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Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)

January 11, 2013 15 comments

The sacrifice of suspect-x

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.

Manabu Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama) and Kaoru Utsumi (Ko Shibasaki)

Manabu Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama) and Kaoru Utsumi (Ko Shibasaki)

 

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.

Yasuko Hanaoka (Yasuko Matsuyuki) and Tetsuya Ishigami (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi) secretly confer

Yasuko Hanaoka (Yasuko Matsuyuki) and Tetsuya Ishigami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi) secretly confer

 

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)

 

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The pleasing thing about writing is that the process is flexible. The better authors can develop their own styles, matching the prose to the content as needed. Some will go for dense text, full of detail and sophisticated ideas. Others will strip down the prose with very short paragraphs, sometimes no more than a single sentence. The choices will vary depending on the writer’s intention, fitting the style to the mood or setting the desired narrative pace. Short and punchy sentences propel the plot forward with the maximum effect. Detail is introduced to add depth to the reading experience. This can set the scene, build atmosphere, give insights into the thinking of the active participants, and so on. Then we get into the vocabulary choices and sentence construction, some writers preferring simple language, communicating meaning efficiently and often with deceptive ease — it’s actually not always easy capture complicated situations without resorting to more specialist terminology — others use more specific word choices as shorthand to match the dictates of a genre and deliver the expected scenarios with the minimum of fuss to those familiar with the jargon.

Luther on television is up for four awards in the 2012 Primetime Emmys which is an indication of quality with an excellent performance from Idris Elba as the London-based detective in this modern inverted crime format show. Those of you who enjoy looking back will hopefully have read R Austen Freeman’s Dr Thorndyke, and Roy Vickers’ Department of Dead Ends, stories which show how the detectives catch the criminals. The interest lies in the processes of investigation and suspense builds by showing whether the criminals are able to divert suspicion. In this, I suppose the Columbo television series will remain the best loved with Peter Falk’s performance consistently interesting. It’s also a fascinating commentary on the class divide in American culture. Here’s this working-class, apparently humble man who looks as though he got dressed in the dark and, most of the time, he’s out to trap a killer from the wealthy strata of society. Because of their arrogance, these more socially powerful murderers consistently underestimate the battered specimen of humanity that keeps intruding into their space.

Neil Cross, screenwriter and author of the Luther series

Luther is also a social commentary in that this is a Detective Chief Inspector from a “minority” racial group. In the real world, few non-white officers manage to gain promotion to the higher ranks (or hold on to them once there). The British Police force is institutionally racist, both within its own ranks and in its posture to the community it’s supposed to serve and protect. From the outset, therefore, the television series is exploring difficult territory because, of necessity, this detective must hold his position within the ranks and interact with the public (including the suspects) in a way that elicits the maximum amount of information from which to determine who committed the crimes under investigation. This is an obsessive but brilliant man, prone to violence and frequently under pressure. When you add in the nature of the crimes he’s given to investigate, it confirms a generally dark nature to the proceedings. Unlike Columbo which always had a sly sense of humour, this series is hard-hitting and psychologically interesting. Although this is not a review of the television series, it’s worth watching — albeit somewhat formulaic, it improves as the characters develop.

As we come closer to the expected third series of original television stories charting the investigations run by Luther, we have a treat in the form of Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster, 2012). This won the New Zealand Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and was listed for the British Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. This is the origin story or prequel to the television series as the screenwriter writes the novel to describe the case that pushed Luther closer to the edge of a breakdown. From the outset, we get an insight into the way in which the crimes are committed although it takes quite some time before Luther can begin to put a name to the killer. As we might expect, the crime under investigation is horrific. Someone has carefully entered a quiet suburban home while the couple are asleep, butchered the man and killed the pregnant wife but stealing the baby, potentially alive.

With his marriage in serious trouble and his loyal sidekick Ian Reed in hospital, the victim of a punishment beating by a local criminal, Luther must navigate the difficult emotions with the minimum of support. That he does so by bending, if not ignoring, the rules is what we expect of our flawed heroes. Although there’s little here which adds anything new to the police procedural genre, all the elements are presented in such a fluent and elegant stripped-down prose that you can’t help but zip along, not caring whether the plot is predictable. In fact, it does prove a challenging puzzle to solve and, albeit not in the best circumstances, Luther does succeed in reuniting families. So The Calling is one of the best of the police procedural bunch so far this year. If you enjoy violence both from the criminals and the detectives who’s task it is to track them down, this is a must-read.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

For a review of the television series, see
Luther: Season 1, episode 1 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 2 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 3 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 4 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 5 (2010)
Luther: Season 1 episode 6 (2010)
Luther: Season 2, episode 1 (2011)
Luther: Season 2, episode 2 (2011).

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