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The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)

December 5, 2014 1 comment

11_Moji_no_Satsujin-p2

The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011) is a made-for-television film version of Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken (1991) by Keigo Higashino. The best way to describe the nature of the plot is as a classic Golden Age detective format in service of a revenge thriller. So where do we start? Eriko Kiryu (Takako Tokiwa) is seen arriving at the exclusive guest house owned by the Hara family. In the best metafictional style, she tells viewers she’s come for revenge. The family are attending for the reading of the will left by Takaaki Hara (Soichiro Kitamura).  She believes one of those attending was responsible for killing her lover, Jiro Satonaka (Kei Tanaka) and almost strangling her to death in an earlier attack at this guest house. Why, you ask, will no-one recognise her and therefore take precautionary measures against her? She was very badly burned in the fire and so has had substantial reconstructive cosmetic surgery. In fact, she’s been made to resemble a cousin of the patriarch — not someone close enough to the patriarch to be in line to inherit. Her presence will therefore not seem threatening to the principal beneficiaries. This will put her in the best position to act as an amateur detective to try to identify who killed Jiro, attacked her, and set the fire that left her disfigured.

Eriko Kiryu (Takako Tokiwa) announces she has the will

Eriko Kiryu (Takako Tokiwa) announces she has the will

 

This is a Golden Age type of problem because all the family members then at the guest house had a motive to kill Jiro and/or her. Any one of them could have entered her room either by walking along the corridor or by walking through the garden and passing through the sliding window. As Eriko Kiryu, she was only a personal secretary but became a target because she was the most trusted member of the group of people surrounding Takaaki Hara. Despite their significant age difference, some even speculated Takaaki Hara might marry her or leave her ownership of the businesses and the money simply to spite the money-grubbing family members. Eliminating her removed one of the possible threats to the family inheriting the estate. We later learn there was also a reason for killing Jiro Satonaka, but it’s not clear how many of the family would have been aware of it.

Chief inspector Yasaki (Takashi Naito)

Chief inspector Yasaki (Takashi Naito)

 

To stir things up, she announces to the family at their first evening meal that she has a copy of the will made by Eriko Kiryu. It’s strongly hinted that the will contains information that will help identify who killed Jiro Satonaka. Needless to say, the envelope supposedly containing the will is stolen from her room and the thief is later found murdered. This brings Chief inspector Yasaki (Takashi Naito) to the guest house and a race develops. Will Eriko Kiryu work out who killed Jiro and take her revenge before the Chief Inspector realises she’s a fake and takes her out of the picture? Obviously, the same set of people are present as guests on both occasions, so it’s probable the same killer is at work. Ironically, this second death also benefits all those in line for inheritance. One less to inherit means more for the survivors. Despite watching the ending twice, I remain uncertain about the mechanics of who precisely is present at the relevant earlier times. I can envisage how the first death and attempted strangling must have been done, but I’m not convinced that’s what we see. Despite this, the amateur and professional detective are impressive in their ability to see through some of the deceit. And there’s a nice irony that Eriko Kiryu is not quite as close to unmasking as she might have feared. That said, her haste to take her revenge does produce a most interesting revelation. That the official investigation might have identified the killer from the forensic evidence is left hanging in the air. So The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 is fairly impressive with a nice array of unpleasant relatives queuing up to inherit to choose from as the killer.

 

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
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Salvation of a Saint
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
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)

 

Ataru (2012) Episodes 5 to end

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Ataru-p2

The fifth and sixth episodes see an escalation of the series from a classic police procedural model to both an “espionage” or thriller type of show and a more general drama. Taking the espionage element first, we now have confirmation that a CIA/FBI unit is operating out of the US Embassy in Tokyo. It’s been responsible for all these unauthorised transmissions that have been detected by Koshiro Inukai (Yasuhi Nakamura), a low-ranking officer in the local police force. He passes this information on, but when Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura) tries to trigger a formal investigation, he’s told to shut it down. The Japanese government depends on this unit for support in dealing with terrorist threats both international and domestic. Nothing is to disturb this relationship. However, Koshiro Inukai is dogged and will not accept this special status. He embarks on a spying campaign of his own. Unfortunately, the Americans are not exactly slow to notice him snooping and they retaliate in a rather obvious way. However, it also appears the minders responsible for Ataru (Masahiro Nakai) may be in trouble. Not only have they “lost” him — not necessarily in a physical way because they could snatch him whenever they wanted, but he’s now beginning to assert some degree of independence. It seems the Americans have been experimenting with savants to see whether their unique talents can be used for investigative purposes. Word from Washington now suggests this program may be discontinued. This is putting more pressure on the Americans to decide what to do. As it is, they have been monitoring the cases Ataru has solved and are hoping this will provide evidence of his continuing utility.

Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura), Ataru (Masahiro Nakai), and Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama)

Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura), Ataru (Masahiro Nakai), and Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama)

Sho Ebina (Yuta_Tamamori) is also coming more into play. The fifth episode is set on the university medical school campus where he’s studying to become a doctor. He and one researcher witness a professor’s fall down a long flight of open steps. Sho sees someone briefly but cannot say whether this was a man or woman. The researcher claims not to have seen anyone. This disagreement becomes sharper when the researcher passes a polygraph test. He honestly does not believe he saw anyone and, even though he might have a motive to cover up the involvement of one or two other members of the research or teaching staff, there’s no evidence that he’s lying. Frankly, the answer is not all that interesting but the episode does give itself the chance to explore precisely which the researcher might not have seen the murderer. In other words, the central character as a disabled man identifies another form of disability and, through the agency of Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama) and Shunichi Sawa, we get a resolution which, while fairly sentimental, may not be unreasonable in the circumstances.

The sixth episode sees the continuation of this theme. This time, the person with the disability has an extreme form of perfect pitch. If she’s exposed to any sound which is even slightly off-key, she feels ill and uses a form of white noise generator to keep herself functioning. It happens that she lives in an apartment block where, two doors down from her, a man has apparently committed suicide. Ataru is quickly into her groove and spends most of the episode walking round giving not only the precise key but also the frequency of the note. This leads to the identification of a possible motive for our disabled woman to have killed the “suicide”. The rest of the episode is then spent in deciding precisely when the death occurred and who might have had the motive and opportunity to do it. Needless to say, regardless whether our woman is guilty, Sho Ebina is quickly on the case in trying to establish a basis on which she might become more tolerant of less than perfect pitch noises. The other feature of this episode is the increasingly precise way in which Shunichi Sawa is cataloguing Ataru’s behaviour patterns. Because he agrees to become his legal guardian to keep him out of hospital for now, he’s seeing him at night. Ataru’s sleep patterns have been changing and he’s now shedding tears when he solves cases. His obsession with the synchronised swimming detective continues, and his behaviour may sometimes be reprogrammed for short periods of time if you repeat a command three times.

Sho Ebina (Yuta Tamamori)

Sho Ebina (Yuta Tamamori)

Episodes seven and eight also see the CIA/FBI story developing. Maiko Ebina is invited to come to the US Embassy where she gets a briefing on the project from Larry Inoue (Hiroaki Murakami). In effect, she’s invited to join the team to manage Ataru as a resource. To show good faith, Larry gives her Ataru’s passport. Since she and Shunichi Sawa are guardians, this will be the first step in regularising Ataru’s status. Koshiro Inukai also reappears and has obviously been brainwashed into forgetting everything there was to know about the broadcast signals he’s been monitoring. This seriously upsets Shunichi Sawa who goes to the Embassy to demand a meeting. Needless to say, Larry makes no admissions and the meeting ends inconclusively. We then get one of these faintly incomprehensible internal police mysteries. There’s what could be a murder or a suicide in a local police station. The senior police want to shut down the investigation fast as a suicide but Ataru raises problems. Although I understood the immediate sequence leading to the man’s death and the appearance of suicide, the whole backstory left me confused. I have no idea why Shunichi Sawa’s boss suddenly disappeared five years ago nor why the police officer who died was subjected to continuing harassment. Perhaps it will become clearer in later episodes.

Episode 8 has another person with a disability at the heart of the mystery except this man is like one of these next generation mutants who can disrupt electrical power. Particularly when he gets upset, he can blow up appliances and strike sparks. Since the “crime” our team is investigating is the death of a man in a fire, it’s fairly logical to believe this X-man wannabe stood outside the apartment and caused the ignition of the accelerant by causing the overhead light fitting to explode. Although this element of the plot is rather silly, the overall solution to the mystery is rather more routine with Ataru pointing out the temperature inside the apartment and the presence of the wrong type of mould in the bathroom — yes, it does make sense when you see it all play out.

