Saturday, June 20, 2020

Track of the Zombie

最大限界行きたいわ 
宇宙全体が手品いやい
「再生」(Perfume)

I want to go all out
The whole universe is just a sleight of hand
"Rebirth" (Perfume)

Now I think about, with Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet being postponed to 2021, I guess today's topic is the only new mystery movie I really planned to watch this year. I'll probably watch some more, but this was the only recent release (not older than a year) I absolutely wanted to see.

By sticking their noses in all kinds of incidents and occasionally even actually solving them, the duo of Akechi Kyousuke and Hamura Yuzuru have earned themselves the reputation of the Holmes and Watson of Shinkou University. One day, the two young men are approached by fellow student Kenzaki Hiruko, who too has assisted the police in criminal cases in the past. She tells about how the university's Music Festival Club has received a threatening note with the message "Who will be sacrified next?", and how it's likely related to the annual club trip to the Sabea Rock Festival. Many female members of the Music Festival Club were afraid to go because of the trip, so Hiruko was invited to come along to make up for the numbers even though she isn't a Music Festival club member. Hiruko wants Akechi and Hamura to join her to investigate into the meaning behind the note.  The trio joins the rest of the Music Festival Club at the Violet Villa, a pension owned by Nanamiya, one of the graduated members of the club. Each year, Nanamiya allows the club members to stay here, but Hamura quickly realizes Nanamiya's main goal is to get lucky with the female members. During the club's nightly visit to the Sabea Rock Festival however, they notice some visitors start to behave weird and before they know it, they're surrounded by a horde of zombies! Once a person's bitten, they turn into a zombie themselves, and it doesn't take long for the Rock Festival to change into a Fest of the Dead.

Not everyone makes it back alive to the Violet Villa, and the group of survivors barricade themselves against the waves of zombies still roaming outside. The group can only wait for outside help to arrive and they all retreat to their own rooms in the hotel, everyone making sure to lock their doors. The following morning, the Music Festival Club's president is found dead in his room and the horrible biting marks on his face leaves little doubt that his death came by the hands of a zombie, but there are also several problems to this conclusion: while only a zombie could've committed the murder in such a horrible way, only a human could've performed feats like somehow opening the victim's locked hotel room and leaving mysterious handwritten threatening notes in and outside the room! Was this the work of a zombie, a human, or both? Time is of the essence as more and more impossible murders occur while the zombies start to break down barricade after barricade in the 2019 film Shijinsou no Satsujin ("The Murders in the Villa of the Dead").


It's no secret that Imamura Masahiro's debut novel Shijinsou no Satsujin ("The Murders in the Villa of the Dead", 2017) immediately become one of my favorite mystery novels after I read it, and I also enjoyed the 2019 sequel novel and the prequel short story a lot. The brilliantly original manner in which the novel combined classic mystery tropes like the closed circle and the locked room murder with the style of zombie panic movie resulted in a true gem of the genre: it was a well-plotted fair play mystery story that incorporated a 'supernatural' element like the zombie to create unique mysteries to solve and Imamura didn't just use zombies as window dressing: these beings were absolutely essential to how the mystery plot worked. The novel was received extremely well in Japan, so it didn't really surprise me when the film adaptation was announced and I've been looking forward to it since. The movie was released in December 2019, while the home video release followed earlier this week.

One thing that made me really enthusiastic for the movie was the tone of the trailer: the distinct comedic tone with fast-paced dialogue and rapid shots reminded me of the classic comedy-mystery drama Trick, one of my favorite mystery television franchises of all time. Turns out that I wasn't imagining things: director Kimura Hisashi was the assistant-director on many projects directed by Tsutsumi Yukihiko, including Trick, and it's obvious Kimura took inspiration from that franchise. I only learned recently Kimura also acted as chief director on a lot of mystery drama I enjoyed in the past, like 99.9, IQ246 and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO, so I was sure his film adaptation of Shijinsou no Satsujin would be fun to watch. Actress Hamabe Minami, who plays Hiruko in the movie, has also been in a lot of mystery-related productions lately and I loved her in everything I saw of her work. I first saw here in the mystery drama Pure (also produced by people who worked on Trick by the way) where she played a hilarious lead as an idol who acts all cute in front of others but who's actually a connniving vixen, but she also starred as the main character Tokino in the excellent Alibi Kuzushi Uketamawarimasu and has a guest role in Detective Conan: The Scarlet Alibi (which has been postponed to 2021). Add in Kamiki Ryuunosuke (who played Kyuu in the drama of Tantei Gakuen Q) as Hamura and Nakamura Rinya (who plays the lead in Bishoku Tantei, based on the manga by Higashimura Akiko) and you have a whole trio of leads who get casted as detectives. At any rate, given the source material and the people working on the movie, my expectations for Shijinsou no Satsujin were pretty high.


