhere, as if Rampo forgot them as he wrote every installment, but most of the plots comes neatly together near the end and includes the classical surprise twist ending Rampo loves so much. The first part, highly focusing on the narrator's fascination for lenses, is probably the best (and most original) part of the story though. While this is mostly an original story, there were some instances, besides the above mentioned themes in Rampo's work, where I suspected that Rampo re-used some plot-elements from earlier stories (in highly rewritten contexts though). All in all though, this is an enjoyable story.

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩 『一枚の切符』 『湖畔亭事件』 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

「I can't hang out this world こんな思いじゃどこにも居場所なんて無い」

「はんにんはおいつめられるとどうきとかをじぶんからベラベラしゃべるのがおやくそくや」
『課長は名探偵』

"It's a rule that the criminal will start talking about the motive and everything when he's cornered"

Hmm, so now half of the posts of this month are on audio dramas. My amount of audio dramas I haven't heard yet is also getting dangerously low. Contemplating about rereading Queen's nationality novels for reviews. Not sure yet. Ah, choices, choices.

But anyway... back to one of the main pillars of this blog: Edogawa Rampo. I can always rely on you!

Akechi Kogorou is Edogawa Rampo's most famous fictional detective and a study of the character is in fact a study of Edogawa Rampo's complete work. Akechi first debuted in D-Zaka no Satsujin Jiken ("The Murder Case on D Slope"), where the amateur-detective Akechi solves a murder that happened in a sealed space (bookshop). Afterwards, Akechi sporadically made appearences in Rampo's work, like Shinri Shiken ("The Psychological Test"), Yaneura no Sanposha ("The Wanderer on the Attic") and even in a slightly disguised form in Nanimono ("Who"; translation available at this blog). The character of Akechi slowly changed as he started to appear more often in Rampo's stories and while he started out as an amateur detective / student clad in traditional Japanese clothing, he ends up as a dandy gentleman private detective. This Akechi Kogorou is used in several of the high-profile adult stories of Rampo, like Kurotokage ("The Black Lizard"). In Kyuuketsuki ("Vampire"), we are first introduced to young Kobayashi, Akechi's assistent. Both Akechi and Kobayashi would be used for Rampo's children's series Shounen Tantei Dan (with especially Kobayashi gaining fame in that series), but both characters thus in fact originated from Rampo's particular brand of grotesque mystery stories. Akechi is thus a character that has been used for a wide variety of stories by Rampo, from his early orthodox detective stories to the more popular ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) nonsense stories to children's stories.

Rampo's postwar creative output was dominated by the Shounen Tantei Dan series, but Kenin Gengi ("The Inhuman Illusion Game") is one of the few postwar novels that aimed at adults, featuring both Akechi and Kobayashi. I listened to the NHK's radio drama based on the book, titled Kenin Gengi yori: Akechi Kogorou Saigo no Jiken ("The Last Case of Akechi Kogorou - Based on The Inhuman Illusion Game"). The story is set in postwar Japan, with a 50 year old Akechi, who is still happily married to the beautiful and smart Fumiyo. "Boy Detective" Kobayashi isn't a boy anymore and all is well. But not for long, of course. One day, Akechi is invited by ex-nobleman Ookawara and his wife Yumiko to their summer house in Atami. As the three, joined by Ookawara's secretary, are enjoying the view from the balcony with binoculars (Yumiko has a fascination for lenses), they witness a man falling from a cliff across the house into the sea. The victim turns out to be Himeda, an employee and confidante of Ookawara himself. Ookawara hires Akechi, wanting to know whether this was just an accident or a murder and Akechi gladly accepts, also because he sees the case, if there really is a case, as a personal challenge to him as a masterdetective.

And there is a case. While it might not be clear whether Himeda's death was an accident or not in the beginning, the fact that potential suspects get bumped off one after another (including one in a locked room) suggest that there is something sinister going on. Has it something to do with the white feather that was sent to Himeda just before he died and which he seemed to fear? Is the fact that the Ookawaras like detective novels and that they love coming up with murder methods relevant? And is an elderly Akechi still capable of the deductive feats that made him famous?

My first comment is not about the actual contents, but the length of this radio drama. Kenin Gengi yori: Akechi Kogorou Saigo no Jiken was originally broadcast in 1983 in twenty (almost) 15-minute installments, so the complete runtime is nearly five hours. Listening to five hours of old and slightly less than perfect audio-circumstances in Japanese is pretty tiring, I can tell you. In fact, I've tried listening to this radio drama several times in the past, but always gave up because it was just too difficult to keep concentrated on it for a long time (by which I mean, I always gave up after thirty minutes, because I kept falling asleep). It took me two years and the fact I have no books I want to read at hand to listen to this drama.

