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Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11

Zettai_Reido

Episode 10 of Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) goes back only one year to 2009 where two academics entering a research lab find one of their colleagues dead and a man standing over the body with blood on his hands. This man flees and falls to his death down a flight of stairs. Even though no weapon was found at the scene, the case is assumed solved until the knife used as the murder weapon is found in the river thirty minutes drive from the university. Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) and Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) set off to the university where they discover the victim was not the best liked individual (probably because he was stealing research from his colleagues). He also antagonised the alleged murderer who was working as a bartender. A search of the lab where they study genetic engineering shows the victim had surveillance equipment in place and so could spy on what everyone else was doing. This helped him discover one of the other workers was taking kickbacks from commercial organisations to monitor the work. He was also apparently blackmailing a female researcher who was sleeping with the professor in charge. This female researcher then admits to the murder. Izumi Sakuragi is convinced there’s something wrong and so begins her own investigation to find out who this woman is and why she might have been provoked into murder. What she finds pivots the case into a different direction. At one level, this then stops being a police procedural inquiring into a murder, and becomes a more meditative and sad story about relationships.

Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) investigate on the ground

Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) investigate on the ground

The eleventh and last case in this series is the murder of a police detective in 1998. A forensic analysis of the scene of the crime by Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura), suggests there were at least two shooters although only one gun has been recovered. Naturally, while all the other detectives decide to chase around the city looking for people who might have had a grudge against the detective, Izumi Sakuragi prefers to think about the detective and his family. It seems the detective’s young son had a heart problem. Fortunately, after treatment, he’s able to follow his father’s interest in baseball. Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto) interviews the widow and gets an indication all was not entirely well in their relationship. Ryoko Takamine (Sayaka Yamaguchi) goes to interview the mother of the man who was suspected of the murder but never found. Because this is an older case, it gives more chance for Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara) to shine. In an ensemble piece like this, everyone has to be allowed a moment to show their acting range. This time, the relationship between the older detective and the homicide team where he used to work becomes significant. The mechanism in play here is obvious from an early point, but the episode stays just on the right side of sentimentality (again) as Izumi Sakuragi gets friendly with the detective’s son, now twelve, and Shintaro Shiraishi gets to chew over old times with his ex-partner. Adding grist to the mill, Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) has earned promotion to the homicide division and will be leaving the unit with the end of this case. So, no matter how things turn out, the unit as a family is going to be broken. This leads Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji) to ask Izumi Sakuragi if she has decided what kind of detective she wants to be.

Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara)

Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara)

So when you put all this together, the series turns out rather different from the American Cold Case model. Despite their similarities in having both a female lead and flashback sequences to show what was going on in the past, this series is rather more focused on the psychological implications of each investigation, both on the detectives and those with whom they interact. This makes the show existentialist in spirit, whereas the US model is self-contained mysteries to be solved with minimal consideration of the consequences flowing from the investigations. On balance, I prefer the Japanese approach although I’m slightly less convinced by some of the characters in the team. Aya Ueto is never less than interesting as Izumi Sakuragi, but I’m not entirely sure she’s sufficiently worldly to have reached the rank of Sergeant in the unforgivingly sexist environment of the police force. She’s extraordinarily innocent. In one sense, I suppose, this explains why she’s successful. She concerns herself with the people, using her own empathetic sense to work out what they might have been thinking or doing in the past. But empathy is not much good unless you have been exposed to many different types of people, sometimes in stressful situations. Similarly, Hiroyuki Miyasako as Keigo Tsukamoto portrays a rather unsophisticated, sexist man who, despite being reasonably passionate about the work, never strikes me as having the intellectual ability to earn promotion. The others, however, make up for this with a general sense of competence prevailing. This makes Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) very watchable.

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9.

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9

Zettai_Reido

Episode 7 of Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) has us back in 2006 with the death of the President of Future Steps, a corporation much disliked because of its aggressive acquisition strategies. In modern time, we start off with a man accused of the murder but, once in court, objecting to the way the investigation was handled by the Cold Case Unit. We therefore have evidence given, first by Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto), to explain how and why the case was reopened, with the relevant flashbacks to show everyone at work. The man on trial was a security guard at the building which housed the corporation. It seems the deceased’s secretary had later seen him wearing a watch perhaps taken from her boss. When his house is searched, he also has an antique knife which belonged to the boss. Naturally, at the trial, the defence alleges the confession was coerced and then produces a witness who claims the victim and the deceased often drank together at his bar. It’s therefore not surprising the accused should have received gifts from the deceased. There’s also no forensic evidence to show the knife found in the accused’s possession was the murder weapon, so the case is adjourned for a review. Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji) formally reopens the case and gives Takumi Kurata the chance to get the right answer for the honour of the unit.

