Sunday, June 29, 2014

Murder under Glass

「殺しはしねぇでも生かしてもおかねぇ。もっと 詳しく聞きてぇか?」
 『探偵はBarにいる2 ススキノ大交差点』

"Just out of curiosity, what's going to happen with him?"
"We won't kill him, but we won't let him live either. Want to know the details?"
"No, I've heard enough"
"The Detective is in the Bar 2 - The Great Crossroads of Susukino"

While I do think metropolises have their charm, I just never get used to actually living there. It's just too... busy. The image of a never-sleeping city sounds fun, but it's just too... restless for me. Everything, everyone always on the movement. One of my scariest experiences in a metropolis was..... simply taking the bus in Busan, South Korea. Everything needs to go fast there, so you need to be standing at the exit before the bus reaches the stop, and the bus basically starts driving away from the stop while your first foot is still somewhere in the air halfway the bus and the pavement.

There is always something happening in the red light district Susukino in Sapporo, capital of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Sometimes something good, sometimes something bad. Masako, one of the popular 'ladies' in a crossdresser's bar, winning a TV talent hunt with her illusion show is something good. Masako being murdered is something bad. The unnamed protagonist private detective and his sidekick Takada wants to know who is responsible for the death of their good friend, but nobody wants to talk about the case for some reason. The detectives eventually pick up some rumors that Masako might have been 'erased' because she used to be romantically involved with a local politician who has been on the rise lately. But the moment the duo starts to investigate this trail, their two heads are marked by both supporters of the politician as well as his enemies (who aim for a I-scratch-your-back scheme). Can they find out who killed Masako whilse being chased all over Sapporo in the 2013 movie Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 - Susukino Daikousaten ("The Detective is in the Bar 2 - The Great Crossroads of Susukino")?

Tantei wa Bar ni Iru is a film series based on Azuma Naomi's Susukino Detective novel series: the films are named after the first book in the series, even though the first movie was based on the second novel: Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 is based on the fifth novel (Tantei wa Hitoribocchi; "The Detective On His One"). The basic set-up for both the novel and the film series is the same: a comedic hardboiled detective series starrring an unnamed detective and his assistant, set in the red light district Susukino in Sapporo (Azuma's hometown). The titular bar refers to the bar Keller Ohata, which the protagonist uses as his base of operations: he doesn't own a mobile phone, so people who want to reach him have to call there.

I haven't seen the first movie, but the basic setting is very simple, so you'll get into it really quickly. In fact, the whole film moves at quite a fast pace: the protagonist and his assistant are marked by their enemies very early in the story and a lot of the movie consists not out of the detective following every trail he comes across in search for Masako's murderer, rather than fleeing for, and occasionally fighting with the many, many people who try to kill him (and occasionally coming across a hint during his flight). Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 is an easy watch and as a hardboiled detective story definitely more about the journey, rather than the destination. But that's not a bad thing: Ooizumi You (protagonist; also the voice actor of Professor Layton) and Matsuda Ryuuhei (the sidekick Takada) really fit their roles and their banter is just fantastic (the film is actually quite funny).

The ending does come rather suddenly though, and even if the journey was the main event, I wish the destination was a bit more impressive. It's not bad, per se, but the way the protagonist and his assistant basically stumble upon the whole truth behind Masako's murder is rather disappointing and feels extremely forced. I can imagine the scriptwriters discussing the endgame of this film: How are we going to give the detective a hint? Oh, you know, we can just let the murderer give at all away at the end. We only have a few minutes left for the ending, so yeah, let's just give it to him straight without any funny business!  Okay, it's not that bad, but depending on the viewer, the ending can disappoint extremely.

In my opinion, one of the more interesting points of Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 is the setting of Sapporo. Setting aside Yokomizo Seishi's novels, most Japanese mystery fiction is set in, or near capital Tokyo, or sometimes Osaka and Kyoto, so I always find it refreshing when a story is set somewhere else (see for example my reviews of Matsumoto Seichou's Ten to Sen or Nishimura Ken's Hakata Tantei File). Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 is mostly set in the capital of the north, and it has a distinct atmosphere. I have never visited Sapporo or the island of Hokkaido, so I loved seeing this part of Japan. The red light disctrict of Susukino also really comes alive in this movie, and the way it is depicted as partly a seedy neighbourhood, but also as a crossroads of destinies where all kinds of people gather to simply try to make a living, is similar to the way Shinjuku is depicted in series as Tantei Jinguuji Saburou and City Hunter (or Shibuya in the fantastic game Machi ~ Unmei no Kousaten). Sure, it's a very romantic version of the place, but I think these titles are exceptionally good at depicting a location as a living being with distinct characteristics and atmosphere.

As a comedy hardboiled detective movie, Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 -  Susukino Daikousaten is quite amusing. It won't be recorded in the annals of international detective fiction, but if you want to kill some time, spending some time wih the unnamed detective in Sapporo is certainly not a bad choice.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵はBarにいる2 ススキノ大交差点』

No comments :

Post a Comment