Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Double Clue

Out flew the web and floated wide- 
 The mirror crack'd from side to side; 
"The curse is come upon me," cried 
 The Lady of Shalott. 
The Lady of Shalott

In 2015, I reviewed the Japanese TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Mitani Kouki, playwright and director of comedic theater and film productions and also creator of Furuhata Ninzaburou, the Japanese Columbo. His two-part Murder on the Orient Express was an entertaining production. While it at times had trouble finding its own voice in the first episode, the second part made up for it, as it presented an inverted telling of the story from the POV of the murderer(s) which really managed to wonderfully mix Christie's story with Mitani's trademark warmhearted grand-scale 'backstage' comedy stories, and it even cleared up some matters which even the original novel didn't! So I was quite pleased to learn Mitani's getting a second opportunity to adapt Christie for TV, as in April, a TV adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd will be broadcast! The story will once again feature Poirot-replacement Suguro Takeru and be set in Japan, but I'm pretty excited to see what Mitani will do with this story, as it's infamously hard to do good as a TV production.

The Japanese television-viewing audience certainly don't seem to get enough of their Agatha Christie adaptations, as in the weekend of 24-25 March 2018, two other original Christie adaptations were broadcast too, produced by the team responsible for the Japanese 2017 And Then There Were None TV adaptation. And Then There Were None (2017) consisted of two two-hour episodes, but this time each story got one two-hour slot, and like with And Then There Were None (2017), the settings of these stories were changed from their original post-war UK settings to modern day Japan. The stories chosen were two Miss Marple stories: 4.50 from Paddington and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side.

Paddington-Hatsu 4-Ji 50-Pun - Shindai Tokkyuu Satsujin Jiken ("4.50 from Paddington - The Sleeper Express Murder Case") was broadcast on Saturday March 24th, and stars not English village busybody Miss Marple, but Amano Touko, once a gifted police inspector, but who quit her job to take care of her ailing husband, and who became a consultant after his demise. Her mother was one day riding the Orion Express, when she witnessed a murder happening in an compartment of the Sleeper Express Asagiri when the two trains happened to be running parallel to each other. Unlike the authorities, Touko believes her mother's story of having seen a murder, and starts poking around. She realized that if a murder did actually occur on the Asagiri, the body had to be dumped from the train before arrival at a station, and that the best spot for that is in the woods around the tracks that belong to the Tomizawa family, known for Tomi Confectionary. Touko decides to send her friend Aya, known as the "super-housekeeper", to the Tomizawa Residence to scope the land. Aya not only finds the body, but also detects something sinister brewing among old man Tomizawa and his sons/daughters/son-in-law regarding the Tomizawa fortune that might have to do with the body from the train.

While the story is set in modern-day Japan and we don't have Miss Marple chasing after McGillicuddy 's story anymore, this special is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the original story. The problem being that to be honest, 4.50 from Paddington wasn't a very exciting mystery story in the first place. The opening is great: a murder happening in one train that happens to be witnessed from another train is a great way to start of a story, and reminds of Rear Window. But this segment is actually somewhat detached from the rest of story, as it only serves as a way to introduce the viewer to disfunctional Tomizawa family. From there on, you have your traditional 'all the family members hate each other and they all act as suspiciously as possible' story, and the whole train part of the story is considered over, as especially once they've found the body on the lands of the Tomizawas. There is a murder plot somewhere, but it is one we've seen Christie use a lot in her stories, so it's hard to get really impressed by it. Most of time, the story is just going through very familiar motions, and this particular adaptation does little to help that.

The move to modern-day Japan and a new protagonist sadly enough doesn't do much either. Besides the fact that it makes no sense that the Asagiri is pulled by an actual steam locomotive despite being set in modern-day Japan, I think the character of Amano Touko doesn't really work either (she is played by Amano Yuuki by the way, who voiced Curaçao in Detective Conan: The Darkest Nightmare). She's apparently so well-regarded during her time with the police that even now, high officials respect (and even fear) her talents, and while they at first didn't believe her mother's story about witnessing a murder on a running train, the police actually soon start listening to everything Touko has to say. It results in a very different dynamic than we had with Miss Marple in the original story, which isn't a bad thing per se, but Touko is supposed to be so good, the way everyone is acting it's like you have a whole army of detectives working on a case which isn't really that interesting.