They call in the secretary who made the call. Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) and Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) interview her and it’s obvious that this victim was not a man to have any friends, particularly those whom he believed were in a lower class. He was fixated on money and what it could buy, which included a company holding the intellectual property rights on a Hello Kitty lookalike. Ryoko Takamine (Sayaka Yamaguchi) and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) discover the deceased had been diagnosed with leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Having no relatives, he went in search of a donor. With long odds, a donor was found. With the successful treatment behind him, the victim had to decide what to do with the rest of his life. The episode then marginally fails to achieve an even balance between hard-nosed realism and sentimentality. For me, it shades too much into the latter but, given the point of the series, which is to show the extent to which people adapt and change under pressure of circumstances, I suppose this is defensible on the ground of consistency.

Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji)

Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji)

In episodes 8 and 9, we’re back to 2008 at the time of the Olympics where we have the “Suginami Case” which continues to haunt Ryoko Takamine and Hideo Nagashima, who failed to find the place where the kidnapped girl had been confined until it was too late to save her. She was in a form of coffin with a device attached which would extract the air after exactly 72 hours. The kidnapper initially demanded a ransom, but never pursued the demand. Now a man who’s seriously ill in prison has drawn the machine used to kill the girl. Although he also admits the killing, the voice of the kidnapper does not match. This sends Izumi Sakuragi and Ryoko Takamine to interview the man in prison using a polygraph. He uses the opportunity to taunt both Ryoko Takamine and Hideo Nagashima who also appears. He has details of the offence only a participant would have known and denies having anyone else involved.

When the parents of the murdered girl come into the Cold Case Unit, this puts more pressure on Hideo Nagashima who becomes even more determined to find out who committed this crime. But the death of this man prompts the Commissioner to order Hideo Nagashima to stop the investigation. If the press realise the case has been reopened, the embarrassment of the past failure will return to the whole police force. We then get the backstory of the investigation in which one of the people Ryoko Takamine profiled as a possible suspect committed suicide. The scene where this man’s mother confronts Ryoko Takamine is powerful and explains the depth of her pain with this case. This leads to other admissions, e.g. that Keigo Tsukamoto became a detective to catch the hit-and-run driver who killed his mother.

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

On her day off, Izumi Sakuragi decides to try and find the place the kidnapped girl photographed the day she was taken. Unfortunately, she meets a man at this location and suspects him of involvement. This coincidence leads to her being kidnapped. I do so hate it when people are abducted in broad daylight in a suburb and no-one notices but, for the purposes of the plot, let’s pass on by. Our second instalment sets off with Izumi Sakuragi tied up in a cellar while the rest of the team tries to find her. The solution to the original kidnapping depends on one of these long backstories which, when it finally plays out, has considerable emotional power. Although one element of it remains unanswered and there’s the inevitable coincidence as the trigger for the kidnapping itself, the sequence of events hangs together perfectly to show the motive for the kidnapping and to explain how the people involved came together. When you see it altogether, it has nice but-for causes and effects which means everyone thought they were acting in the best interests of those they loved, but the long-term effects are anger and guilt. The current kidnapping of Izumi Sakuragi is solved by the team as a whole. Ryoko Takamine gets her nerve back and offers crucial advice. Hideo Nagashima enters into an agreement with an important member of the press. And Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) provides critical analysis in the forensic department. The outcome sees Izumi Sakuragi arrest the kidnapper and a more general sense of family emerge in the Cold Case Unit (and perhaps she will hit a baseball pitch before the end of the series).

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11.

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6

Zettai_Reido

Episodes 5 and 6 of Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) run together. We only go back to 2005 when there was an attack at a cultural festival. A man with a knife killed two adults and six children. He was arrested at the scene and convicted. Three years later, on the anniversary of this attack, a series of new attacks begins at local schools. On the anniversary attack, eight of the animals kept as pets by the children were killed. In subsequent attacks, different numbers of animals were killed. A detective who acted as mentor to Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) comes into the Cold Case Unit to ask Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji) to take over the case. The justification for stepping outside their usual remit (which does not include damage to property, i.e. the animals) is that the killer can quickly escalate to human victims. Because of the link between Izumi Sakuragi and the detective who solicited the help of the unit, she is put in charge. This is somewhat controversial, but the others provisionally agree to go along with it.