And I am happy to say that Shijinsou no Satsujin is indeed a highly entertaining mystery film that any fan of the genre must watch. The story features some minor differences with the novel to smooth the narrative out (for example, some characters' backgrounds have been changed and the novel went slightly more in detail about the background of the zombies), but in general, Shijinsou no Satsujin is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original work, but with more visual impact (duh). That means you're in for a two-hour movie where you're treated to no less than three different types of locked room murders in a pension that is under attack by zombies, which is a pretty high number of impossible crimes for a single modern, blockbuster-type of movie. These incidents all have seemingly contradictory elements, as both a human and zombie hand can be felt, for example, a locked hotel room which was obviously unlocked by a normal human, while all the biting could only have been done by a zombie. The mysteries are cleverly written to make you wonder if a human could in any way direct a zombie to commit a murder, without putting themselves in harm's way. The brilliance of these murders is that they are only possible in this specific setting, with the zombies. You couldn't replace the hordes of zombies outside with a flood or anything, the whole story is built around the concept of the living dead roaming outside. The movie is pretty tight at two hours, and I feel that ten more minutes of runtime to flesh a few scenes out may have helped, but on the whole I'd say the screenplay does a great job at presenting what is in essence a fairly complex mystery story with multiple murders with impossible elements and the zombie panic side of the story, all within the limits of a two-hour movie. While a mystery genre movie can often feel quite static, Shijinsou no Satsujin is wonderfully dynamic because the zombies keep coming closer and closer.


A few of the focused shots and changes in this movie do make it a bit easier to guess who the culprit is compared to the novel, I have the feeling. In that sense, the film is definitely being very fair and even if you know who the criminal is, there's still some interesting mysteries for the viewer to solve (I love the reason why the culprit went all that trouble for the second murder!). The movie also focuses less on the architecture of the pension (you only see the layout a few times and it's pretty hard to grasp where everyone's room is just by watching the movie), though I have to say the screenplay does a great job at using the visual medium to convey a certain piece of key information to the viewer, which was presented in a different way in the original novel. The method they choose fits better with the medium as it's easier to process, and a good example of how a film adaptation can change things around in a mystery movie to make the best of the medium's specific qualities.

I wouldn't be surprised if Shijinsou no Satsujin will also turn out to be the best mystery movie I'll see this year. It helps that the source material is good, naturally, but it is genuinely a well-produced mystery movie with at one hand a very classic approach with a closed circle situation, impossible crimes and a cast of suspicious characters and on the other hand the more visceral and fast-paced format of the horror movie. The comedic tone with minor parody elements may not be for everyone (Hah, creepy old lady in the bus is definitely a Yokomizo reference), but I absolutely love it and people who liked drama series like Trick will definitely like this film. Most of the changes do make sense as they fit the medium of the two-hour film better, so on the whole, I'm more than satisfied with Shijinsou no Satsujin: it's a fantastic detective movie that can stand on its own and which truly uses its original approach to the mystery genre to its fullest.

Original Japanese title(s): 『屍人荘の殺人』

13 comments :

  1. will you review lupin iii one day ?

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    1. No plans at the moment. The thing with Lupin III is that a lot of the franchise is a bit outside the scope of this blog, being more adventure/action stories than mystery. I did see The First recently for example, and that followed the usual formula. A post about the mystery-oriented episodes would be interesting (like the prison breakout from Series IV), but there's still a lot I haven't seen of the five series, so even I were to consider doing such a post it would be something for far later.