4.50 from Paddington was followed the next day by Daijoyuu Satsujin Jiken ~ Kagami wa Yoko ni Hibiwarete ("The Great Actress Murder Case  ~ The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side"), which starts with the return of the actress Irodori Madoka to the silver screen after 13 years. She has bought "The Divine Mansion" as her new residence, also for use in her comeback film, but during a party held for the local high society, a woman is poisoned to death after drinking a cocktail meant for Madoka. It appears someone has been threatening Madoka and that the threats have become reality, even if someone else fell victim to it. The cool-headed Inspector Shoukokuji is put on the case to prevent more tragedies from happening, but that's easier said than done.

In this adaptation of The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side,  Miss Marple is replaced by Inspector Shoukokuji, an original character who was created for the 2017 And Then There Were None adaptation (as unlike the novel, this particular production of ATTWN needed a proper detective character). As a stereotypical stoic-but-capable character, Shoukokuji isn't really interesting, but still, funny to see how they connect these productions through this original character. Once again, the story is, ignoring the modern setting, fairly faithful to the original story, which is famously based on a tale that really happened (you probably don't want to read up on this until you've read the novel/seen this special). As a mystery story, The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side's definitely not one of my favorites, though I do like the motive behind the story. Then again, the whole story is really only built around this motive (which in turn is based on real life), and there's little else besides that that really makes The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side stand out. It also has the usual Christie tropes of faux hints/tropes ("we didn't meet for x years and I don't recognize you at all anymore!" or "she had this look on her face!"), which can work in some stories, but I wouldn't say this story provides an exceptional example of that practice.

The gripe I had with these two specials is that they managed to do so little with the changed settings. As a Japanese production, it's not strange they decided to relocate the stories to Japan, and a modern day setting is also easier to pull off than a period piece, but with And Then There Were None (2017), they actually managed to do more than just "hey, this story happens in modern-day Japan", but really incorporate this new element of the story in the mystery plot properly: there was a perfectly fine justification for that particular production of And Then There Were None to be set in the modern day, and it worked! But this is not the case for these two specials based on 4.50 from Paddington and The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side: they may be fairly faithful adaptations, but they don't benefit from taking place in modern day Japan, as nothing truly clever has been done to incorporate that into the plot besides "Oh yeah, I checked her blog". And Then There Were None (2017) consisted of [fairly faithful adaptation] + [modern day Japan] + [extra elements], but these two specials miss the [extra elements]. I really wish there was that little bit extra, as And Then Were None (2017) should it could be done, to result in at least a unique adaptation.

So these two adaptations of two of Miss Marple's more famous adventures were fairly well-done adaptations on their own, but they had very little originality to offer, despite the fact that the changed setting offered so much potential for that. Some might prefer adaptations to be as faithful to the original novel as possible, but given that this is another medium, and the fact that due to more practical circumstances, these two adaptations were planned to be set in modern day Japan, I really wish they had just gone that extra mile to somehow incorporate that more firmly into the plot to bring a truly unique adaptation of the source material, instead of 'just another one.' I hope that Mitani Kouki will be able to bring his own unique charm in his adaptation of The Murder of Roger Akroyd soon!

Original Japanese title(s): 『パディントン発4時50分 寝台特急殺人事件』&『大女優殺人事件 鏡は横にひび割れて』


  1. These Japanese adaptations sound interesting - a pity to hear that little has been done with the re-appropriation of these storylines for a different cultural setting.

    1. I'm expecting a lot more from Mitani's Akroyd. Even seeing how he comes up with Japanese versions of the original names is insanely fun.

    2. Though it's a hard one to do well in a movie format...

    3. True, but I assume Mitani knew what he was signing for, and he should have more creative freedom to perhaps not do the exact same thing, but at least present something that follows the spirit of the work. Also looking forward to seeing Oizumi You (who voices Professor Layton and plays the lead in the Tantei wa Bar ni Iru films) as the sidekick in the story!