Larry Inoue (Hiroaki Murakami)

Larry Inoue (Hiroaki Murakami)

Episode 9 sees us finally meeting with Ataru’s parents and getting a fairly full backstory of how they came to hand him over to Larry. In one sense, this is a strong indictment of the failure of Japanese culture to be tolerant of difference. Although the straw that broke the camel’s back might have been a loss of face to the couple involved, they and the rest of the neighbourhood should have understood the nature of the problem and rallied round the parents. As it was, the family were effectively ostracised. The moment when we come to the significance of the flowers is affecting. That this is followed by some level of reconciliation between Ataru and his mother is fitting. Returning for a moment to the theme of disability, there’s a strong theme in all the episodes dealing directly with Ataru or the others with disability that doctors will not offer treatment or support in the community, and that there are no generalised services available to help parents with difficult children.

This leaves the mystery element somewhat on the backburner. Because scriptwriters like to come at the problem from both sides, there’s a suspicious death of a young boy. His mother has a track record of abusing him so, not surprisingly, she’s suspected of killing him. Indeed, there’s clear evidence the doctor who examined the boy a few days before he died, turned his eyes away from the evidence of bruising and burns. It’s not just the disabled whose rights are ignored. The hospital and healthcare services protect the parents from unwanted attention, and fail to protect the children. The problem in this episode is to establish the cause of death. In a muted way, Ataru provides the clues, but it’s really left to Shunichi Sawa to put it all together. Shunichi Sawa also argues with Larry, effectively alleging that he’s been abusing the boy then man for all the years he’s had him in his control. At the end of the episode, Ataru collapses and is left in a coma in hospital. The implication is that he’s damaging himself by using his brain in this way to solve crimes. With just two more episodes to go, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

In a way, we have to see episodes 10 and 11 as a linked pair because, although there are two separate cases, they are factually linked. More importantly, the scriptwriters also bring the broader story of what will happen to Ataru to what feels to be the right conclusion. By now, we have competing claims from the natural parents, Larry the US guardian courtesy of the FBI, and our indomitable Japanese duo. They all start off round the hospital bed where Ataru is lying in a coma (some of the time — the cunning soul surfaces from time to time to listen to the television playing beside the bed and to take in what the local police say about a new case). The parents are getting over their guilt at having let him go and are now prepared to look after him full-time. Maiko Ebina and Shunichi Sawa would hope to share in his life (and occasionally ask for his help on difficult cases). We also discover why he sees bubbles at certain psychologically important moments, and to understand the significance of the synchronised swimming show. When he does finally admit to being awake again, he’s quickly off and running with a car crash which, by chance, happens to be the same make and model as crashed with Maiko Ebina’s mother on board fifteen years ago. This immediate situation looks like an accident or suicide but Ataru knows the car was specifically designed to protect the driver and passengers in the event of fire. Since the driver burned to death, this makes the crash suspicious. The mechanism for causing the car crash is improbable. Worse, there’s absolutely no explanation of how it was managed. That said, once the crash has occurred, the coup-de-grace is entirely obvious.

This brings us on to the final case which is, of course, the death of Maiko Ebina’s mother fifteen years ago. She was also burned in the same make and model car. By coincidence, her husband was one of the designers of the car and knew exactly how a crash might be staged to look like an accident. He’s also still obviously feeling guilty. The question is why. Ataru sets out to investigate and begins by opening the grave and pulling out the bones. He does a quick count and is fascinated by the fact a finger on the left hand is missing. There’s also an odd mark on one skull fragment. He becomes interested in the two photographs recovered from the traffic monitoring cameras. Her eyes are open in both, the window opens between the two shots, and the bracelet disappears. This is all a salutary experience for Maiko Ebina. She’s been playing with the emotions of the families as she’s insisted on opening closed cases where an accident has been declared. This may produce a finding of suicide which might create problems in claiming life insurance or other death benefits. Or it might prove a murder in which case “justice” would be done. So how does she feel when the necessary implication of this investigation may be that her father killed her mother? Curiously, the script makes Ataru sensitive to the effects of the investigation and, to come extent, he offers comfort to Maiko Ebina as the case proceeds.