She quickly collects evidence from all ten schools where attacks have occurred, and Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) get to work. Unfortunately, they are not much help apart from confirming the boot prints at each of the sites suggest a male attacker. Izumi Sakuragi and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) go to the tenth and most recent school to be attacked. There’s the usual patronising behaviour from the man, aggravated by the fact Izumi Sakaragi has been put in charge. She endears herself to the children who are distressed at the death of their pets, which inspires Keigo Tsukamoto to return to the scene of the original attack. It turns out he was one of the officers first on the scene. While at the school, he admits he sees every cold case as a failure that should be put right. At this point, a middle school girl approaches the memorial and, when she realises they are police officers, suggests they do better and catch whoever committed the murder five years earlier. The point of this episode is to explore the different ways in which people respond to crime. No matter who they are, they are all affected and many carry some degree of pain as a result. This can be for the detectives who feel failure when their case is unsolved to those more directly involved, say as the parents, spouses or relatives of those killed. This particular investigation is triggered by a police officer who’s about to retire. He’s been trying to solve all the little cases no-one else cared about. He’s always taken the failure of other police officers personally. He thought he would go out in a blaze of glory by getting the answer to this pet-killing spree.

Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama)

Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama)

Then Sho Takebayashi comes up with the news that chat in a forum suggests another attack is about to take place. When Izumi Sakuragi and Keigo Tsukamoto go to the school, he’s wounded in a knife attack by the same school girl they had met earlier, but he decides not to record the attack in official records. This sets up a difficult emotional state for Izumi Sakuragi. Hideo Nagashima puts it this way. If she’s only reflecting on how she arrived at this situation, she can draw from the past and move forward. But if she’s caught up in regret for past mistakes, nothing will be settled. Izumi Sakuragi and Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) then go round the other schools and find that this school girl has been seen at all the schools where the most recent attacks have occurred. But Yuki Fukazawa is not convinced this shows the girl is actually guilty of anything and, for the first time, becomes actively involved in trying to solve the case. The real problem is to decide the relationship between the original attack on humans and the new attacks on animals.

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)  and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako)

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako)

They eventually track down the girl and recover the knife used to attack Keigo Tsukamoto. She also has a pair of shoes with her that shows evidence she’s been around animals recently. In the end, there is an overlap between the original murder spree and the later animal killings. But it’s the explanation for the girl’s initial allegation that the detectives should catch the one responsible for the killings that wins the prize. From the very first set-up scene where we see the young girl going into the school where the massacre is to occur, we’ve been wondering what she was doing there. She was not supposed to be in the school that day. The answer when it comes has a deep and satisfying plausibility. In a way, the explanation is all the more satisfying because, when Izumi Sakuragi first suspects what actually happened, she’s able to find direct evidence of it. That evidence and a little play-acting is the key to opening the girl’s emotional floodgates. She takes the first real step to resolving her feelings of guilt over what happened that day. This is the first time there’s been a real sense of a team effort and catching the animal killer just adds a little spice at the end. There’s also a nice moment as the retiring mentor passes on the baton to the rookie and hopes she’ll be a success. To some extent, this rebalances after Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto) has both Izumi Sakuragi and Yuki Fukazawa write formal letters of apology for breaching departmental rules. Discipline is strict in Japan. No matter what the stimulus, we’re watching Izumi Sakuragi grow up every minute this series ticks by.

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11.