But this was actually pretty fun. Most surprisingly, Kenin Gengi yori: Akechi Kogorou Saigo no Jiken is an actual attempt of Rampo to write an orthodox detective novel, something he hadn't done in years! Alibi tricks, a locked room murder, a layered plot, this is a story that feels very different from the popular pulp stories of pre-war Rampo. Which is also why the original novel kinda bombed in Japan. The story featured orthodox detective tropes, but it is not particularly impressive, with a rather easy locked room murder, alibi tricks that seem kinda dependent on luck and it is quite easy to point out the murderer. In an era where Yokomizo and Akimitsu had already shown what an orthodox detective could be, Kenin Gengi was too simple. For the fans of Rampo's ero-guro nonsense pulp stories, Kenin Gengi was just too tame and normal, missing the bizarre and grotesque taste from Rampo's other works.

I on the other hand quite enjoyed the story, as a kind of throwback to the old orthodox Akechi Kogorou stories. One fun part was the way Fumiyo (Akechi's wife) and Kobayashi helped Akechi with his investigations. I had never seen (heard) Fumiyo in action before, but she seems to be a very capable assistant herself, actively questioning people and even going undercover to help her husband. The Akechis are an interesting detecting couple and I'll definitely try to read/see/hear more of them. Also, the use of tropes like disguises and layered plots felt perfectly normal and natural to me, as they are commonly used plot devices in early Rampo short stories. Yumiko's fascination for lenses of course comes from Rampo's own fascination for lenses, as expressed in an essay and stories like Kagami Jigoku ("Hell of Mirrors"). And while I have to admit that the tricks employed by Rampo in this story were relatively simple, it made perfect sense in-universe for them to be like that. Had they been more complex, the conclusion and the identity of the murderer would have made no sense at all and that would have been a shame, because Rampo came up with a really memorable villain.

Which is of course something he excelled in. But the villain in Kenin Gengi is very different from criminals like Twenty Faces, the Black Lizard, Golden Mask or The Clown From Hell. This time the murderer has no crazy name or weird modus operandi. It seems like a Poirot-saying, but it is the psychology behind the murders that is really impressive and that makes the murderer in this story memorable. It was not really conveyed well in the audio drama actually, but doing a bit of background research really brought this interesting aspect of the original story to my attention. Kenin Gengi's murderer differs so greatly from the Funnily Named Criminals of the past that Akechi Kogorou actually claims that the belle epoch of weird criminals has passed and that maybe it is also time for him to quit being a detective, as things have changed too much after the war (explaining the title The Last Case of Akechi Kogorou of the radio drama). Despite this lamenting by Akechi though, I do feel that this murderer does fit with the characters of some other early criminals Akechi apprehended in his early stories. This culprit fits perfectly with NiSiOiSiN's Zaregoto series too.

And I am not sure whether this was also like this in the original novel or not, but I loved the Kyushu dialect speaking police inspector Minoura! How nostalgic! And probably very distracting if you have never heard dialect from places like Fukuoka (Hakata), Nagasaki or Kumamoto before! But how utterly weird too, from a directing point of view (or if it was in the original novel, from the writer's point of view). Naturally, it is conceivable that someone from Hakata would become inspector in Tokyo in real life, but why would you choose to have someone speak in thick Kyushu dialect in the Tokyo/Shizuoka area? To set him apart as an outsider? To characterize him as a typical, high-handed Kyushu-male? They certainly didn't really succeed with either of these choices at any rate... It seems like that there is no real creative reason for him to speak like Kyushu dialect, besides appealing to me for nostalgic reasons, but I doubt that they would have foreseen that when they produced this radio drama.

But I still think that a five hour radio drama based on one novel is way too long! It took people in 1983 a whole month to go through this series! Madness!

Edit: not sure why I didn't notice earlier I was copying and pasting 'gen'i' the whole time instead of 'gengi' as the story's title... >_>

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩(原) 『化人幻戯より明智小五郎最後の事件』

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Secret of my Heart

「聞くは一時の恥。聞かないは一生の恥じ」
『428 ~封鎖された渋谷で~』

"Asking will make you feel ashamed for a while. Not asking will make feel you ashamed for a lifetime"

This second entry in the Short Shorts certainly came earlier than I myself had guessed. I guess I pick up small, insignificant things at a faster rate than I thought. Like the previous time, this is just a series of unrelated thoughts that wouldn't have made for interesting seperate posts.