So this leaves the disposition of Ataru to resolve. If he returns to America, he can be given the best treatment by those who know him the best. Perhaps more importantly, he will be valued as a genius, not as a disabled man whose social skills prevent him from gaining acceptance. If he stays in Japan, his parents can offer him the love they should have given in the years before he was shipped off with Larry. But that’s going to be problematic because what will he do with his time? Maiko Ebina and Shunichi Sawa (and the rest of the Ebina family) offer him a more normal lifestyle. Even the local police are getting used to him and become more emotionally engaged in solving the cases because of his input. So that leaves only one answer in these unsentimental times. And, yes, our brainwashed Koshiro Inukai does recover his memory and takes his revenge (well, in a limited way).

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Ataru (2012) Episodes 1 and 2
Ataru (2012) Episodes 3 and 4

Ataru (2012) Episodes 3 and 4

September 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Ataru-p2

The third episode of Ataru (2012) sees us moving slightly closer to a better understanding of who the hero of this show might be. The dogged Japanese police have finally tracked down the source of the signals that keep mentioning their “missing man”. Yes, it’s the American Embassy and, in turn, their spies are now monitoring the activities of this particular police unit. The episode’s mystery to be solved is a man who has apparently fallen into the sea while night fishing, i.e. it looks like an accident. But, when he sees photographs of the injuries, Ataru (Masahiro Nakai) is quick to point out that the blow to the head is not consistent with the break in the leg. If he fell head-first, that would explain the head wound. If he fell feet-first, that would explain why his leg was broken. This leads us into a socially interesting family saga in which it appears the victim was less than faithful to his wife. He died while he was supposedly on a four-day working trip, but the assistant manager of the family business confirms the real purpose was to meet up with his mistress. Ataru is on hand to give them the clue to the only shop in Japan using a particular set of stones to decorate nails. From this, a possible candidate for the mistress emerges, but she has an alibi for the night the man was supposed to have died. We then come to one of these genuine “huh?” moments. Ataru suggests the deceased had involuntarily consumed the kind of minute sea creatures that scavenge no matter where they find themselves. Having swallowed them on hitting the water, they would have begun to consume the stomach contents. This would potentially have thrown out the estimate of the time of death. Using this information, the police team is able to pull in the two people most likely to have been involved and, after interrogation, one of them cracks and admits the murder. The precise sequence of events proves to be culturally fascinating and not at all what we Westerners might have expected. Anyway, at the end, the Americans are on the trail of Ataru and are ready to pull in their man when the opportunity arises.

Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura), Ataru (Masahiro Nakai), and Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama)

Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura), Ataru (Masahiro Nakai), and Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama)

The fourth episode has us on a small airfield. It’s self-regulating, i.e. it has no control tower and the pilots are supposed to file the necessary paperwork centrally and communicate with each other in real time to avoid accidents. On this occasion, a small plane has gone off the end of the runway while supposedly attempting a take-off. There are signs the pilot struck his head at different points around the cockpit, the combination of blows causing death. As we’ve now come to expect, the senior police officers are quick to write this off as an accident, but circumstances conspire against this view, i.e. it may be a suicide. Meanwhile Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama) and Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura) have finally decided to place Ataru in a hospital. The Americans are following them as they go to the hospital and wait outside. In due course, Ataru emerges and, when his minder approaches him, he willingly gets into the big black SUV. However, on the way back to the embassy and later inside, Ataru shows signs of independence. Much to his minder’s surprise, it seems their man is becoming self-motivating when it comes to the investigation of crime. They decide to observe and call for copies of all the police files where he might have offered assistance. The plane crash does turn out to have been rather more complicated than it first appeared, and there’s a love interest involved as well. Yet again I’m undecided whether the basic factual sequence of events is actually plausible. It does require a lot to happen without there being any obvious mark on the plane that crashed. I suppose, with a heavy sigh, I accept it because the final coup de grace was definitely a homicide no matter how the parties eventually arrived in that situation. So this leaves me with something of a dilemma. The individual mysteries to be solved are not very well designed to fit into the police procedural mould. They really only make sense when you look back with the clues supplied by Ataru, i.e. the episodes are written to fit the clues. But the backstory of Ataru’s identity and what precisely the Americans are doing is proving quite interesting. The general response of the Japanese characters to Ataru is also culturally fascinating.So that means I’ll keep watching it to discover how the plot all fits together.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Ataru (2012) Episodes 1 and 2
Ataru (2012) Episodes 5 to end

