Thursday, March 12, 2015

He Came With The Rain

I'm singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feelin'
I'm happy again
"Singin' in the Rain" (From: Singin' in the Rain)

Today's topic has a rather long title. I think the longest and boring title that has passed by on this blog for now is of a game though: A Steamy DS Suspense Mystery - The Data Files of Freelance Writer Tachibana Maki - Toyako / The Seven Spas / Okuyu no Sato.

One day, mystery writer Ishioka Kazumi tells his friend and detective Mitarai Kiyoshi about an interesting story he heard on the radio: according to the caller, some nights ago, during a heavy rain, he saw a beautiful woman dressed in a white one piece place her umbrella on the road. Several cars evaded it, but finally one car drove over the umbrella, breaking it. The woman then picked up the umbrella and continued down the road. Ishioka thinks it's a mystifying tale, but Mitarai quickly deduces that there must have been a reason for the woman to do so and infers a criminal event behind it all. A corpse is indeed discovered in an apartment building near where the woman was seen and the police once again (unofficially) depend on Mitarai to help find the women in white in the TV drama special Tensai Tantei Mitarai ~ Nankai Jiken File "Kasa wo Oru Onna"~ ("Genius Detective Mitarai ~ Difficult Case Files: The Woman Who Broke Her Umbrella") (or Kasa wo Oru Onnna for short. Why do Japanese TV specials always have these impossibly long titles?!)

The Mitarai Kiyoshi series is a long-running novel series about the astrologist-turned-private-detective-turned-neurologist Mitarai Kiyoshi and his mystery writer friend Ishioka Kazumi, written by Shimada Souji. Since their debut in The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981), the duo have been solving a great number of strange cases, with some of their adventures widely seen as among the best of Japanese detective fiction in general. The TV drama Kasa wo Oru Onna ("The Woman Who Broke Her Umbrella"), broadcast on March 7 2015, is the first time the series has been adapted to the screen and is based on a short story originally included in Shimada's novelette collection UFO Oodoori ("UFO Main Street", 2006).

I have not read the original story, but overall, I quite liked this TV special. The opening parts are definitely the best: it starts off with a great scene where Mitarai and Ishioka show off their Sherlock Holmes-Watson-esque relation and where Mitarai manages to deduce a shocking truth behind Ishioka's story about the woman and her umbrella. The problem itself resembles one of those everyday life mysteries (a woman purposely breaking her umbrella in the rain), but it soon turns into a full-fledged murder investigation, where Mitarai manages to show his superior intellect. I really enjoyed the first quarter of the special.

But the special then fails to get in a good pace then, which is partly intentional, partly unintentional, I think. The first half of the special is mostly done with just four characters: Mitarai, Ishioka and two police inspectors, who discuss the case from various angles. This is a set-up I usually really like in novels, just characters bouncing off ideas of each other, but in Kasa wo Oru Onna, it is a bit dry, even if actually a lot of ground is covered through those discussions. I can definitely understand if people find this part too boring too, as there is little tangible progress done in these scenes. By the time we reach the latter half of the TV special, I feel the novelette has been stretched out too thin: most of the elements needed to solve the case have already been mentioned, but it still takes ages to get to the conclusion. The final solution to the mysterious case of the woman and the broken umbrella is okay: its scale works for a TV production (I'd love to see Naname Yashiki no Hanzai on the screen, but whether it would work?), and it has the TV-drama angle, but personally, I find the deductions that started the case a lot more interesting than the truth revealed in the conclusion.

Oh, and a highlight in Japanese TV dramas of the last 10 years or so are the scenes when the detective solves the case in his/her head. Catchphrases have always been a thing, but I think the first 'big' one is Galileo, where the titular Yukawa "Galileo" Manabu suddenly starts writing equations at random surfaces (ground, windows, tables, glass showcases...), and it appears that each new TV drama tries to top that with its own take on it. Recent examples of fairly elaborate "it's solved" scene are throwing paper in the air (SPEC), random flashes of the relevant facts together with irrelevant and slightly disturbing shots of an unknown woman (Watashi no Kirai na Tantei) and multiple personalities talking to each other (Subete ga F ni Naru). Kasa wo Oru Onna naturally also features one that visualizes the way Mitarai sorts out the case in his head.

I have to say, the actors chosen for Mitarai Kiyoshi and Ishioka Kazumi were quite interesting, to say the least. Mitarai was played by Tamaki Hiroshi, who fairly recently played the lead detective in the TV series Watashi no Kirai na Tantei. Ishioka Kazumi is a non-detecting Watson-esque role, but actor Doumoto Kouichi played the armchair detective in Remote (2002), as well as the supernatural-werewolf-detective in Ginrou Kaiki File (1996). I wonder if there's some kind of shortlist for possible leads in detective series in Japan.

Also, I thought it is worth noting that the leads were two males. The last few years, Japanese TV dramas based on novel series seemed to have been pushing the male + female duo as protagonists (for the romantic tension it creates on screen). Well, I guess Subete ga F ni Naru is just following the original S&M novels, but the original novels behind TV drama like Galileo and Watashi no Kirai na Tantei did not feature (heavily) the male+female duo: characters were rewritten just for the TV series. But on the other side, this series was also (slightly) catering to the fangirls(or boys) with some lines between Mitarai and Ishioka, similar to what Sherlock has been doing. I think it is also (slightly) present in the original novels, but never as obvious and elaborate as in Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series.

I think they were planning to produce more of these specials in the future, depending on the ratings. I am not sure how well it did, but I think Tensai Tantei Mitarai ~ Nankai Jiken File "Kasa wo Oru Onna"~ was a fun TV special that serves as a good introduction to the long-running series. Now I hope they take on one of the older, grand-scale locked room mysteries in the series.

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司(原) 『天才探偵ミタライ~難解事件ファイル「傘を折る女」~

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