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11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)

July 15, 2014 17 comments

11_Moji_no_Satsujin-p2

11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011) is the first of three made-for-television adaptations of novels by Keigo Higashino. Rikako Yuki (Hiromi Nagasaku) is a mystery novelist who’s suffering from writer’s block. After the breakdown of her marriage, she’s been growing closer to a man who works as a freelance journalist. Of late, however, his work has been drying up and debts have become more of a problem. In their last meeting, he tells her he thinks someone may be targeting him. When she asks why he feels threatened, he’s very noncommittal. When he calls her that night, she’s in a meeting with her editor, Fuyuko Hakio (Mari Hoshino) and feels unable to come out to meet with him. The following morning, she’s woken by the police. Her lover has been found dead in the river. It’s not certain whether this is an accident or suicide. Naturally, for all his problems, she doesn’t believe he would have committed suicide. She favours the idea it was murder, but has no idea who would have motive. She therefore decides to investigate. In part, she’s doing it to protect the reputation of her dead lover, but she also hopes it might help her break the writer’s block, i.e. give her a story to write. This latter reason makes her editor supportive and she decides to offer practical help as and when required.

Rikako Yuki (Hiromi Nagasaku) and Fuyuko Hakio (Mari Hoshino)

Rikako Yuki (Hiromi Nagasaku) and Fuyuko Hakio (Mari Hoshino)

 

When our now formally anointed amateur detective goes round to her ex-lover’s apartment, she finds his sister removing all his things. She begs everything connected with his writing, hoping to find some clue in his latest research. With everything packed, a carrier comes to take the boxes away, but this is interrupted by the arrival of a young lady. She identifies herself as a photographer who was working with the man on a story. She wants to recover some of her photographs. With everything already packed, it’s arranged she will come round to collect the material after it’s been delivered. Meanwhile, Fuyuko Hakio has arranged for our detective to visit her lover’s publisher. While there, there are hints of a boating accident about a year earlier in which her lover had injured his leg. This ties in with an entry in her lover’s diary which shows a meeting with Takuya Yamamori (Ken Ishiguro), the president of a large gym who had sponsored the boat trip which led to the accident. Ever quick off the mark, Fuyuko Hakio lines up an appointment but, when they arrive at the gym, there’s a delay. To fill in the time, they are given a special short session working out. The actual meeting with the director proves slightly inconclusive. When she arrives home, our detective immediately sees the boxes which were delivered have been opened. All her lover’s most recent material has been removed.

Ishiguro Ken

Ishiguro Ken

 

This sets us off and running fairly quickly through an interestingly complex plot. The only time it slows down is for a flashback showing exactly why our mystery author has writer’s block. As a mystery, it doesn’t seem to be going very far very quickly until we get to the last death when there’s a most interesting alibi for everyone who might have done it. It’s moments like this that make the author of the source novel, Keigo Higashino, so interesting. Up to this point, we seem to have a fairly routine serial killer who’s systematically killing off everyone connected with that boating accident (the title of the book/film is a reference to the eleven character message sent to each victim). But this last death not only fails to fit the pattern. It also seems to be “impossible” because there’s no doubt where everyone is at the relevant time. So this leaves me with good news and not-so-good news. My dislike of coincidence in a work of fiction is well documented in all these reviews. There are times when it’s unavoidable to get everything started off, e.g. that two people just happen to get on the same train, but in the main, I find the use of coincidence rather depressing. This time, there’s a clear explanation for the coincidence, so Keigo Higashino and his scriptwriter were aware of the problem. Ecept explaining it doesn’t make it any better. That said, this is one of these stories which deals with the grey in human relationships. In fiction, it’s always easier when the author decides to paint characters and situations in black and white. We readers or viewers are left with very simple moral choices about who to sympathise with. Here, very little is morally cut-and-dried. Indeed, the more you look at the picture which finally emerges as all the relevant people confess what happened, the less you want to make any decisions about it at all. I suppose that’s what makes 11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 a very good story and explains why our mystery writer will probably join in the conspiracy of silence.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Brutus’ Heart or Brutus no Shinzo or ブルータスの心臓 (2011)
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)
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.

 

Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト (2010) — episodes 6 to end

Another murder in Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト by Tetsuya Honda interrupts Kikuta Kazuo (Nishijima Hidetoshi) as he’s about to offer advice to Hayama Noriyuki (Koide Keisuke), the newbie on the Team. He’s struggling to come to terms with his failure as a schoolboy to intervene in a random knife attack on a young woman who acted as his tutor. What made it all the worse was his refusal even to come forward as a witness. He was afraid the killer would hunt him down if he volunteered any kind of description. This has led to a seriously sexist view that women should stay at home and be defended by men, and a profound weakness when having to deal with knife crimes as a detective. Himekawa Reiko (Takeuchi Yuko) is forced to buy a new pair of shoes and, annoyingly, is instructed to work with another woman who’s in the violent crime division of the jurisdiction where the murder occurs. The victim seems generally to be well-liked and there’s no obvious motive, but Himekawa Reiko is able to deduce that, in the heavy rain, the attacker mistook the victim for his father. They then begin researching those with a motive to kill the father. When an attempt is subsequently made on the father, Hayama Noriyuki freezes in exactly the same way he did as a schoolboy but, even though she’s wounded, Himekawa Reiko forgives him without apparent thought. She understands his problem.