Ataru (2012) Episodes 1 and 2

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Ataru-p2

Ataru (2012) is a rather surprising series from Japan. The titular Ataru (Masahiro Nakai) is disabled so, to that extent, the producers are breaking the mould by having someone with obvious problems in a leading role. That said, the way in which people respond to this young man’s behaviour is very disappointing. So let’s start off with the formula employed. Detective or mystery series frequently feature someone who has high-level abilities and some challenging social features. So, for example, Galileo acts as an external advisor to the Tokyo Police Department while continuing employment as a professor of physics. He’s socially gauche, disconcerted by children, and behaves with some degree of eccentricity in other social contexts. So these are characters which balance some degree of ability with disability.

Ataru (Masahiro Nakai)

Ataru (Masahiro Nakai)

Ataru has savant syndrome, i.e. is mentally disabled, usually with some degree of autism, but has exceptional skills in one limited area of human activity. Some savants have advanced calculating or musical skills. Ataru is shown as having a heightened level of sensitivity to external stimuli, picking up words, spoken and written, and seeing the world as oddly coloured images with amazing attention to detail. This has apparently enabled him to absorb vast amounts of information on what seem to be entirely random subjects. So, for example, he can survey a number of screws on the floor and tell that one of them is manufactured in Taiwan while the rest are Japanese. He can also tell by observation that an aluminium tube has a nonstandard composition. Coming new to this series, we’re expected to find such ability plausible. There’s just one problem. He can’t speak to people. In part this is his autism, but it’s also a feature of the fact he speaks many words in English, presumably because he’s spent a long time abroad. This makes the series somewhat unique in having the feature character unable to speak the kind of dialogue expected of mystery detectives.

We’re also led to infer this young man is an important asset for a “foreign” agency (probably American) yet he’s left unsupervised at Tokyo airport and wanders off. The agency then spends the rest of the series trying to find him without admitting to the local authorities that he’s lost. Frankly, if he’s that important, he would be under constant supervision. To his handlers, he’s a known quantity and should be treated as needing full-time management. It’s also baffling he should have so much money with him (as US dollars). Although he understands enough of the world to buy food and has some understanding of scales of monetary value, there’s no explanation of why he should have a wallet stuffed full of money, but nothing else by which to identify him. You should think if he was prone to walking off, he would have an RFID tag taped to his ankle or at least have a card in his pocket with a telephone number saying, “This man needs help. Call this number.”

Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama)

Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama)

So Maiko Ebina (Chiaki Kuriyama) is the lone woman in the local police department. As we have come to expect, she’s an example of patriarchal tokenism. She featured in adverts and some video presentations about life as a police officer and has become a pin-up girl. But she’s not taken seriously when she tries to investigate real crime. It’s left to Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura) to act as a buffer between her and the rest of the department. From a very brief observation of the scene of an explosion in a factory, Maiko Ebina wants to treat the death of one worker as suspicious whereas all the senior detectives write it off as an accident. When she returns to the scene, she meets Ataru who gives her a number of totally obscure clues which she then wrestles with. In due course, the solution to these clues convince Shunichi Sawa there’s a real crime to investigate. In due course, they track down a critical link in the chain and, incredibly, we’re then told who was responsible. We have never met this person. We have no idea why the murder was arranged. Before you can even begin to think about it. the episode has ended. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. The focus is on the eccentric clues and not on solving the case by formal police work. The production also keeps breaking off for what the producers hope is humour. I’m not saying one or two of the jokes are not amusing, but a sad number of them are actually making fun of the disabled man, e.g. in his lack of self-awareness when it comes to wearing clothes in public.

Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura)

Shunichi Sawa (Kazuki Kitamura)

Now here comes the second crunch. In her first interactions with Ataru, he hits and then bites Maiko Ebina (actually, as a character, she’s quite annoying and deserves to be hit). Yet despite not apparently recognising this man is disabled, she accepts this abuse and instead of calling in medical support to diagnose and offer the right type of treatment, she gives him a place to live. If you visit Japan, it’s rare for you ever to see anyone disabled. The vast majority of the abled never meet anyone disabled. Indeed, in this series, Ataru is left at the police station and, within a short period, the staff say he’s out of control and want him removed. Why? Because he makes a fuss when his hotdog does not have any lettuce in it. In Japan, no one ever has lettuce in their hotdogs and, if they do, they keep quiet about it when at work. It’s not an exaggeration to say prejudice against the disabled is institutionalised. It’s only when Maiko Ebina’s brother, Sho Ebina (Yuta Tamamori — a member of a boy band) who’s a medical student meets Ataru that we have an informal diagnosis.