Crossing the Line by Frédérique Molay

August 22, 2014 2 comments

Crossing the Line by Frederique Molay

Crossing the Line by Frédérique Molay (Le French Book, 2014) originally titled Dent pour dent (the biblical phrase, “a tooth for a tooth” which I can’t help but feel is the better title) translated by Anne Trager. It’s coming up to Christmas in Paris and Nico Sirsky, Head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division has now perfected the relationship with Caroline (love really is more than skin deep) which has the approval of his son Dimitri (his ex-wife has gone AWOL, possibly seeking treatment for depression). He’s strengthening the leg where he was shot and is now back at work full-time, where he’s supposed to be focusing on solving one of the biggest jewellery heists France has ever seen. Meanwhile Dr Patrice Rieux is about to begin demonstrating the removal of a wisdom tooth to a class of students. They use “heads” donated to science. This particular head, only twelve days old, has a note inserted into a molar. It reads, “I was murdered”. Everyone wants this investigated in a way that exonerates the Paris Descartes University from blame, i.e. this is a real murder and not a prank by one of its students. The immediate problem, of course, is that when bodies are donated, they do not stay in one piece. The head goes to the schools of neurology, opthalmology, and dentistry for students to work on. The soft tissues and bones go to other units. Carefully preserved in cold rooms, the parts are available for use for several months depending on the storage temperature. The body, when whole and alive, belonged to Bruno Guedj. Fortunately, there’s a bullet wound in the head so it could be murder or suicide. But why, then, was there no autopsy? Why was a body with a bullet wound to the head deemed an unsuspicious death?

Frédérique Molay

Frédérique Molay

In every respect, this is a most pleasing mystery. Why should a man preparing to commit suicide, have his dentist implant a message in one of his teeth saying he was about to be murdered? The answer would normally be to persuade the life insurance company that his suicide was a murder. But, in France, the standard anti-suicide provision only applies during the first twelve months of the policy. Thereafter, the insurer pays out on death, no matter what the cause. Then there’s the uncertainty of the means of transmitting the message. What was the point of leaving his body to science on the off-chance the message would be found when it would be so much easier just to leave an explanatory note with his lawyer or someone else reliable? I could go on, but this series of questions should indicate the quality of the puzzle to be solved. More importantly, it also flags up the problem of how precisely to investigate the “situation”. When looking through a period of time, how do you tell what’s significant and might have triggered this man’s belief his life was in danger? The answer to this immediate problem comes slowly but surely. Except, when it arrives, it’s obvious that this is just the top of quite a substantial iceberg.

This type of murder mystery is always a delight as our seasoned detective leads his team through all the procedures necessary to investigate and collect the information, some of which may prove to be relevant evidence. This being a French mystery, we’re immediately cast into their fairly Byzantine legal system which is riven by jurisdictional rivalries and political constraints. Fortunately, the team that eventually comes together has the mutual trust and the confidence to follow the trail to wherever it leads (no matter how inconvenient that might be). The ending comes just in time for it to be a Christmas present for Nico Sirsky and his family, producing the right seasonal feelings without it being overly sentimental. Putting everything together gives you a highly entertaining and intellectually stimulating read. Crossing the Line is unreservedly recommended.

For the review of the first in the series by Frédérique Molay, see The 7th Woman.

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

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4

Zettai_Reido

Episode 3 of Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) takes us back to 2002 with the fourth killing of a woman with long dark hair by the so-called God of Death. Come forward eight years and a new body is discovered that may be connected to the previous four. Initially, the police have a suspect. A man was seen running away from the place where the body was found and it seems he was stalking the victim. However, when the cold case unit compare the cases, the latest body doesn’t quite fit the signature, but the knot used to tie the victim is the same and the first body was found on the same day in April eight years ago. Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) and Ryoko Takamine (Sayaka Yamaguchi) were both part of the team that worked on the original case although they did not meet at that time. Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) meet with the father of one of the earlier victims. His marriage has now broken down because he blamed his wife for not responding to their daughter’s request for a lift from the railway station. If mother and daughter had met, she would probably have survived. When the unit contacts the team responsible for the current murder investigation, there’s an immediate jurisdictional turf war and the old wounds from eight years ago come back for Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto) who lost a competition for a senior post to the man currently in charge. Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji) does his best to keep the peace between the warring units. Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) are going over the old forensic evidence and find grains of sand on the rope under in the four cases. Sand is also found at the scene of the new killing which suggests they may be chasing the wrong man.

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)

The case-note evidence from the initial investigation shows the first victim left home after an argument about whether she should marry. A few days later, she was dead. Izumi Sakuragi walks the ground after the victim attended a planning session for their wedding. She also walks the ground after another victim attended a gallery showing and discovers the victims were likely to have ended up at the same park. Checking back through the camera of that victim shows photographs she took in this place. By a somewhat ingenious route, this leads to the killer. What makes the episode interesting that the the families of the initial four victims come to the office of the cold case unit to thank them for listening and eventually capturing the killer.

