Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ is a genuinely excellent detective series from Japan, sadly only ten episodes in length but much appreciated, winning the 55th Television Drama Academy Awards for Best Drama, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Script, Best Director and Best Theme Song, and the 13th Asian Television Award for Best Drama Series. It’s based on Detective Galileo or Tantei Garireo (探偵ガリレオ), a novel by Keigo Higashino. At the heart of many good detective stories lies an eccentric character. He or she sees the world differently, and this skewing of perception allows the detective to see through the usual patterns of dishonesty and solve the crimes. This may be an involuntary psychological problem like Monk’s obsessive compulsive disorder, or mere non-conformity like Columbo or Inspector Morse, or physical transformation as in the manga, anime and live action Meitantei Conan 名探偵コナン (sold in the West as Case Closed) by Gosho Aoyama. Alongside the detective, there must be a loyal sidekick. This person must be desperately willing to help the great detective, but not bright enough to overshadow the Great One when it comes to explaining whodunnit. This doesn’t mean these loyal gofers cannot do valuable work. It’s just they fail to see the significance of what they find or describe. In this instance, the spice added to the mix is the initial appearance of inexplicable, not to say, supernatural, elements in the potentially criminal events.
So here comes Kaoru Utsumi, a detective newly appointed to the Kaizuka Kita Police Station, played by Shibasaki Kou, and Manabu Yukawa, an associate professor at Teito University played by Fukuyama Masaharu. Also of interest is Kuribayashi Hiromi (Watanabe Ikkei), a lab assistant who is out of his depth with the professor but, if push comes to shove, he will trade on the professor’s name to impress his friends with embarrassing results as in episode 7. When Kaoru Utsumi is stuck in her first investigation, she asks her more experienced senior officer Kusanagi Shunpei (Kitamura Kazuki) for guidance. Some three years earlier, Detective Kusanagi had also been lost in a case so, in desperation, he contacted his old friend from university for help. They had known each other as badminton players. When they met up again, his friend was buried in his own world of physics but, with the facts proving stimulating, the professor was seduced out of his lab and solved the case. Based on this experience, Kaoru Utsumi also approaches him.
To say the man is eccentric is to misunderstand his intense interest in all things connected with physics. Put the other way round, he tends to see every part of life as capable of expression through mathematical formulae. This has a profound effect on the way he relates to “ordinary” people. Essentially, he sees everyone as an experiment in motion. So he forms various hypotheses about those he meets and tests reactions to prove or disprove his suspicions. Because the average person has no idea what he’s thinking, they tend to betray more of themselves when he acts strangely towards them. More importantly, he’s a pure scientist and therefore unwilling to accept the idea of anything supernatural. This makes him a terrific myth buster as, one by one, he takes on apparently unnatural events and deduces what actually happened.
This means we are variously required to explain what may have been spontaneous human combustion, some form of astral projection, a poltergeist, fireballs flying across a darkened room, a possible case of precognition, and a visitation by the spirit of a person being murdered (or perhaps some kind of teleportation event). I confess to being fascinated by the impossible crime trope, the best known of which is the locked-room mystery. So our scientist is able to explain how someone can see an image from a distant point as a form of mirage caused by temperature inversion. The fireballs are particularly ingenious as the burning strings from a bow used in a locked-room murder. In the precognition case, I was less convinced by the underlying method for concealing the murder. This is not denying the availability of liquids that rapidly change their viscosity in response to an electrical current, but the timeline to dismantle and remove the incriminating equipment seemed a little short. We also have an inverted crime story where we see the murder committed in the opening sequence and watch our dynamic duo work their way through to unmasking the killer. This is a murder in a swimming pool where the only sign of an unnatural death is a strange burn on the victim’s breast which has quickly turned necrotic. Even when the solution is not absolutely scientific, as in the teleportation case, the explanation for the appearance of the person wearing the yellow raincoat is so satisfying, the fact it relies on soft science is irrelevant. The last two episodes form an interesting conclusion as the professor strikes out as an investigator, leaving Kaoru Utsumi to deal with a case on her own.
The glue that holds this short series together is the chemistry between Fukuyama Masaharu and Shibasaki Kou. Perhaps in another life, they would have been sexually attracted to each other but, as it stands, he’s too much of a challenge for her. Yet he gets to see her at her most vulnerable and proves almost protective of her as he pokes around in her past when one of her childhood friends comes back into her life to ask for help. In the present, he must physically rescue her when they are trapped in a barge in which there’s sufficient metal around them to cut off their mobile phone signals. It’s just a shame he’s jealous of the results of her cooking and deeply annoyed by her lack of discipline in preparing the raw food and throwing it together in the wok. In the end, they both have decisions to make. There’s a request she should leave this great hope for the future of Japanese science to concentrate on his work. Her requests for help are a distraction when he should be focusing on theoretical work. He also has to come to terms with his past and resolve his relationship with Kijima, the man who taught him physics. It’s a slight shame the last episode gets so melodramatic but, overall, the standard of inventiveness is high.
After Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ, there was a further television special and a film, Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin, all based on work by Keigo Higashino. If you have the chance, make time to watch either of these television shows or the film, they are of a uniformly high standard with interesting guests stars in each episode. You should also read Salvation of a Saint which features Galileo and is quite the best detective novel I’ve read in years!
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 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)
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)
For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.