The second episode is equally odd. The trio happen to be in a flower shop when a man drops down dead. His dying words are, “Blue roses.” Ataru is fixated by some spit which the dying man had dropped. Our savant diagnoses this as gastric reflux disorder but, in a quick screen for poisons, the forensic department fails to find anything suspicious. His wife confirms the deceased had heart disease. The doctor treating him was giving him drugs for arrhythmia. But Ataru offers two hints by a roundabout route. The first is a change in the way the deceased knotted his tie. The second relates to eyeballs. An hour later, we have an admission of murder which, in a way, was not actually necessary. Sorry, that’s ambiguous. The man might have deserved to die two or more years ago, but not because of his recent behaviour. At least the plot followed a more conventional police procedural track with the officers solving the case. The only other issue of interest is that there may be a question surrounding the way in which Maiko Ebina’s mother died some fifteen years ago.

For reviews of other episodes, see:
Ataru (2012) Episodes 3 and 4
Ataru (2012) Episodes 5 to end

The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 8 to end

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Kagi_no_Kakatta_Heya-p1

The eighth episode in The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) has Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato), our enthusiastic lawyer, trapped into investigating the case of an accidental death with a manga artist/author dead in her own studio — he appears on a television chat show and is ambushed. He further piles misery on himself by announcing this is a murder before the expert is anywhere near the solution. All the doors and windows were locked, but this is not a locked room mystery because of the locks. In fact, several people had duplicate keys and could have entered. Except the owner of the house, having seen neighbours victimised by burglars, got a big dog that barks when anyone it does not know tries to come on to the land around the house. So the dog did not bark at any time during which the forensic analysis says the death occurred, i.e. apparently no-one entered or left the house. Except that would not explain the beer. . . It’s so refreshing when the first real clue is beer. Anyway, it’s obvious whoever did it not only had a key but threw drugged food to the dog over the hedge. With the dog incapacitated, the person with the key can now come and go without any of the neighbours hearing the barking. Except there’s then a break in at the house and not only is the dog silent but it’s also completely unharmed. So why would anyone come back into the house? And why were none of the collectible watches stolen and, hey, why has one of those watches stopped working? There’s also the fascinating way in which Japanese local authorities discourage young people from congregating in the civic parks after dark to consider.

Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato)

Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato)

The ninth episode has our lawyers called in to advise a firm on an international deal only to find this is probably a front for the yakuza. It seems one of the senior executives was found dead in his office, so the president of the company calls in Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono) to improve the security system. He installs multiple locks on the only door and a new camera system but, almost immediately, another employee is found shot inside this room. Obviously this looks bad for a firm doing its best to appear legitimate, so the team is “encouraged” to take on the case to establish how the deaths occurred. For once, I actually got a part of the answer right, but the bigger picture is very nicely rounded out with touches that never occurred to me. Indeed, the one place where the evidence can be found is pleasingly just out of sight all the time. Gou Serizawa does his best not to be intimidated despite the fairly obvious gangster backgrounds of some of the employees. But Enimoto is strangely unmoved, even when threatened.

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

The final two episodes run together to provide the big finale. This has a man killed inside his office on the twelfth floor of the block. There’s bulletproof glass in the windows, there are locks on the doors up from the main staircase and from the roof, there are cameras on the corridor showing all the office doors, and there’s a keypad lock on the elevator to ensure no unwelcome visitors stop at this floor. This is a company about to seek a listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It specializes in medical devices to help nurse the elderly. Their two major projects involve the use of a robot to lift and carry patients around, and training monkeys to fetch and carry things for the patients. Shortly before the launch, there’s an attack on the president’s office. A bullet is found embedded in his door and there’s a break in the glass with glass fragments on the floor inside (the glass was not as bulletproof as people thought). It’s concluded that someone believed they could assassinate the president and Kei Enomoto is called in to beef up security. But before he can put the plan in motion, the president is found dead in his room. It seems he was stuck on the very top of his head where he had a skull abnormality. Although it was only a light blow, it nevertheless caused a haemorrhage and he died. When the internal office layout is investigated, only one man could have entered the president’s office to deliver the fatal blow. There’s a connecting door with the vice president who claims to have been asleep. The police duly arrest him. However, the police then receive an anonymous tip that there had been bad blood between Kei Enomoto and the president five years earlier and, with his known ability to beat security systems, he could have killed the president out of revenge.