Naoya Shimizu

Naoya Shimizu

Episode 4 takes us back to 1999, where a group of four school kids, members of the astronomy club, are both celebrating and fearing the end of the world in one of the many ways predicted by Nostradamus. In 2010, someone sends a skeleton to the cold case unit. It’s a man who has been dead eleven years with head wounds suggesting murder. The dental records give an identity as a science teacher, aged forty-one. Because it was only a missing person’s case, there’s little or no evidence to start off the contemporary investigation. That sends the team out to find the astronomy club members who were apparently the last people to see their teacher alive. It turns out one of these four sent the skeleton but, one hour before the police can get to him for an interview, he “falls” from the fire escape at his apartment block and it’s 50/50 whether he will recover from the coma. So the big question is why this group of four, who were such great friends in middle school, should now appear to be so distant. Hideo Nagashima and Izumi Sakuragi discuss what happens to friendships when people leave school. She admits to having lost touch with all her friends since she became a detective. Her focus is on matters of immediate interest. Is that what happened to this group of four? That they all separated to do their own thing and never saw each other again?

The dynamic of the plot is one of the tried-and-tested ideas but the precise way in which this works out does show a slight variation on the theme. The meeting between Izumi Sakuragi and the woman played by Naoya Shimizu at the end is a wonderful moment in complete contrast to the rest of the series so far. Up to this point, the general feeling of the series has been of the cold case team arriving at a situation in which justice is seen to be done. It’s not that they bask in self-congratulation that they have done a good job, but there’s a sense they have justified the existence of the unit as a means of resetting the emotional clock on past crimes. That’s definitely not what happens here. Indeed, in many ways, there’s a whole new clock now ticking as a result of this investigation. It’s good to see the scriptwriters producing balance in outcomes.

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11.

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2

Zettai_Reido

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) is a Japanese version of the American series of Cold Case where Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto), a young female investigator, is part of a unit called in to review cases which happened many years ago. In the first episode, we start off on New Year’s Eve, 1999 with a woman coming late to a bar to celebrate the midnight hour with two colleagues from work. We then see her being shot. Switching forward to 2010, Izumi Sakuragi has spent the night in the office going over dead files for fun. She’s been in the unit for three months, but her seniors don’t allow her to do anything other than observe and take notes. We then get a quick introduction to the rest of the team: Ryoko Takamine (Sayaka Yamaguchi) is an older and more experienced female officer, Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) and Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) are relatively experienced young officers, Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara) is the older man with a good memory for facts who was passed over for promotion as team leader. This role went to his then junior, Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto) which produces some strain in the relationship. The overall boss of the unit is Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji). In the forensic science department, we have Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura). When the decomposed body from the first case of the Millennium is unearthed, it falls to the team to take over the investigation. The original killing was tied into a large embezzlement case. The case is presented as if the three girls were responsible and disappeared with the money, but the boyfriend of the dead girl is now a suspect because, not so long after the New Year, he received sufficient money to pay off his debts and start a new business. It looks like he was in on the theft or was paid off by one of the three women. The branch manager of the bank where they worked is also probably hiding something.

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)

Thematically, we’re in conventional territory where the two younger men in the unit disparage both the rookie and the well-established woman who had a failure as a profiler. Needless to say, both women are perceptive and ignoring their views slows down the investigation. Hideo Nagashima is mentoring the rookie, giving her puzzles to solve and advice based on baseball. Ryoko Takamine gives Izumi Sakuragi her first chance to conduct an interview. It’s the mother of one of the three girls who went missing. It’s revealing because the police treated her missing daughter as guilty when they investigated ten years earlier, so coming back ten years later finds a rather bitter woman who’s had to live with the accusation unresolved all this time. This gives Izumi Sakuragi and Hideo Nagashima the chance to consider the real purpose of the cold case unit. Ostensibly, it may just be detectives reopening an old case, but if they solve it, there can be closure for those who have been left hanging over the years. So this is not just about justice for the victims, it’s also about giving those left behind the chance to move on. Although the initial set-up is something of a cliché, this episode has an emotional heart and does offer a quite interesting overview of police procedure.

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

Back in 1995, just about the time of the Sarin gas attack, a young woman who was a medical student, is brought into the A&E Department with stab wounds from which she dies. Because police resources were focused on the terrorist attack, the investigation into this murder was limited. Now we come forward to 2010 and some local government officials are clearing out the house of an old bag-woman when they find a blood-stained knife. It’s wrapped in an American newspaper and there’s the pollen of both a red and yellow rose on it. The analysis of the blood reopens the case. At the time, the boyfriend was suspected, but there was no untainted evidence to show he’d done it. He had messed up the crime scene. His girlfriend was dying so he moved everything and picked her up to get her to the hospital. With the fifteen year statute of limitations about to expire, there’s only a week left to solve the case. The ex-boyfriend is now married to one of the nurses at the hospital and runs a flower shop. They sell flowers wrapped in English newspapers.

