Sunday, July 9, 2017

Midnight Luna Sea

『The Real Folk Blues』(山根麻衣)

I look at tomorrow with one eye
While my other eye is fixed on the past
If only I could once again sleep in peace
In the cradle of your love
"The Real Folk Blues" (Yamane Mai)

So Photobucket changed its policy, which means you can hotlink to images anymore. That sadly means that most of the posts made from the start of this blog until somewhere in 2013 don't have their images anymore, as I used to use Photobucket for image materials. I *might* fix that in the future, but to be honest, it's going to be a hell of a job to change the image links for hundreds of posts...

I think the 2009 film MW, a live-action adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's thriller manga, was the first time I saw actor Tamaki Hiroshi. In the film, he played a extremely dangerous psychopath. First impressions are hard to forget, so because of MW, I sometimes still have trouble picturing him as a detective, like in Watashi no Kirai na Tantei and today's film.

Shimada Souji's 1981 Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken (published in English as The Tokyo Zodiac Murders) was a milestone in the history of Japanese mystery fiction. Not only was it a darn good mystery yarn in the model of the classic puzzle-focused mystery fiction, the novel also inspired a whole new generation of mystery writers in the country, who'd bring forth a revival of the puzzle plot mystery in Japan. The detective featured in the book was Mitarai Kiyoshi, an excentric, but brilliant astrologist, who'd dabble in amateur detecting as a hobby. His Watson, Ishioka, built a career as a mystery writer detailing the adventures he had with Mitarai, and over the course of years Mitarai managed to solve countless of baffling cases, but he also changes jobs. First hebecame an amateur detective (with astrology as a hobby) and he's currently a leading neurologist, teaching at universities across the world.

While Mitarai Kiyoshi made his debut back in 1981, he and Ishioka wouldn't be adapted for a live-action production until 2015, when they first appeared in a two-hour TV special starring Tamaki Hiroshi as the genius detective. Reception was certainly positive, so it seemed almost certain it would be followed by a TV series. To the surprise of many however, the production team decided to go straight for the silver screen. The 2016 film Tantei Mitarai no Jikenbo - Seiro no Umi ("The Casebook of Detective Mitarai - The Sea of the Starry Carriage"), which also carries the official English title Detective Mitarai's Casebook - The Clockwork Current starts with a strange request by Ishioka's newest editor Ogawa Miyuki. She hopes Mitarai will solve some crazy mystery for her, because that'd give Ishioka the material and inspiration to write a new novel for her. While Mitarai isn't really interested at first, the news of a series of unknown bodies washing up on the shores of a small island in the Seto Inland Sea. changes his mind, Mitarai decides to investigate this curious incident, taking Miyuki along (Ishioka has other prior commitments). The trail leads them to the city of Fukuyama, where a series of curious incidents await them: the death of a foreigner, the brutal torture of two parents (the father had his eyes gouged out; the mouth of the mother was stitched tight) and the murder of their poor baby, an attack on an associate-professor in History researching "the Starry Carriage", a mysterious term found on some old scrolls that document the sea battles held early in the nineteenth century and finally: the sighting of a mysterious Nessy-like creature in the Seto Inland Sea. However, only Mitarai is able to connect all these seemingly distinct cases together.

Detective Mitarai's Casebook - The Clockwork Current is based on Shimada Souji's novel Seiro no Umi ("The Sea of the Starry Carriage"; English subtitle The Clockwork Current), which was originally published in 2013 and the forty-ninth story in the Mitarai Kiyoshi series (I reviewed number fifty a while ago). I haven't read the original novel, so I have absolutely no idea how faithful an adaptation this film is, but I do know that the editor Ogawa Miyuki is an original character. In the novel, it's Mitarai's faithful Watson Ishioka who accompanies him on this adventure, but Ishioka was replaced for some reason in this film (even though Ishioka did appear in the 2015 TV special). It is a very strange change at any rate, as Mitarai and Ishioka are very much modeled after Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and replacing Watson with a random figure (his editor) is a bit odd to say the least. While the change is not bad on its own, it certainly doesn't offer any merits at all either. A lot of the charm of the original stories comes from the banter between the two, but that's gone too, as Miyuki is more a fangirl of Mitarai, rather than someone who knows him well and can fight back verbally.

To be honest, I had expected something much more from this first theatrical appearance of such an icon of Japanese mystery fiction. I have read only a mere fraction of all of the Mitarai Kiyoshi series, but I could've named quite a number of stories that would've worked much better on the silver screen than this one. That is the biggest problem of the film actually. The story isn't really suited for the big screen. It's basically about Mitarai investigating several distinctly different cases: bodies washing up on shore, a foreign drug ring, the brutal baby-murder and his tortured parents and a historical mystery about the identity of the "Starry Carriage". But none of them have the impact to really carry a two-hour film narrative, not even taken all together. The narrative jumps from one case to another at a rather high pace and none of them get really fleshed out in a meaningful way. The result is that the viewer is presented with a great number of incidents that don't seem really all that important, or even mysterious (or at least not mysterious enough to make you say you absolutely needed to see this in the theater). I think this story would have been much better if it had been adapted as a short TV series, which each episode first focusing on one case, and then the last few episodes bringing things together. While I admit that the scale of this film was grander than the 2015 special (which was set in urban Tokyo), basically everything The Clockwork Current had in terms of scale of the story and setting, you could also see in select mystery shows made for the small screen in Japan (save for some nice wide shots early in the film, I guess).

