Saturday, January 2, 2016

Killed in the Ratings

Something old, something new, 
something borrowed, something blue,

The holiday season traditionally has a lot of mystery and murder on TV, for some reason. For the bigger and more interesting productions, I usually write seperate posts, but this season there was little I saw that warranted its post, so I grouped it all together in a short short post (where I write shorter reviews/thoughts on multiple mystery media, as opposed to longer, focused reviews). Funnily enough, this is the first short short posts in almost two years that does not feature either Detective Conan or The Young Kindaichi Case Files.

The TV special Kurotokage ("The Black Lizard") was broadcast on Japanese TV on December 22, 2015 and is an adaptation of Edogawa Rampo's 1934 book, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the writer's death. The original book is one of Rampo's best known stories and chronicles the adventures of great detective Akechi Kogorou as he attempts to capture the female thief the Black Lizard. It is a very pulpy adventure book, but oh-so-fun. The campy 1968 film was a very faithful and enjoyable adaptation of the book. The 2015 special is in a word horrible. I can live with the fact they moved the story to the present, or the fact they made Akechi Kogorou the Deputy Superintendent General of the police department, rather than a private detective. But the special is just dull.

Attempts at lighthearted comedy kill any attempts of creating atmosphere, the acting is mediocre at best (and the awful script is definitely not helping the actors) and the story has boring and uninspired attempts at adding "original" elements to the original book. The latter wouldn't be even that bad if they had at least tried to follow the spirit of the book, or Rampo's writings in general: 2004's Rampo R's version of the book was only based very loosely on the book, but at least it built on the themes of the book and Rampo in general, so that was a a lot more enjoyable than 2015's TV special. This is not how you should commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the most infuential mystery writer of Japan.

Kurotokage moved the story to the present, something Sherlock also did in its main series by moving Sherlock Holmes to a modern background, but the 2016 New Year's special The Abominable Bride goes back to the past. The story is set in Victorian London, where one Emilia Ricoletti managed to do the impossible by first committing suicide and then returning as a ghoul bride to kill her husband with a shotgun. Back at the morgue, Inspector Lestrade is horrified to discover that Ricoletti's corpse in the morgue showed signs of having moved and asks Sherlock Holmes of 221b Baker Street to help him. Note that this special is set in Victorian London like in the original stories, but that the characters are those from Sherlock and not that of the original canon. Anyway, this was a mostly enjoyable special.

The story has a bit of a Scooby Doo vibe actually, with demon brides haunting town. The mystery plot is rather forgettable though: I wouldn't say it's particularly smart, it's actually a rehash of something Sherlock has already done and the way it comes to a conclusion is very clumsily done. On the other hand: the latter half of the special gives the viewer a new perspective on the narrative up until then, and manages to give a rather bland mystery plot a bit more glamour by using that narrative as part of a bigger narrative. Overall an enjoyable TV special that fits well in the spirit of the series despite the setting, but I wouldn't watch it for the impossible crime.

Last year, an interesting, if flawed TV adaptation of Christie's Murder on the Orient Express was broadcast on Japanese TV, but this holiday season also featured a Christie adaptation, but on British TV (where else?). And Then There Were None, a three-part series based on Agatha Christie's classic that started on Boxing Day 2015, was perhaps the biggest surprise. Other recent adaptations of Christie's work on the TV were err... not optimal., so I was not expecting too much of this series, so imagine how surprised I was when I realized that this was actually a very faithful series. This series does an especially great job at visualizing the pressing atmosphere on Soldier Island, where invisible Death awaits ten sinful men and women.

The series is rather long (3x55 minutes), so there are some original parts that build on the original book in order to fill the running time, but little of it feels unnatural (I say little, because I'm not fond of one particular scene in the last episode). Overall, I think And Then There Were None was a great mini-series.

And that's it for today. Mystery-wise, this holiday season was better than than last year's, though nothing beats the extravaganza of two years ago (with Sherlock, Trick, The Kindaichi Case Files and more all starting in the first few days of the New Year). I hope next year will be at least as good as this year!

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩(原) 『黒蜥蜴』


  1. do you watch the new Lupin III anime?

  2. Without giving away spoilers, was the particular scene you were not fond of the manner in which the last victim dies, or was it something else? Personally, I was impressed with this adaptation as well, and despite the deviations from the book (some of which came out of the book) I think this is the best English-language adaptation of ATTWN.

    The 1987 Soviet film Desyat Negrityat (or Ten LIttle N------) may actually be better. If you find a DVD copy of the latter, be very careful because the English subtitles are horrible. A more accurate translation can be found on YouTube.)

    1. I was not very fond of the drugs & alchol party. It just felt so out of place.

      I've heard people mention that Soviet film before. I guess they're pretty good at doing that stuff, as I also hear nothing but praise about the 2013 Russian Sherlock Holmes series.