Also of interest is a man who’s now a famous surgeon. Naturally he’s refusing all co-operation in the reopened case although he later relents and hands over the case notes from the patients being treated at the time. Another man who worked at the hospital says the original investigation stalled because no-one wanted to damage the reputation of the hospital by passing on stories potentially damaging to the hospital’s reputation. Indeed, it appears the murder victim may have suspected an incident of medical malpractice and been silenced before she could make trouble. The victim and her boyfriend were a mismatched couple. She was a resident and likely to become a top doctor. He was working in a flower shop. But he could make her smile when she was sad. In fact she was often quite sad because her attention to detail made her very unpopular with the nurses. Taking the case in context, Izumi Sakuragi worries the investigation may destroy the current marriage between the suspected ex-boyfriend and his wife. She has to make up her mind how far to push the case. In the end, she concludes she can’t forgive the murderer no matter how many people may be hurt. In this case, her method for working out what happened is nicely judged as a piece of fiction — I doubt it would work in the real world. And she ends up making some friends among an unexpected group of people. It’s all part of her learning curve. Put all this together and this is an auspicious pair of episodes with which to open the series.

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11.

Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 6 to 8

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Episode 6 of Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) is one of these episodes where the final element of the solution to the mystery depends on some psychology that strikes me as fake. Or perhaps this is essentially a Japanese phenomenon that does not apply to Westerners. Either way, I’m not convinced by it. The rest of the episode remains interesting with Rinko Tomoe (Nene Otsuka) and one of the suspects going through a crisis of self-confidence. They are both in the same position having been in jobs that did not require them to interact so much with “other people”, but then found themselves thrust into positions that required them to take on positive roles. Rinko Tomoe had not been a success as a front-line police officer so moved into the forensic department. Her view is that objects don’t lie. So while she might not be able to assess when human beings are being truthful, her analytical skills can always go the extra mile to discover the truth about pieces of evidence. The person with whom she bonds had been a product designer and worked quietly in the background. Because her designs were a success, she was headhunted to manage the sales department. This is completely alien to her because not only does she have to manage the people in the department, but also deal with the pressure from the board of directors who want to see their products selling well. Rinko Tomoe does not believe she’s guilty of the murder but, when the evidence seems to suggest she’s guilty, both are in danger of collapse. It takes Kosaku Kirishima (Eichiro Funakoshi) to point out why the manager does have an alibi (a marginally credible psychological insight) and Rinko Tomoe disappears into the laboratory to come up with proof of innocence. Then it’s down to a list of people who bought wool of the right colour and the case is solved.

The team swing into action again

The team swing into action again

Episode 7 reminded me of an episode in The Mentalist where Jane finally finds someone in a wheelchair wearing shoes showing signs of wear. This plot is somewhat complicated but ends up working well as history catches up with two probable wrongdoers, one of whom somewhat inexplicably kills the other. Two factors make this shooting difficult to understand. First, it’s not at all clear how they came to meet and, second, it’s difficult to understand why one of the men should be wearing a wig and a woman’s red coat. As a result of a trick by Kosaku Kirishima, the killer is tempted back to the scene of the crime where he’s arrested. Once his identity is confirmed, a prosecutor who tried to get him convicted for murder about two years earlier comes back on to the scene and acts in a way that raises suspicions. In the end, Kosaku Kirishima gets the right answer and introduces a rather bitter sweet revelation that makes the sequence of events more tragic than we previously imagined. It’s one of these rather “nice” plots in which the manipulator does not so much plan the death as give the killer the chance to kill.

Episode 8 is advertised as a single story, but the reality has the two-hour time-slot occupied by two separate stories scripted to run consecutively, i.e. the couple walking away from the police station pass a man who’s found beaten and shot minutes later. In the first story, the decomposed body of a man is found in some woodlands. Forensic tests identify him as a freelance producer who used to work for a local radio station. Kosaku Kirishima quickly becomes interested in one of the presenters (Waka Inoue) who seems to have a fairly acute anxiety problem. He becomes determined to discover the trigger for the attacks. At first Mamoru Mikoshiba (Renn Kiriyama) suggests it’s the smell or taste of tea, but this fails to explain all the incidents. Eventually, the trigger is identified as Pachabel’s Canon in all its different versions, i.e. as the original and then as adapted to fit into contemporary music. She has a young man (Koen Kondo) trailing after her. He’s obviously besotted with her, but may either be a stalker or have some other agenda. It eventually proves to be an interesting example of a person who suffered a trauma and then found a way to suppress the horror she felt. When she begins to remember elements of that event, the reality is perhaps not quite what she reconstructs.