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  2. This sounds like a really good movie (and book). I wonder if there will be a home video release with english subtitles, if not I'll just have to wait until my Japanese is good enough to read the novel. Judging from the trailer, the style of the film is close to that of the tv show Psych, which also has a similar premise to Trick.

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    1. (Official) Hong Kong releases often feature English subtitles, but I have no idea whether a HK release is planned. Does seem like the kind of movie that would eventually be released with English subtitles somewhere. The writing of the novel is quite accessible in any case!

      Oh, I haven't that seen much of Psych, but yeah, it has a similar vibe.

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    2. Rjgman56 is planning to sub the film into English! If you search their name, you'll find their site and Facebook page with updates. I'm eagerly refreshing every day. ^_^; Oh my gosh, if a HK Blu-ray with English subs is ever released, I'll be all over it like a zombie on a victim.

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  3. Replies
    1. They're not 'Haitian Voodoo' zombies, but the 'modern' 'braaaains' mob zombies , but yep, real zombies. The sequel also has supernatural elements (prophecies) which are real in-universe.

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    2. So are they undead creatures ?

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  4. This just got subbed and I LOVED it. Too soon to ask for a film adaptation of the second novel? Spoilers below:

    ROT18:
    V qvq znantr gb thrff gur phycevg orpnhfr bs gur rlr qebcf zbzrag orvat sbphfrq ba. V nyfb fhfcrpgrq gur cubar orvat ybfg jnf qryvorengr. Gur bgure crbcyr V unq jnirevat fhfcvpvbaf bs vzzrqvngryl orpnzr mbzovrf fhcre rneyl ba. V gbgnyyl orpnzr svkngrq ba gur jerfgyre jub tbg n punenpgre pneq naq gura qvqa'g erghea hagvy ur jnf qrnq. V qvqa'g xabj ur jnf n pryro pnzrb. ^_^; Gurzngvpnyyl, V qvq yvxr gur vebavp gjvfg gung gur qrgrpgvir fnirq gur riraghny zheqrere sebz mbzovrf ng gur irel ortvaavat. V svtherq Nxrpuv jbhyqa'g fheivir qhr gb uvf nofrapr sebz gur frdhry naq pbzzragf nobhg gur cerdhry orvat rzbgvbany. V rira ernq n pbzzrag ersrerapvat Uvehxb'f svany yvar ohg qvqa'g xabj jura vg jnf tbvat gb unccra. Jung n JUNZ yvar. Ubcrshyyl gur abiry naq znatn znxr vg bire va Ratyvfu gbb orpnhfr guvf jnf fhcreo. Fcrpvny fubhg-bhg gb gur frggvat qrfvta bs gur ivyyn naq gur ernyyl pbby k-enl fubgf jura mbzovrf jrer qrsrngrq.

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    1. I certainly wouldn't say no to an adaptation of the sequel!

      ROT13: Gubfr K-enl fubgf jrer ernyyl pyrire! Gurl ybbxrq pbby, ohg nyfb ceriragrq gur zbivr sebz orpbzvat gbb tberl. Gur cubar jnf fbzrguvat bevtvany sbe gur svyz ol gur jnl, fur jnf bevtvanyyl whfg cneg bs gur fghqragf. Gur pyrjvat nobhg jung unccrarq nsgre gur phycevg fjnccrq gur xrlf jnf nyfb n ovg qvssrerag, ohg birenyy, V guvax gur zbivr'f fgvyy terng nf n zlfgrel fgbel. Gur ynfg ovg jvgu Nxrpuv jnf nyfb fyvtugyl qvssrerag va gur obbx, nf ur jnf cneg bs gur zbo fgbezvat gur gbjre. Gur yvarf gurzfryirf jrer gur fnzr nf va gur zbivr, ohg vg jnf n ovg haerny va gur svyz gb frr Nxrpuv fgnaqvat gurer nyy nybar ng gur raq sbe ab ernfba naq gur guerr bs gurz univat gurve bja cevingr gvzr :C

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  5. How was the tone of the original novel btw? Was comedic as well or more scary or tense?

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    1. The zombies were treated a bit more seriously (no guest star cameos...), and it was at times a biiit darker as you learn *slightly* more about how the zombies came to be, but there is a somewhat lightish/comedic tone like in the film.

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