Himekawa Reiko (Takeuchi Yuko) and Kikuta Kazuo (Nishijima Hidetoshi) acknowledging each other at last

We now have the shooting of a gang boss given to Kusaka Mamoru (Endo Kenichi) the leader of the other Team in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s First Investigative Division, while Himekawa Reiko is directed to an autopsy with Kunioku Sadanosuke (Tsugawa Masahiko) her friendly coroner where it’s not clear whether the death of Kishitani Seiji (Matsuda Kenji) is murder or suicide. A woman telephoned in the fact of death but was not present when police arrived. It’s strangulation but one side of the body has been chilled. This makes it an unusual death. With Kikuta Kazuo in tow, Himekawa Reiko sets off to investigate. There seems to be a problem about identity. He paid cash and did not produce ID documents. There was also a woman around but he threw her out four or five days before he died. A key for a post office box leads Himekawa Reiko to a number of photographs. Meanwhile the other Team finds the body of a second crime boss, killed with the same gun.

Kusaka Mamoru (Endo Kenichi) obsessed by detail

We see Kusaka Mamoru as being meticulous in his attention to detail and he finds evidence the two victims were actually secret friends and used to meet regularly for drinks. Himekawa Reiko now identifies two of the men in her photographs as being the dead gang bosses. Further research shows the thirteen shown in her photographs are all gang leaders or associates who have all been shot to death in the last five years and, where the possible suicide occurred, there were thirteen oddly-shaped pieces of wood. When she tries to link the two investigations, Kusaka Mamoru points out all she does not know and her proposal is rejected. It’s a battle between intuition and methodical fact-shifting and, to keep the peace, her boss allows her to search a specific fishing village she thinks may hold a clue. It gets her out of the way. They find Harukawa Mitsuyo (Kimura Tae), the woman who telephoned in the death and she admits “killing” the potential suicide. Except, this is not what happened. The extended flashback is an immensely sad story of guilt and a failed attempt at redemption through love that actually made things worse because the love became a weapon to be used against them.

Takaoka Kenichi (Ishiguro Ken) looking the other way

In the final story element, it’s coming to that time of year when Himekawa Reiko was raped and her mother Himekawa Rue (Tezuka Satomi) is trying to act as matchmaker. To make her mood worse, she’s ordered to work with Kusaka Mamoru on what may be a murder case. They have a severed hand and a lot of blood. Also back in her squad is the lecherous Ioka Hiromitsu (Namase Katsuhisa). Then her mother has a heart attack. She tries to act tough, like she doesn’t care. When she comes back to the hotel where she stays, Kikuta Kazuo is waiting for her and gives her a hug. It’s good to see him getting a little more active on the romantic front. As the story emerges, Mishima Kosuke (Hamada Gaku) grew up under the protection of the supposed deceased, Takaoka Kenichi (Ishiguro Ken). A flashback shows us that this man failed to prevent the boy’s father from committing suicide. He knew the man failed to give his boy proper care and then raised the boy as his own. For the time when the murder was most likely committed, Mishima Kosuke’s alibi is Nakagawa Michiko (Renbutsu Misako), a waitress who’s obviously very frightened. Then Himekawa Reiko discovers the deceased was using another’s name. Kusaka Mamoru thinks there may be an insurance scam with a loan shark killing people who owe money and making it look like suicide.

Mishima Kosuke (Hamada Gaku) and Nakagawa Michiko (Renbutsu Misako) — young love in difficult circumstances

The last three episodes explore what it means to be a parent in Japan. In the surrogate role, Katsumata Kensaku (Takeda Tetsuya) was like a father to Kusaka Mamoru and so brutally suppressed his creativity and imagination that he turned into this stickler for detail, always afraid to commit himself until all doubt has been eliminated. Despite this, Kusaka Mamoru is actually a caring father to his own son who’s being bullied at school and ends up defending Himekawa Reiko who has the inspiration to see past the immediate facts and make interesting deductions. For reasons not made clear, Katsumata Kensaku also knows about Hayama Noriyuki’s past but, in this series, nothing is made of it.

Imaizumi Haruo (Takashima Masahiro) keeps order when bosses are sceptical

Within her own family, we get to see Himekawa Reiko reach an accommodation with her mother. Flashbacks show it was her father Himekawa Tadayuki (Owada Baku) who inadvertently helped her through the worst of the emotional fallout from the rape. He mother had tiptoed around her as if she was a breakable doll who would fall to pieces at the first sign of trouble, hence the overprotectiveness. But the hand under investigation turns out to be a remarkable story about Takaoka Kenichi, his own son and the boy he brings up as his adopted son. The relationship between Mishima Kosuke and Nakagawa Michiko also proves to be a catalyst for more honest emotions in those they meet. Curiously, Nakagawa Michiko brings out a maternal response from Himekawa Reiko, while Kusaka Mamoru explains what it means to be a father to Mishima Kosuke. It’s powerful.

So there we have eleven episodes of genuinely entertaining police procedural. Although the aggressive sexism of senior management is perhaps slightly overdone, the general atmosphere in the police force is shown as the usual depressing patriarchy. Playing Reiko, Takeuchi Yuko strikes a good balance between the frustration she so obviously feels when her character does not get the respect deserved, and the tenuous grip she maintains on her own confidence. Were it not for the emotional support of her Team, she would have given up and left the police. Despite appearances, she also gets support from her immediate boos Imaizumi Haruo (Takashima Masahiro) and, less overtly from Katsumata Kensaku and, eventually, Kusaka Mamoru who proves scrupulously fair in giving credit where it’s due. For the record, there’s to be a film version of Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト although it’s not clear whether this will be a new story or just one of these stories packaged for the big screen. That’s something worth watching out for.

For a review of the first episodes, see Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト (2010) — episodes 1 to 5.

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