Aah, the hours that pass by as I scour websites like YouTube and Nico Nico Douga. Which is probably not nearly as long as the time it took the creators of the following Detective Conan related movies. One is an impressive statistical research of all the deaths in the series. The title says I counted the persons who died in Detective Conan (including the anime and such). Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds. The creator even went through the trouble of categorizing the deaths in homicide, suicide, accidental death, illness and unknown causes. It goes up until the first 68 volumes of the manga, episode 574 of the anime and the Lost Ship in the Sky movie. There were actually fewer deaths than I had expected. Even more ridiculous is the movie where someone counted the times the word barō (a Conan-specific swear word based on the longer bakayarō) is said. And I thought reviewing the Conan manga from the beginning was insane. Random fact: it is barō in the manga, but pronounced more like bārō in the anime, which is why most people write it as the latter.

And ooh, a new videogame of Conan! Kako kara no Prelude ("Prelude from the Past") is a sequel (prequel?) to Rondo of the Blue Jewel, which was sorta decent. It's a DS/PSP release, which means I don't have to switch hardware yet. Wondering how they'll differ. I prefer DS games as they are cheaper and I can play a lot longer on my DS than on my PSP, but I'd totally go for the PSP version if they included voice acting.

Because Edogawa Rampo mostly wrote unorthodox mystery stories, I sometimes hesitate writing about them here, but I guess they fit this short shorts segment. Hito De Nashi No Koi ("An Inhuman Love") is a pretty famous horror short story by Rampo, that actually seems to start out as a detective. The narrator, Kyouko, tells the reader about an incident that happened when she had just married, a local heir who was known as being stunningly handsome, but there were also rumors of him being misogynist. Luckily for Kyouko, those rumors seem to be false, but she does discover that her husband sneaks out of bed every night to go to the second floor of the small storage building. Following him, she hears her husband and another woman talking silently there. Kyouko naturally thinks of an affaire and waits outside the building to confront the pair, but only her husband comes out. This is repeated several times, with her husband's lover seemingly disappearing into thin air every night. Up until this point the story seems like an impossible disappearance story, but the ending clearly places this in the horror subgenre. I sadly enough already knew the ending because Hito De Nashi no Koi was mentioned a paper on a certain theme in Edogawa Rampo's works, but it is still a pretty interesting short story.

Rampo's Monogram is even shorter than Hito De Nashi No Koi, but also less interesting. The story starts with two men who just happen to sit next to each other on a couch in the park. The two men start talking with each other and they both can't seem to shake the feeling they have met before, even though they are both sure they never did. This story is really, really happy and sweet and light-hearted and everything nice, which is very surprising for an Edogawa Rampo work. Heck, even his Shounen Tantei Dan series is darker than this. It thus felt surprisingly fresh, even though the story is pretty simple and nothing special an sich. Rampo himself didn't rate this story very high either, but he had an interesting note about how he wrote this story, basically a love story surrounding a 'code' of some sorts. Hiding behind a code was what fitted his own personality, Rampo said, as he himself was pretty shy and didn't dare to show his own feelings himself too. Awww.

Around the same time the TV drama of Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de ("Mystery Solving Is After Dinner") started, NHK produced a radio drama of the series. Or to be more precise, they made a radio drama based on the first story of the first book, Satsujin Genba de wa Kutsu wo O-nugi Kudasai ("Please Take Off Your Shoes At A Murder Scene"). I didn't really like this radio drama, because it featured a narrator who was absolutely unneccessary for the story. The complete story could have been perfectly conveyed with just the two characters of Reiko and butler Kageyama and that would have made for a much more enthralling show. The story itself is still a very entertaining one, that revolves around the simple question: why was the murder victim wearing shoes inside her apartment (which is simply not done in Japan). It seems like a very trivial question, but butler Kageyama manages to solve this case based on this little fact alone. In fact, most stories in Nazotoki seem to revolve around almost Queenian strange murder scenes.Which makes the series the more fun. It's kinda sad NHK didn't do this radio drama within their own NHK Youth Adventure series, as I've been very content with those productions until now.