Tetta Sugimoto

Tetta Sugimoto

Tetta Sugimoto plays a profiler from Tokyo who’s called in to share the investigative lead when a police officer is attacked and his gun stolen. That gun is used to kill a man suspected of involvement in a robbery murder some sixteen years before. The three suspects are now immune from prosecution because of a statute of limitation. When the second man is also shot with the same gun, this confirms the motive as revenge. Although he’s not a suspect, Hidetoshi Sanada (Masahiro Takashima) was the investigating officer from sixteen years ago, so he’s all fired up to get to the truth. This rallies the troops and they all apply what they have been learning from Kosaku Kirishima to arrive at the solution. There’s some nice interchange between the team with the auxiliary officer also getting involved. In part, there’s an element of mockery as they pose and mirror Kosaku Kirishima’s mannerisms, but the underlying message is clear. Having begun as a disparate group of individual talents, they have no found a way of learning and working together. Although some of the mechanisms for showing the behavioral traits is heavy-handed, the overall impression of Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ is favourable. It may not be the best television police procedural mystery series, but it’s entertaining.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 1 and 2
Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 3 to 5

Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 3 to 5

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Episode 3 of Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) sees us viewing the body of a heart surgeon who has ended up dead at the bottom of a new steep flight of steps. When the body is examined, there’s evidence the man was tasered before he fell. This would suggest he was attacked at the top of the steps and fell down when the current struck him. Except there’s bruising to his chest which is not consistent with the fall. Curiously, the top button of his shirt is also missing and, despite a painstaking search, remains elusive. Kosaku Kirishima (Eichiro Funakoshi) is immediately interested in the gossip around the hospital and quickly discovered there was a move to close the A&E department. One of the stars of this department played by Yu Kamio had been vocal in defending the emergency services and is suspected. The hospital administrator is also hiding something, but it’s not clear what this is. Thanks to the persistence of Rinko Tomoe (Nene Otsuka) the shirt button is eventually discovered in a surprising place, while Mamoru Mikoshiba (Renn Kiriyama) uses his forensic skills, first to find a datastick belonging to the victim, and then to decode it. Then a man walks into the police station to confess to the murder which confuses everyone except Kosaku Kirishima. This episode is interesting on several levels. First it says interesting things about the politics within hospitals. Second it’s psychologically revealing about doctors who care a great deal about their patients and the reciprocal loyalties this inspires in the minds of the patients they save.

Yu Kamio

Yu Kamio

Episode 4 sees us investigating what may be a suicide involving a group of people that Hidetoshi Sanada used to consider friends back in college. This group had come together for a reunion celebration but, for some reason, had neglected to invite Hidetoshi Sanada (Masahiro Takashima). This strikes Kosaku Kirishima as strange. If the bond had stayed for twenty years between the others, why had the detective been excluded? This and the unnatural tidiness of the dead man’s house suggest the death may not be a suicide. The problem therefore is to decide which of the people attending this reunion might have had both motive and the opportunity to acquire the potassium cyanide used to cause death. One of the group is an engraver who might have had reason to use it when dealing with some metals. Although the explanation for how the death occurred makes perfect sense in retrospect, the episode slightly cheats because there’s no way we viewers could have known of the detail of the backstory. Since I tend to prefer episodes that give the viewer a fair chance to understand the basis of the crime as the facts emerge, this is a less successful plot. The main point of interest at the end is Kosaku Kirishima’s insistence on protecting Hidetoshi Sanada’s feelings. It’s quite painful for him to realise one or more of his friends might turn out to have feet of clay.