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

This proves to be a very satisfying final case for this team to solve. With Kei Enomoto out of the picture, it falls to the lawyers to do some spade work. Junko Aoto (Erika Toda) slowly puts together a profile on one of the suspects, showing he has changed his identity. And then, when Kei Enomoto is released through lack of evidence (and an ambiguous confession from the vice president), Gou Serizawa has his first major idea about what actually happened. This involves the use of the medical robot which was standing in the president’s office. Unfortunately, when put to the test, the robot’s internal programming refuses to perform the predicted movements. However, this does trigger an answer from Kei Enomoto who is able to demonstrate one of the ways in which the robot could have been used. The full explanation does come at the end but, given what we’ve seen in the first nine cases, this is rather unusual. It also leads to an ending which, again, is not quite what might have been predicted. Nevertheless, it does bring this highly entertaining series to a bitter sweet conclusion. For anyone even vaguely interested in locked-room mysteries, this should be mandatory viewing. Here are ten very different types of case with very ingenious mechanisms in play.

For a review of other episodes, see:
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 1 and 2
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 3 and 4
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 5 to 7.

The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 5 to 7

September 5, 2014 2 comments

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The fifth episode restores my faith in The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) with another completely unique situation. Once again, I’m caught by the creative brilliance of this set-up. If you go back through the annals of locked-room mysteries, there are locked doors and windows, often with bars on the windows or a sheer drop no-one could climb. This time the door had no lock but it could not be opened. Yes, that’s right! There had been an earthquake and, because of the shoddy building work, the house had suffered serious physical damage, subsiding on its foundations so that the openings for the doors and windows were no longer in true. So most of the doors were caught in place by the movement of the walls. Windows were locked, but also very difficult to open because the frames were bent. One of the two doors into this particular room had been forced open. The only way in which it could be closed again would be by someone with a soft mallet knocking the door into the frame from the inside, focusing effort on the top corner of the door. Obviously there’s a man dead inside. He apparently fell and hit his head. But, of course, there’s no mallet or any other heavy tool that could have forced the door closed without seriously damaging it. The only oddities about the room are two vents, one at about head height and the other just above floor level. Someone could have put their hand and a part of their arm through into the room, but neither vent is anywhere near the door. There is a suspect but he has an alibi. As a teacher in the local school, he was coaching the baseball team for four hours. I managed to guess the basic principle involved, but the detail of the execution is one of these delightful reveals to produce a really pleasing outcome. For once, it doesn’t matter whether it might have been practicable in the time available and I don’t care that the design of the room and the effect of the earthquake have produced exactly the right conditions. It just feels good.

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

The sixth episode is a locked-room situation rather than one physical location. Events all take place in a theatre. While the live show is on, a man is killed in a room under the stage. Most of the cast is on stage all the time. Hence, only a very limited number of people could have committed this crime. The problem is that the only escape routes from this room either require the killer to leave the theatre and re-enter through the front doors which would have been rather visible, or to physically cross the stage (something which you would expect members of the audience to notice). This is another of these plots where the solution of the mystery only comes when the motive for the killing is understood. Once it’s possible to say who might have done it, we can then move on to decide how it might have been done. This is another answer that works completely from one point of view, but you have to wonder about those with a different point of view. However, if you put doubt to one side, this is another very satisfying answer to a fundamentally interesting question. The demonstration of the practicality and psychology involved is fascinating.

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

The seventh episode has us in a one-hundred-year old farm house out in the countryside. The ground around the house is very muddy and the front door is only approached over stepping stones to keep shoes dry. On the day in question, we have a woman working in her orchard, pruning apple trees during the critical period of time. She had a clear view of the front of the building at all times. Although a side window was open, anyone stepping out on to the mud would have left clear footprints and there were no marks. There was nothing inside the house that could have been used to enable someone to cross over the mud and so escape on the grass beyond. And then there are the supernatural phenomena that seem to have spectral apparitions and lights in the sky just to add a little spice. The answer to this is nicely obscure until we are asked to consider just how many crimes have been committed. It’s not just the death of the girl. There’s also the theft of a substantial amount of gold bullion and who knows what else.