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩 『人でなしの恋』『モノグラム』 / 東川篤哉 「殺人現場では靴をお脱ぎください」

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmès

「そのころ、東京中の町という町、家という家では、ふたり以上の人が顔をあわせさえすれば、まるでお天気のあいさつでもするように、怪人「二十面相」のうわさをしていました」
『怪人二十面相』

"In every neighborhood and in every home, whenever people came together, they would, as if talking about the simply weather, start swapping out rumors about the Fiend with Twenty Faces"
"The Fiend with Twenty Faces"

The amount I read and wrote about Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan ("Boys Detective Club") series this week this week is a bit more than should be considered healthy, but I still love it. It made me realise that we need more stories about master-detectives versus master-criminals. Yes, we have the crossover stories between Arsène Lupin and a thinly disguised Sherlock Holmes, but as those stories are written by Lupin's Leblanc, Holmes' depiction is never completely fair. And on the topic of Holmes, he and Moriarty are indeed an example, but Moriarty's appearance in the original canon is so brief and sudden that his impact is less than you'd expect it to be. No, we need more of the rivalries like Conan vs KID! Kindaichi vs Hell's Puppeteer! Q Class vs Pluto! Ranko vs Devil's Labyrinth!

Writing this also makes me realize that these are all Japanese examples. There are probably non-Japanese examples, but I can't think of one right now. Anyway, for the Japanese examples, it's pretty easy to point to the Shounen Tantei Dan series as the grandfather of the trope. Edogawa Rampo's legendary series about master-detective Akechi Kogorou, asssisted by young Kobayashi and the Boys Detective Club and the confrontations they have with the master-thief the Fiend with Twenty Faces pretty much shaped the model for both children's mystery fiction and for stories about master-detectives and master-criminals and it is tempting to think that without this series, we'd never have something like the rivalries mentioned above.


Edogawa Rampo's works never age, so they keep getting remade for all kinds of media. Akechi Kogorou tai Kaijin Nijuu Mensou ("Akechi Kogorou VS The Fiend with Twenty Faces") is a 2002 TV special produced by TBS. The story is a mix of several stories of the Shounen Tantei Dan series (and some non-Shounen Tantei Dan novels featuring Akechi), but also features an original take on the characters. Set in postwar Japan, the bulk of the story is naturally about the Triforce of Akechi, Boy Detective Club (represented by Kobayashi) and Twenty Faces, but the scriptwriter also added a subplot that links Akechi Kogorou and Twenty Faces personally. Because that's more fun, right? When Things Get Personal?

No, wrong. The Personal Subplot That Is Supposed To Make The Rivalry Significant is one of the many problems with this special. The subplot renders the Fiend with Twenty Faces to a poor victim of the war. But that's not the real Twenty Faces! He is supposed to be a genius criminal with the air of Arsène Lupin, he should be grand, he should be invincible! Twenty Faces is a criminal in a children's series, he is supposed to be nothing more than a (pleasant) evil! Making Twenty Faces a poor misunderstood war-victim is just an amateuristic way of trying to make the story more suitable for adults, but that is totally missing the point of Edogawa Rampo when he created the character!


Part of the problem is created by Edogawa himself though. He used the character of Akechi in all kinds of stories, from the Shounen Tantei Dan series aimed children to his work for adults. As a result, Akechi appears in both light-hearted and darker stories, which makes him an ambiguous character at times. Twenty Faces however is different, he was always meant as a children's character. The special mixes up several scenes from different Shounen Tantei Dan novels and it is clear that those spectacular scenes are in fact aimed at children, with a certain boyish naiveness to them. The "dark" subplot with Twenty Faces and Akechi really feels out of place.

Another problem is the casting. I love Tamura Masakazu. Really. Yes, he pretty much acts the same way in most of his roles, but in a good way. But if you put him in the role of a dandy gentleman detective dressed in black, I will think he is Furuhata Ninzaburou. Not Akechi Kogorou. Yes, I admit there are some differences (as Akechi, Tamura at least seems more sincere than Furuhata), but the two characters are just too similar. The other problem is Beat Takeshi, who plays the Fiend with Twenty Faces. There are just too many things wrong with this. Age is one thing (like I said, Twenty Faces should be more like youthful Lupin). The second problem is... is that he is called Twenty Faces. Because he is a master of disguise who is forgotten his own face. Why would he run around the whole time looking like Beat Takeshi then?!! There is a reason that the masked Twenty Faces is the most 'accepted' visual image of him! In fact, the movie K-20, based on an original novel by Kitamura Sou, had a really kick-ass suit for Twenty Faces. Actually, K-20 had a much better Akechi Kogorou vs Fiend with Twenty Faces story than this special, especially the more light-hearted approach is a lot more enjoyable.

The fact that the only enjoyable parts of this special were the parts that were lifted directly from the original novels says something about the strength of Edogawa's writing, but this was really an example of how not to do a TV adaptation of Edogawa Rampo's work.

