Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Trial

「われわれは、あらゆる手段を使って、被告を攻撃する。 しかしそのたびにどんな絶望的な状況でも、決して諦めることなく
食らいついてくる男がいた。 悪夢のような信念を持って。 そして私はいつしか‥‥その男を信頼しはじめていたのだ。 だれかが、どんなにキタナイ手を使っても‥‥真実はかならず、カオを出す。 われわれにできるのは、全存在をかけて戦うことだけだ。‥‥やがて、ナゾは1つずつすがたを消して‥‥ 最後にわれわれは、たどりつく‥‥かならず‥‥1つしかない“真相”に」

"We attack the defendant with everything we got. But there was always someone who, no matter how hopeless the situation, would take it all and never give up. With an amazing power of trust. And in time, I began to trust that person myself too. No matter how dirty our methods, the truth will always come out. The only thing we can do is to fight with all we have. By doing so, the mysteries will disappear one by one and finally, we will definitely arrive there... at the one truth"
"Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All"

Kinda bummed out because I wasn't able to get tickets for the worldwide premiere of the Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney film held in the Netherlands. So I did the next best thing, I went back to a classic courtroom story that heavily influenced Takumi Shuu when he wrote the script for the original Gyakuten Saiban videogame.

Shaberisugita Otoko ("The Man Who Said Too Much") is the first episode of the second season of Furuhata Ninzaburou, the famous Columbo-inspired TV drama. It is an inverted detective series starring Tamura Masakazu as the titular Furuhata Ninzaburou, a somewhat eccentric, yet amazingly sharp police lieutenant and considered one of the classic TV detective shows of Japan. Befitting a season opener, Shabesugita Otoko starts things out with a bang. The succesful defense laywer Oshimizu (Akashiya Sanma) feels forced to kill his lover as she was endangering his engagement with the daughter of an influential lawyer and arranges things to make it appear as his lover's admirer was the murderer. And that admirer just happens to be Imaizumi, Oshimizu's friend and Furuhata's (bumbling) sidekick. Who panicks when he discovers the victim, leaving even more incriminating evidence and testimonies than Oshimizu himself did!

The interesting problem of this episode is that Oshimizu is hired by Imaizumi (who obviously has no idea that his friend is the murderer) to be his defense lawyer, leaving him in the perfect position to get his scapegoat convicted! He convinces Imaizumi to plead guilty to accidental death, saying it is better than being found guilty of murder. And so Oshimizu manages to trap Imaizumi his web of deceit. Until Furuhata appears on the scene. Imaizumi might be the worst police officer he knows, but he is also sure that he would never kill anyone. And so Furuhata has to save his friend (?) while the trial nears its conclusion.

Mitani Kouki was strongly influenced by the Ellery Queen TV show when he created Furuhata Ninzaburou and he even cited The Adventure of the Wary Witness as one of his favorite episodes, so it was not strange to see Mitani write an episode set at a courtroom. And what a episode! Sanma makes for an impressive villain-of-the-week, who not only commits a murder, but spends most of the episode making sure Imaizumi gets convicted for the crime! It changes the dynamic of the series too. The suspense in most episodes is derived from seeing how the murderer gets cornered by Furuhata, similar to Columbo, but in this episode most of the suspense is actually deriven from seeing how Oshimizu is completing his perfect crime, making sure his scapegoat gets convicted by acting as his defense laywer! It results in a different viewing experience that is certainly nice to have occasionally.

The inevitable slip-up of Oshimizu that Furuhata discovers is a pretty ingenious one and can be easily missed. I earlier said that Shaberisugita Otoko was one of the important influences of Takumi Shuu's Gyakuten Saiban videogame series. That was not only because it is set in a courtroom. The way Furuhata manages to prove Oshimizu's guilt is in fact the bread and butter of the Gyakuten Saiban series. Especially the first chapter of the first Gyakuten Saiban game, The First Turnabout, borrows heavily from this story, but it is safe to say that every chapter of every game borrows a bit of Shaberisugita Otoko. It would be spoiler-ish to actually point out what this is, so I will just say that Gyakuten Saiban owes a lot to this episode.

The courtroom during a (murder) trial naturally provides an exciting setting by its nature anyway. A place where someone's future is decided (or if you are playing Gyakuten Saiban, where ideally the truth is brought to light). Both China and Japan have a history in narrative court records being told as a kind of detective stories (see for example Judge Dee and Judge Ooka), but for example the first hit 'translation / adaptation' of famous Meiji period translator Kuroiwa Ruikou was also Houtei no Bijin ("The Beauty at the Trial", adapted from Hugh Conway's Dark Days). More 'recent' novels I know with trial segments are from Carr's The Judas Window, Christie's Sad Cypress and Queen's Halfway House. But the Gyakuten Saiban series is probably the best of all these courtroom based detectives, as it actually places the player himself in the role of detective. And it features awesome music and witty writing that few can match.

Which reminds me: I shouldn't forget my tradition of playing the three Gyakuten Saiban games every year!

Original Japanese title(s): 『古畑任三郎:しゃべりすぎた男』

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