The characters are developing nicely. Although Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato) is somewhat shallow and has poor social skills when it comes to relating to the general public, he is a good lawyer. So when there’s a need for a useful overview or the right consequences have to flow when Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono) unlocks the room, he usually gets the necessary done. However, he’s also puffing up with the vicarious success of the team. Instead of modestly allowing credit where credit is due, he keeps inflating his own role and so attracting more cases for him to solve. Junko Aoto (Erika Toda) began as a meek and submissive assistant, but she’s beginning to show signs of greater independence. When the need arises, she’s willing to walk around the neighbourhoods to interview potential witnesses and she’s also prepared to speculate with Kei Enomoto as to how the crimes might have been committed. Indeed, there’s even a hint she might be forming some emotional feelings for the young man. At present, they are just team-members, but as time passes, who knows what might happen. As to the man himself, Kei Enomoto remains as enigmatic as when we first met him. He’s clearly obsessive when it comes to physical locks and finds the challenge of solving crimes to be irresistible. He’s very watchable.

For a review of other episodes, see:
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 1 and 2
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 3 and 4
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 8 to end.

The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 3 and 4

September 4, 2014 1 comment

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The third episode of The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) sees a body found with a single stab wound to the back in a hotel bedroom which had a chain put in place from the inside. This makes a change because, from the outset, this is treated as a murder investigation. For all practical purposes, it’s impossible for the chain to be lifted into place from outside. Yet, if the killer was inside to put the chain in place, how did he or she get out? We are into the land of the elite Shogi players. As our entry into the story, Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato) is general counsel to the National Association and fielded a call from the deceased, one of the senior professionals, just before he was found stabbed to death in his hotel room. The police begin harassing our lawyer who refuses to reveal anything of what was said. Because he finds this embarrassing, he sends Junko Aoto (Erika Toda) and Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono) to investigate. The most obvious possibility is that someone knocked on this man’s door and then persuaded him to turn around so he could be stabbed in the back. But if there was such a level of distrust that the man would not unchain the door, why would be casually turn his back on the attacker? So here we have a locked room and Kei Enomoto decides the only way in which he can unlock it is to understand the motive. This breaks his usual pattern which has ignored the people involved and focused on the facts.

Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato)

Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato)

This takes us inside the world of the professional Shogi players. The qualification event that’s currently causing waves offers the possibility a woman might finally reach the highest level. She has one more match to play and if she wins, she will make history. By a curious coincidence, the other man who has qualified for this final match should have played the deceased in a previous round. The form book says he would have lost, but there’s doubt as to whether this would give him a motive for murder. The female player also had a sexual relationship with the deceased, but immediately before and after the time of death, she was apparently calling the deceased from her home on the telephone landline (old technology). Although the theme for the motive is fairly obvious, there’s just enough in the rest of the story to keep this fresh and these represents another winning locked room.

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

The fourth episode, however, sees a slight misstep. Gou Serizawa’s beginning to gain some fame because he’s been taking the credit for solving these locked room puzzles. Normally, nothing would have persuaded him to accept this obviously fairly poor and rather obsessive man as a client but, with a photographer looking on, he’s trapped into accepting him.The man wants the lawyer to gain entry to an apartment that has been set up to keep an expensive collection of spiders. The man asserts a claim over two of the spiders but, with the collector dead, neither the mother nor the widow are prepared to allow him into the room. As the story is revealed, it seems the collector was found dead a few days ago. There was a security lock on the outside door and every single window, vent and drain through which a spider might otherwise have escaped, was covered by a mesh or taped up. It seems the collector was bitten by one of the spiders and died. But this is problematic because if he had known he was bitten, why did he not call for help? He was carrying a cellphone and there was a landline in the room. So, on the face of it, this is a very intriguing mystery, but the answer turns out to be one that might conceivably have worked if it had been in written form. We tend to find more things plausible when we see them in our mind’s eye. But as seen on the television screen, this strikes me as seriously implausible. This is unfortunate because, if you accept the basic premise, the various factors do all fit together perfectly.

For a review of other episodes, see:
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 1 and 2
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 5 to 7
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 8 to end.

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