Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
The classic problem with television episodes is there’s never enough time to develop any real emotional depth. This is particularly troubling in police procedural or classic detective series where the exposition and solution of the puzzle take up most of the time. That said, one of my favourite “detective” shows is Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ There’s a great sense of fun about the way the episodes are put together with the relationship between Manabu Yukawa (Fukuyama Masaharu) and Kaoru Utsumi ( Shibasaki Kou) very carefully choreographed to show the slow puncturing of the bubble the professor has built around himself. This film version, Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008) takes us back into the world for a more general look at the way people live their lives. The result is deeply affecting and melancholic.
We need to start with a few quick sketches. The primary setting is a small housing block close to what I take to be a representation of the embankment along the Sumida River where a large number of homeless people have constructed a line of tents with the characteristic blue plastic sheeting. For all they live without the need to be clock-watchers, their lives of misery have been routinised and we catch glimpses of them sitting despondently or more actively collecting discarded cans for recycling. For the record, about 14% of Japanese adults are classified as below the poverty line and the resulting homelessness is an enduring problem swept under the carpet by the Japanese government. Every day, Tetsuya Ishigami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi) walks along the embankment to the high school where he teaches. He’s a mathematical genius, but also leads a life of misery, unappreciated by both the school and the students he’s supposed to teach. In other circumstances, he would be lauded for the quality of his ability to think beautifully. Sadly his life was left in the shade by poor social skills and family commitments. It’s hardly surprising he’s suicidal.
Yasuko Hanaoka (Yasuko Matsuyuki) has been through the mill with two failed marriages and times when she’s been forced to work in the more seamy side of Tokyo’s hostess nightlife. But despite it all, she and her daughter Misato Hanaoka (Miho Kanazawa) from the first marriage have remained cheerful. She’s now running a bento shop and moves into the apartment next to Tetsuya Ishigami. One night, her second husband forces his way into the apartment and begins abusing both mother and daughter for money. A fight breaks out and, initially in self-defence, the women hold him at bay. Unfortunately, as he shows no sign of slowing down his attacks, they combine to kill him. As in all good inverted crime stories, we therefore know exactly what happened and have our sympathies wholly engaged for the women. The noise of the fight passes through the wall and brings Tetsuya Ishigami to their door. He decides to help by constructing an alibi for them. He believes he can outthink the local police and keep his neighbours safe.
Initially, everything goes exactly as he planned. The body of the second husband is found battered almost beyond recognition beside the river and, despite their suspicions, the police can find no evidence that the wife was responsible. Indeed, she and her daughter were clearly at a local cinema, followed by a ramen supper and a karaoke session on the night the killing seems to have occurred. They can’t be in two places at the same time. So it stays until Shumpei Kusanagi (Kazuki Kitamura), one of the senior detectives who was at university with Manabu Yukawa, refers the case to him. There are several features about the case that persuade the professor to assist. First is the nature of the problem which, at face value, suggests some kind of doppelgänger effect. Second, the woman in the case is described as a “beauty” (no sexism implied). Third, the professor and Tetsuya Ishigami were friends while at university. Although they have not kept in touch, they are equally balanced in terms of brain power. One is a physicist, used to thinking by way of hypothesis, experiment and reasoned conclusions based on results. The other is a mathematician who thinks through problems in his head, applying his reasoning powers to arrive at a logical (and hopefully beautiful) solution.
The rest of the film is quite simply wonderful. It’s been a long time since I met a problem and solution of such ingenuity. In fairness to Yasushi Fukuda who wrote the screenplay based on The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, there’s a moment when I noticed something interesting but the implication completely escaped me. Not unusual, I know, but there’s such an unexpected explanation. Indeed, the way in which Tetsuya Ishigami produces the effect and later unwraps a completely convincing explanation is stunning. Which leads us to the second part of the film. Manabu Yukawa is able to understand how and why his friend has defended the mother and teenager. He therefore sits down with Kaoru Utsumi as a friend and not as a detective, to decide what to do. It’s a moral dilemma. Crimes have been committed. Although the law does not offer a defence, the circumstances would mitigate penalties. Yet revealing the truth is not going to produce a good outcome for anyone. As they sit for the discussion, mother and daughter are “safe”. Perhaps they deserve that chance. As a physicist, Manabu Yukawa may feel he has a higher duty to pursue truth. In doing so, he may destroy the reputations of other scientists and mathematicians who have defended what he proves indefensible, but his job is always to give the world the latest version of science. As a detective, Kaoru Utsumi is neither judge nor jury. Her role is simply to report the facts as she finds them to the relevant authorities. How that information is used is not her responsibility. Yet neither can deny their decision to intervene in this case will cause great harm. This is not something they should do lightly. What is the greater good?
The ending is powerful. Perhaps the answer to the question is that there are some truths that should be disclosed no matter what the personal cost. In this case, we’re not just talking about the loss of a great mind to the prison system, the incarceration of a battered wife and, if she were to escape jail, the commitment of a young adult to the Japanese care system, we’re also talking about the guilt Manabu Yukawa and Kaoru Utsumi will feel if they disturb the status quo. Going back to the title of the film, The Sacrifice of Suspect X, this could be a reference to the decision of Manabu Yukawa and Kaoru Utsumi to sacrifice one or more of the three accused on the altar of truth as they see it. Or it could be a reference to Tetsuya Ishigami’s self-sacrifice. The novel’s title, The Devotion of Suspect X, is more clearly referring to Tetsuya Ishigami’s selfless love. This is a film worth seeking out!
For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Salvation of a Saint
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ～劇場版・新参者～ (2012)