Sunday, November 10, 2013

Look into my Eyes

Look into my eyes きっと会える
 探し続けた人も、場所も 求め続けた答えも
"Look into my Eyes" (Fayray)

Look into my eyes You will definitely find
the person you've been looking for, the place, the answer you've been searching for

Now that I think about it, this review has been waiting to be written for almost two months now. I should really work a bit faster...

The 2004 TV drama Rampo R is based on the works of Edogawa Rampo, grandfather of the Japanese mystery story, and set in contemporary times. Our protagonist is Akechi Kogorou III, grandson of the original Akechi Kogorou, the greatest detective Japan has ever known. Due to his father's sudden demise, Akechi III has to take over as the field agent of the famous Akechi Kogorou Detective Agency, which in turn brings him in contact with the strangest cases and the most grotesque of murderers. The original Akechi Kogorou is known for having solved countless of crimes featuring the most strange murderers, but can Akechi III live up to his family name, and will he be able to solve the mystery of his grandfather's nemesis the Fiend with Twenty Faces, who is said to be still alive?

Rampo R has long been lauded as one of the best Rampo adaptations available, so I didn't hesitate when I had the chance to finally see it. And it certainly didn't disappoint. I have discussed a great number of adaptations of Edogawa Rampo's works by now (Kyoufu Kikei Ningen, Kurotokage, Rampo, Rampo Noir, Moujuu, Yaneura no Sanposha, Issun Boushi VS Moujuu, Akechi Kogorou VS Kaijin Nijuu Mensou, and those are just the TV/film adaptations...), but I will declare it now, Rampo R is by far the most interesting of them all.

It is also one of the most loose adaptations of Rampo's works, but that doesn't hurt Rampo R a bit. Sure, the main story is pretty generic (grandson of the original Akechi Kogorou following his footsteps), but don't let that fool you. Every episode is based on one story (or more) by Rampo (though not all stories originally featured Akechi), set in contemporary times and often highly rewritten to fit in the time-limit of one episode. What makes this series a bit different from most Rampo adapations, is the fact the creators actually aimed for a fair detecive drama, instead of focusing on the more erotic and grotesque aspects of his works. The first episode is based on the horror short story Ningen Isu ("The Human Chair") for example, but this has been extensively rewritten to be a fair detective story. And it works! In fact, Ningen Isu has often been used as an 'element' within other Rampo film adapations (Kyoufu Kikei Ningen and Yaneura no Sanposha had it, for example), but never has it been 1) used as the main plot and 2) done so well (I will admit that Ningen Isu is one of my favorite stories, so Rampo R gets bonus points for that).

The adaptation of famous Rampo stories as fair play detective stories works mostly well. Most of the stories were written as such anyway, but an episode like Kurotokage is a bit strange; the original was a Great Detective VS Great Criminal story, but turning that into a whodunnit of sorts, doesn't work, because everyone knows who the Black Lizard is. Rampo's works often featured larger-than-life criminals (seriously, have you ever seen the titles of his books? From vampires to clowns from hell and electric men, Rampo has everything), so sometimes it feels a bit strange to have a rookie detective face off against them, but then again, he is the grandson of Akechi Kogorou.

Of course, free adaptations don't always work well. In some eyes, any change from the original might be seen as a bad thing. Some might consider minor changes, but Rampo R's changes are anything but minor. Yet, I don't think it is a bad thing per se, and I actually doubt Rampo himself would have really minded, considering a lot of his works were in fact rewritten versions of / reconfigurations of / inspired by other books / ideas / concepts. I think that Rampo, who was often moved (forced) to writing more mainstream, grotesque horror stories, would have appreciated more 'orthodox detective' versions of his own stories. And more importantly, the stories as presented in Rampo R are fun! The spirit of the original stories are kept intact and one can feel the love for Rampo's work throughout the series. And as long as the end product is good and keeps the spirit of the original intact, you won't see me complaining (and even then, I actually enjoyed the TV adaptations of Christie's The Big Four and The Labours of Hercules quite well, even though they were quite different from the spirit of the original novels).

Visually, the series does suffer a bit from being made on a TV series budget. It sorta adds to the childish atmosphere some of the Rampo stories have (a man hiding in a chair is not that scary if you think about it), but still, some of the sets seem a bit cheap. The music on the other hand is fantastic though.

Rampo R is a very free adaptation of Edogawa Rampo's work, but also one of the best. In fact, I think it's the easiest Rampo adaptation to recommend to people and a great example of how adapatations don't have to follow the original to the letter to be good, and respectful to the original at the same time.

Original Japanese title(s): 『乱歩R』


  1. Actually, I have read "The Human Chair" and the whole concept made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. In fact, offhand I can't find that anything like it has been written in Western detective literature. What makes it distinctive, I think, is the fetishistic element. What would you think about your chair if you suddenly suspected there was someone inside of it?

    1. I still can't read The Human Chair w/o feeling uncomfortable. And I usually read in bed, but that's not helping at all...

      A lot of Rampo's work deals with fetishes, especially voyeurism (like Stroller in the Attic, Beast in the Shadows), which is definitely giving his works a distinct identity (especially compared to Western mystery fiction from the same time). In fact, a lot of the (English langauge) academic writing on Rampo focuses on his novels as products of the erotic-grotesque-nonsense subculture of 1920s Japan.