Sunday, September 8, 2013

His Last Bow

ひとりどこにいても そこに見える優しい
あなたの名前呼んで あすを待つでしょう

Wherever I am, even if alone, I'll look at the gentle you,
I will call out your name and wait for you
"Ballad of Love" (Kaneko Yukari)

And of course, still a backlog on posts. The problem with writing reviews focusing on the use of tropes, is that you'll quickly start to repeat yourself, as you compare the book in discussion to other works with the same trope.  Which is neither fun for readers of the blog, nor for me. Right, now, I am stuck with a bunch of books with topics I already discussed relatively recently, so just waiting for a good moment to write them. So, meanwhile, some other reviews...

Slightly disillusioned by the tragedies he came across in his work, private detective Kindaichi Kousuke decides to go to the United States. However, he gets involved with a strange incident on Hospital Hill. The hill used to house the Hougen Hospital and the mansion of the Hougen family, but World War II had forced a move of both buildings. The ruins are still on Hospital Hill though, and the people of a local photo studio were thus very surprised when they were asked to take a wedding picture in the old Hougen mansion. The bride seemed drugged and thinking there was something fishy going on, the photo studio hires Kindaichi Kousuke (who had come to have his passport photo taken) to solve the mystery. When they visit the old Hougen mansion again to look for clues however, they discover not a happy wedded couple, but the decapitated head of the groom hanging from the ceiling! The mystery behind this strange murder, and its connection to the Hougen family, is what drives the movie Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie ("The House of Hanging on Hospital Hill").

I have already written extensively about Ichikawa Kon's Kindaichi Kousuke movie series in earlier reviews (of Inugamike no Ichizoku (1976), Akuma no Temaru Uta (1977) and Gokomontou (1977); I refer to those reviews in case you want to know a bit more about the history behind the famous movie series of the equally famous Japanese detective novel series. Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie (1979) is in two ways the ending to the Kindaichi Kousuke series: it was the last movie of golden trio Yokomizo Seishi (writer), Ichikawa Kon (director) and Ishizaka Kouji (actor of Kindaichi) (until the 2002 Inugamike no Ichizoku remake), but the original novel is also chronologically the last case Kindaichi Kousuke solved (Akuryoutou however is the last Kindaichi story written). The movie does differ from the original substantially though: the original novel has Kindaichi initially failing to solve the case, and it would take him twenty years to finally find out the truth; this case was the last, and longest case Kindaichi had ever taken. In the movie, the timeline has been smoothed out to for a 'normal' case, and I gather that Ichikawa rewrote quite some characters, including the identity of the murderer.

But as I haven't read the original novel yet, let's just look at this movie as is. The first thing that caught my eye was definitely the more urban, modern setting of this movie compared to the earlier movies. Islands, mountain villages? Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie is set in a normal town and with the movie opening with a jazz band performing for the US occupation troops, you immediately know this is a slightly different movie compared to the previous ones. The original novel apparently made this change more obvious, as it was about a story spanning twenty years, but you'll get the same feeling by watching the Ichikawa Kon movies in a row (even though they were shot really close to each other).

The story is classic Yokomizo material: bloody, grizzly murders, plots of revenge, overly complex family trees and horrible human tragedy. Yes, it's basically more of the same, but this is precisely what Yokomizo does best, and it works here too, but compared to Inugamike no Ichizoku and Akuma no Temari Uta, I have to admit that Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie is a little weaker. The raw elements are alike, but the finish is different. For me, this is most obvious in the fact the earlier two movies were more 'structured' because of the nursery rhyme trope employed there. Such a trope at least makes it feel the story is going somewhere (someone is trying to complete a certain pattern), whereas Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie, you're just confronted with a 'normal' murder, which might have been commited for a lot of reasons. As a movie-viewer, I just find a more obvious structure a bit more pleasant. Though I can't say I was bored with this movie: heck, you'll often hear me question the necessity of more than two hours for a movie, but I enjoyed this 140 minute movie from start to finish.

Not that this is a perfect movie. For example. like I said, Yokomizo likes to use overly complex family trees in his stories, and this is probably the most complex of them all. It is even addressed in the dialogue, with Kindaichi himself saying he doesn't get it, but despite that Ichikawa Kon didn't seem to have thought it necessary to make it a bit more clearer. It is quite important to the plot, so it seems strange to have Kindaichi address the topic, and then ignore it.

As movies, all the Ichikawa Kon movies still beautiful productions. Grand shots are followed by playful cut-aways, music is great and of course the acting. Ishikawa Kouji is still the best Kindaichi Kousuke around, and other veterans of the series like Katou Takeshi, who plays a different leading police inspector in every movie (thus meeting Kindaichi 'for the first time' every time) and Ootaki Hideji (who always plays a person with a connection to the past) always make this a series worth watching. But the biggest surprise is in the movie's prologue and epilogue. Writer Yokomizo Seishi had already made a small cameo in Inugamike no Ichizoku, but he actually plays an extended cameo in Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie as himself! Or rather, he 'plays' a writer of detective stories who is friends with Kindaichi Kousuke (loosely basing his stories on Kindaichi). It's a bit of a self-parody maybe, but the scene where Kindaichi is drinking tea with his creator is just fantastic. One should watch the movie if only just for these scenes.

Oh, and the role of Mokutarou, an apprentice at the photo studio, is quite interesting by the way. He quickly becomes Kindaichi's assistant and confidante, and his slouchy dress and manner almost makes it seem like he was set up to be a 'new' Kindaichi Kousuke, in a Batman-esque way. I am pretty sure they didn't make a spin-off with him, but the importance of his role to the story, is almost a mystery on its own.

All in all, Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie is definitely worth watching. Like all the Ichikawa Kon directed Kindaichi Kousuke movies, this movie is a great mystery with fantastic production values which will keep you hooked for the whole runtime. The story is 'standard' Yokomizo Seishi, but very captivating nonetheless, and while Inugamike no Ichizoku and Akuma no Temura Uta are definitely the best of the series, Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie shouldn't be missed.

Original Japanese title(s):『病院坂の首縊りの家』


  1. do you have link (torrent) to download all these masterpieces?

  2. Did you ever read the original novel (with the 20 year time skip)? I've seen the movie, did they in fact change the identity of the murderer and the motive?

    1. I have the two pockets lying somewhere, but still haven't read them :/