Thursday, March 13, 2014

Murder is Served


"You're going to solve the mystery, right?"
"Shall I?"
"After dinner?"
"After dinner would a bit late"

When I step inside a train or an airplane, I don't usually think of detective fiction. Sure, there are some great stories set on moving objects, and the first couple of times, a ride might remind of such a story, but by the tenth time... But I haven't been on a boat that often, so that mode of transportation still has a bit of a (deadly) romantic allure to me. Death on the Nile and that sort of thing. The longest I've been on a boat, was the three-hour trip van Fukuoka (Japan) to Busan (South Korea), which was actually quite fun. No murders though. 

Higashigawa Tokuya's funny armchair detective series Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de has been a great hit in Japan, not in the least because of a succesful TV drama adaptation in 2011. The series is about a wealthy heiress (and rookie police detective) Houshou Reiko, who each time after a hard day at work tells her butler Kageyama about the mysterious cases she's handling. Kageyama however always manages to clear up the many murders that are troubling his mistress without even taking a step out of the room. His answer to the cases, which often includes a bit of verbal abuse directed at his mistress' intelligence), however is always only told after Reiko has finished her dinner.
And the hit 2011 adaptation was followed by a theatrical release with the same title last year. Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (literally "Mystery Solving is after Dinner", official English title: The After-Dinner Mysteries) brings Reiko and her butler Kageyama to the luxury cruise ship the Princess Reiko on its final voyage from Japan to Singapore. Reiko plans on a relaxing trip, but her plans go all wrong when she finds out that Inspector Kazamatsuri (her direct superior who doesn't know Reiko's a wealthy heiress) is on the ship too to guard a statue on its way to Singapore. The international phantom thief Soros is thought to be on board and Reiko's also forced to help with security. But that's not all, because on the first night, a man falls overboard, but when the man is found, it is discovered he was first shot to death, before being thrown overboard, but the murderer went through the trouble of dressing his victim in a life jacket after killing him. Can Kageyama solve the mystery before dinner so his mistress can finally have her cruise holiday?

The original TV series was based on Higashigawa Tokuya's stories, but the movie was based on an original plot and I have to say, not nearly as entertaining as the original stories. The essence of the series, in my opinion, lies in the butler Kageyama being an armchair detective in simple, yet strange cases. He would just be there in the background, listening to his mistress relating the story of a relatively simple murder investigation, but with a small, yet enigmatic feature.The first story for example, Satsujin Genba de wa Kutsu wo O-nugi Kudasai ("Please Take Your Shoes Off At A Murder Scene"), showed how Kageyama solved a murder based on the fact the victim was still wearing her shoes inside her apartment (a no-no in Japan). All before dinner. The best stories were always about very small cases with one strange feature, and seeing how Kageyama brought light to the darkness just by changing the point of view.

The movie however has Kageyama coming along with Reiko on the cruise ship and having to solve the murder 'in real time', like an active detective. It brings another dynamic to the series, and I don't think it's a positive one. It kinda takes away from the whole premise of the series if you have Kageyama actively participate in an ongoing investigation on a ship. Almost as silly as having a old spinster-detective in a sword duel on a ship.

The case itself is also fairly simple, even though the movie tries to confuse you by having a lot of storylines running through each other. But there's one good point: the mystery of a naked dead body in a dogeza (kowtow) position. In a movie two hours long with a series of plotlines, this was the only one which actually felt like a true Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de story, with a strange murder scene with a surprising truth behind it. The rest is forgettable, but it was a fair mystery, at any rate.

The visual style of the series is mostly good though. A plotline with a 'comedic' duo of thieves is awful, but the rest is what we've learned to expect from the franchise: a comic-esque presentation of events, fast cuts and the occasional text pop-ups like in comics (and, no, not like those in Sherlock). While the cuts themselves aren't really remarkable (it is 'just' a movie spin-off of a TV series), the movie did had the advantage of having been shot on location. In this case, a little bit in Singapore, but also a large part on the gigantic cruise-ship SuperStar Virgo, which served as the ship Princess Reiko of the movie. And boy, does that ship look great!

Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de is a somewhat boring movie spin-off. Sure, we have our familar faces in all kinds of mysterious and comedic situations, but as a mystery film it is a bit disappointing. The original stories by Higashigawa Tokuya were much more interesting, and made much better use of Kageyama as an armchair detective. This movie is more aimed at people who liked the characters of the series, rather than people who liked the mysteries of the series, I think.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉(原) 『謎解きはディナーのあとで』

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