Original Japanese title(s): 『明智小五郎対怪人二十面相』

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Mad Tea Party

「おお、トリックを実行するのにトリックがいるとは、恐ろしい鋭い指摘だ」、有栖川有栖
 "Oh, we would need another trick to pull off such a trick, what a frightenly sharp comment!", Arisugawa Alice
 
Two posts within several days? Yes, I almost seem a prolific blogger. Truth is, I have read quite a lot lately, but I have the bad habit of not writing down my thoughts immediately. And the habit of not writing reviews right away. Which means I have to rely on my memory for writing these posts.

I will tell you this, I don't trust my own memory. That's why I do try to post these things as fast as possible. One problem I have now is that I don't know from which story the introducing quote actually comes from. I am not even sure if it is from this bundle; I have read several other works by Arisugawa in the meantime.

Anyway, Arisugawa Alice is an often-mentioned writer and editor here on this blog, so a familiar name with familiar themes. 46 Banme no Misshitsu introduced us to the crime-solving duo of Himura Hideo and Arisugawa Alice. Yes, in Queen-tradition, Alice refers to both the writer as the character who also is a writer. Himura, a professor in criminology (nicknamed the Clinical Criminologist by Alice) is often called in to assist in police investigations, something he calls 'fieldwork' for his own studies. Alice, a mystery writer and long-time friend, joins Himura in his investigations as his assistent as a connoisseur of the genre. And to be the victim of Himura's snide remarks. After a very solid debut with 46 Banme no Misshitsu, it was of course time for a short story collection. Because all the cool detectives have short stories.

Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") aims high, as can be guessed from the title. Naming your own short story collection after the famous Country series by Ellery Queen means it is going to be scrutinized even more, right? The stories are all written from a first person perspective, with of course mystery writer Alice as our narrator.

Doubutsuen no Angou ("The Zoo Code") and Rune no Michibiki ("Guidance from the Runes") are both dying message stories, a staple of the Ellery Queen series. And after the same Queen tradition, Himura and Alice discusses several options before arriving at the truth. However, the weak point of both these stories are that they hinge on the knowledge of something so specific, few people would be able to deduce the solutions. Which is a shame, as the settings of both stories (a zoo and a cottage with mostly foreigners) are quite interesting and indeed invoke the Queen tradition.

I simply can't remember much of Akai Inazuma ("Red Lightning"), but I am pretty sure I forgot the story for a good reason. Hmm, reading a short impression on another site made me remember it again! One of Himura's students is sure he saw a woman being pushed off her balcony by someone from across the street, but as the room was locked from the inside and no person was found inside the room, this is impossible. The story is pretty good, even though the solution pretty much screams "look at me!", the second the second plotline is introduced.

Yaneura no Sanposha ("The Stroller on the Attic") is named after the same-named short story by Edogawa Rampo and features the same theme. A man has been spying on his tenants through the attic, looking down into their rooms. In the original story, the stroller in the attic commited a murder, but in Arisugawa's version, the stroller is killed, as he had discovered that one of his tenants is a serial killer. The only clue to the killer's identity is left in the victim's diary, that cryptically describes which of the tenant is the killer. It's a simple, yet effective code that connects really well to the original Edogawa Rampo story.

The titular Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russan Tea Mystery") is also a good story, involving a poisoning amongst a group of friends after a small karaoke party. Who are of course not that good friends. Friends in a detective story, are seldom friends, it seems. Like many poison stories, this story revolves around finding out how the poison was administered. The solution is a classic one, which is executed well, but still, nothing new here.

The final story is interesting, as it was originally the very first stageplay written by Arisugawa. Hakkakukei no Wana ("The Octagon Shaped Trap") was written for the opening ceremony of the "Archaic Hall Octo" in  Amagasaki and rewritten for this short story collection. As a play and probably hinted by the inclusion of a map of the Archaic Hall Octo, the solution to this story, where a fight between several actors ends in tragedy, is a lot more 'mechanical' compared to the solutions in other stories in the bundle, reminiscent of the ones in 46 Banme no Misshitsu. Which is a good thing.

All in all a solid short story collection. Arisugawa might want to work a bit on his dying messages, but he shows that classic Golden Age short stories can still work in a modern urban setting. While I think Norizuki Rintarou's short stories are superior, the banter between the dry Himura and the comic-relief-sidekick-with-detective-specific-knowledge Alice is really funny to read and give this work a unique flavor.

The one thing that totally perplexes me though, is that while the character Arisugawa Alice speaks Kansai-dialect, he thinks in standard Japanese. It. Is. Really. Distracting. 

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『ロシア紅茶の謎』/「動物園の謎」/「赤い稲妻」/「屋根裏の散歩者」/「ルーンの導き」/「ロシア紅茶の謎」/「八角形の罠」