The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 9 and 10
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 9 and 10 completes this run of the show. Cultural differences can sometimes get in the way of appreciating the quality of the work to be reviewed. When a Japanese television company sets out to write a “comedy” mystery series, mere Westerners like myself should not expect to laugh. Not born and brought up in Japan, their humour is likely to remain obscure. Yet here’s a show that borrows heavily from a manga (that’s like comics or graphic novels only more interesting) style to produce a more accessible vehicle for entertaining the viewer. This time, there are two murders, so the show spreads their solution over two episodes. We’re playing in the well-established frame of a group of mystery writers all called together for a social event at the home of one of the most successful but most reclusive of all mystery writers. This is playing the same game as Murder By Death (1976) which managed to strand a number of famous detectives in a country house and let them fight out who was the most absurdly gifted of all. This gang of mystery writers contains the loopy one, the angry one, the older one, and two women who, as Sapper and others have opined, are more deadly than the male. In the house where these writers assemble, we have the author and her young daughter, her editor, and a housekeeper. None of them seem to be expecting this gaggle of writers to appear, but in shows like this, you can never take anything at face value.
The writers invite themselves to stay overnight and are awoken by someone throwing a baseball trophy though a second storey window from outside the house. When they look around the open rooms, they find one of the women visitors had been bludgeoned. Beside the body is a pool of ink. Before dying, the victim had apparently written an X on the floor, thus following in the tradition of Ellery Queen’s The Scarlett Letters. How can you fail with a house full of eccentrics as suspects? Except the real question is which of the most common red herrings have been included and/or omitted? Obviously, it can’t be the angry one who threatens to bash anyone over the head who disagrees with him. Or the weird one who may be able to lift objects to balance on his head but not with homicidal intent. Or the old one who should have too much wisdom to want to kill anyone. Or the author who owns the house and is bedridden. Or the housekeeper because she’s short, well-covered, and cute. The young girl is too short to hit anyone over the head with a heavy object. The editor seriously damaged is shoulder when he was a pitcher at school and could not throw the trophy through the window from the garden or strike a blow to the head.
So why throw the trophy through the window and what’s the significance of the X? Well Kageyama (Sho Sakurai) comes up with a very convincing explanation of who committed the murder. Later that night, when Reiko Hosho (Keiko Kitagawa) comes downstairs, she not only finds another woman stabbed, but Kageyama is in the kitchen with a cake knife in his hand. The fact the knife has no blood on it and he would not have had time or motive to kill this woman, does not stop Kyoichiro Kazamatsuri (Kippei Shiina) from arresting him and interrogating him. Obviously this is just a chance for some light relief and to give us a chance to consider where Kageyama slipped up in his analysis. After all, he’s been infallible so far in the series. Put food on the table, give answers afterwards. It’s been like clockwork.
The interesting thing about this pair of episodes is that the two murders flow as natural consequences from one fateful decision. As an outside observer to Japanese culture, this particular decision strikes me as completely absurd. It also seems impractical. For all the flair of the script in presenting this fait accompli, I don’t believe it even begins to meet standards of credibility. So how does this affect the outcome? Well, once you accept this premise, there’s a certain logic to the rest. Why should we even begin to accept it? Well, it’s a comedy mystery show, this is their Christmas special, and the Japanese equivalent of Christmas cakes are relevant to the solution of the mystery (these sponge cakes are covered in strawberries and cream). Although it’s not a national holiday, people do exchange gifts and families gather. As part of the build-up to New Year, it’s become an important time. Yet here comes the cultural incongruity. The West tends to produce saccharine sentimentality in celebration of this commercialised feast day. This episode does produce what’s actually described as a present for one of the characters, but it’s wrapped up in a terrible tragedy, a tragedy of epic proportions because it was all avoidable. People with talent should have been allowed to prosper in their own right. The natural cycle of life and death should have prevailed. Love once acknowledged, should have been celebrated. Lies would have been unnecessary and we could have had a happy ending. As it is, the lives of the criminals and those around them are wrecked. The only pair who emerge with a better relationship are Kageyama and Reiko. He because we get to see more of the man behind the mask and she because there are faint signs of emerging intelligence and a better attitude. And the depths of Kyoichiro Kazamatsuri’s idiocy are truly explored. Although these two episodes have been slightly less accessible to an outsider, the overall quality of The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 has been impressive. The plots have been ingenious and sufficiently intricate to demand a full hour to explore them. The format has also been varied and avoided boring us through repeating the same jokes. If you have the chance, this series is well worth watching.
For reviews of the other episodes, see:
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011) Episodes 1 and 2
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 3 and 4
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 5 and 6
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 7 and 8.