It doesn't help the mystery plot is a bit underwhelming. It's a (seemingly) random collection of smaller cases, of which only the baby murder/tortured parents plot makes any impact on the viewer, but as it is only one of the many subplots, it is given just too little time. Mitarai solves some minor mysteries about all of the smaller incidents as the story goes on, eventually revealing the connection between all the seemingly seperate cases, but even that feels a bit artificial, and not particularly surprising or impressive. I have a suspicion that in the original novel, these smaller incidents might all be seperate storylines, which only come together in the end. In the film however, we follow Mitarai and Miyuki as they stumble upon one case after another (in really rapid succession) and seeing Mitarai following up on all of them for seemingly no reason feels very arbitrary, as if the plot compels him to that, rather than his logic (as for most of the time, there's absolutely no reason to suspect any connection to the seperate incidents, save for the fact that this is a film, so of course everything is connected).

The part about the murdered baby/father with gouged-out eyes/mother with her mouth stitched tight appears at first a throwback to the delightfully horrible murder mysteries early in the Mitarai Kiyoshi series (like The Tokyo Zodiac Murders or Naname Yashiki no Hanzai), but the gruesome part is actually fairly superficial rather than functional to the mystery plot and the underlying mystery is kinda dependent on coincidence/sheer bad luck. Shimada has also been dabbling with historical mystery plots in the Mitarai Kiyoshi series for quite some time now, and the "Starry Carriage" subplot is in theory an interesting one, as it delves into the history of sea warfare in the Seto Inland Sea, but this too is a case of time constraints and weak connections to the rest of the narrative that weakening the impact of the plot.

Detective Mitarai's Casebook - The Clockwork Current is in the end not at all what I had expected based on the 2015 TV special. I think that by selecting this particular story as the basis of the film, as well as moving away from the style and framework set in the 2015 TV special, The Clockwork Current ended up as a film that has trouble to impress as a mystery movie. This story simply isn't really suited for the two-hour, single format of a theatrical release as it's too scattered and small-scaled, while leaving out an iconic series character like Ishioka, who is able to bring out the characteristic excentricities of protagonist Mitarai, results in a story that seldom truly feels like it's part of the Mitarai Kiyoshi series. It is definitely not what I had expected based on the 2015 special, so I hope that a future sequel (if it is produced), follows the classic format of the series more faithfully.

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司(原) 『探偵ミタライの事件簿 星籠の海』


  1. I just watched the raw version of the movie . Could you please spoil the ending. I just need to understand the motive behind the death of the foreigner, the brutal torture of two parents (the father had his eyes gouged out; the mouth of the mother was stitched tight) and the murder of their poor baby, an attack on an associate-professor in History researching "the Starry Carriage", a mysterious term found on some old scrolls that document the sea battles held early in the nineteenth century and finally: the sighting of a mysterious Nessy-like creature in the Seto Inland Sea.

    Please explain the connection of all these seemingly distinct cases.

    1. It's been a long time ago since I saw the film, so I honestly don't remember much of it. For more details than this, you really need to find somebody else, because this is about all I recall.

      To avoid posting spoilers here, I'm using ROT13 cipher, copy/paste the text below on : Znfgrezvaq jnf vaibyirq jvgu n qeht evat? Gur qrnq obqvrf jnfuvat hc jrer gur obqvrf bs sbervtaref jub bireqbfrq ba gur qehtf, naq guebja vagb frn, jvgu gur hahfhny pheerag bs gur Frgb Vaynaq frn oevatvat gur obqvrf gb jurer gurl jrer sbhaq.

      Onolfvggre nppvqragnyyl xvyyf onol, naq jnf nyfb unaqrq fbzr qehtf ol npdhnvagnapr rneyvre ba, juvpu yrnqf gb fbzr gebhoyr. Gb xrrc gur snpg gur onol qvrq n frperg, fur gryyf ure oblsevraq gb snxr n xvqanccvat bs gur onol. Gur znfgrezvaq yrneaf bs guvf cyna, naq V qba'g erzrzore jul, ohg ur jnagrq gb gnxr eriratr ba gur cneragf, fb ur hfrq gur snxr xvqanccvat cyna gb yher gur cneragf bhg naq xvyy gurz.

  2. Thanks for replying, Ho Ling. Sorry for the spelling mistake.