The team walk towards their next case

The team walk towards their next case

However, episode 5 recovers with a genuinely pleasing plot of twists and turns as we try to work out who killed the living legend potter and, in the process, apparently destroyed four very valuable antiques. This is not a robbery gone wrong because many of the other pieces of pottery remaining in the workshop were valuable and could have been removed for sale to dealers. So if robbery was not the motive, why would someone kill this old man who was showing increasingly severe signs of Alzheimer’s? There are two brothers and two apprentices, plus the housekeeper who were either in the house at the time or had the opportunity to enter the workshop at the rear without being observed. It actually gives the other team members a chance to shine. Rinko Tomoe invests the time and effort to reconstruct the smashed pottery, while Mamoru Mikoshiba is included in many of the interview scenes with Kosaku Kirishima and offers his interpretation of people’s behaviour to be measured against the expert’s opinion. In fact, our youngster does put his finger on one key event, but fails to draw the right inference. Nevertheless, he’s beginning to get on to the right wavelength. The answer is rather sad as it shows such serious lack of understanding within the family. This is not a problem particular to Japan, but it may be more serious in its impact because of the social practice of hiding emotion. If people were not so obsessed with the idea of avoiding any loss of face, they might remember the past accurately enough to understand why it’s important to maintain lines of communication. Thus, Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ continues the good standard of the first episodes and the team begins to blend together.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 1 and 2
Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 6 to 8

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd

August 7, 2014 2 comments

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd (the mother-and-son team) (William Morrow, 2014) is the sixteenth to feature the shell-shocked Inspector Ian Rutledge. This time, we’ve reached September 1920, and see our hero sent off into the Fen Country, a rather bleak but then quite beautiful part of the English countryside (it’s subsequently been rather spoiled by drainage to make the vast area of flatlands one of the most agriculturally productive parts of Britain). There have been two shootings. In the first, Captain Gordon Hutchinson was shot as he was about to attend a wedding in Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire. In the second, a local solicitor, Herbert Swift, had been persuaded to stand for a vacant parliamentary seat. As he was about to give a speech in one of the Fen villages, he too was shot. In both cases, this is a shot from a distance but there’s no evidence showing exactly where the shot was taken, nor is there any evidence of how the killer came and went. Whoever is responsible is meticulous in planning and expert when it comes to shooting. As a slight aside, history tells us there was a strong prejudice in the British army against the use of people we would call snipers. It was not considered gentlemanly to shoot one of the enemy from a concealed position and at a distance. This is not to say none of the men who went out to fight for the British were poor shots. Inevitably there were some who were expert marksmen but, if they were used as snipers, it was kept secret.

 

The local police are completely baffled. Although they have interviewed more than one-hundred people who were either outside the Cathedral or gathered in the square to hear the speech, there’s no information of any apparent value. Worse, there’s nothing to suggest the two men had ever met so there’s a real problem of motive. It’s at times like this that Chief Constables pick up the telephone and call Scotland Yard. This brings the lone figure of Rutledge into play, although he’s still haunted by the spirit of Hamish McLeod, the Scottish sergeant who was executed on the battlefield when he refused an order given by Rutledge. This gives our hero a heavy burden of guilt and the temptation of suicide is with him constantly.

Caroline and Charles Todd

 

The way in which the plot unwinds gives us a snapshot of the tragedy that hit the countryside after the end of the war. So many young men who left in such high spirits to fight the Hun either never returned or were so damaged, they were never good company. This left the farms desperately short of labour and the women coping on their own. It was a race against time as the older men kept things going until there were enough young men to take up the responsibility. All would have been well except for the arrival of the Second World War. Then the new recruits went off the war.

 

However, in 1920, the world was still running on the pre-war model of privilege and a servant class. Even the lower middle class often had at least one person to do the cooking and cleaning. Against this background, we have an insular village structure in which there’s little or no mobility between the communities although everyone still contrives to know everyone else’s business. Many of the families can trace their histories back several hundred years and, for better or worse, there have been many marriages to consolidate the ownership of properties and hold positions of authority. This is not to say all the births were legitimate. Sometimes people in loveless marriages or having recently lost a spouse, would drift into other relationships. Some of these children endured the badge of shame and lived their lives in the local communities. Others were spirited away or left when they were old enough.

 

Although it seems the killer is an expert marksman, the problem of motive requires Rutledge to explore the relationships of the people who have lived for generations in this fairly desolate area. Only when the connection between the two victims is uncovered can he begin to track who had the motive and opportunity. The result in this case is wonderfully ambiguous. Our tortured detective unearths two possible connections. This would give him one fairly obvious suspect, but right up to the end, he’s not certain. Indeed, it’s only when he comes closer to the solution that he realises he’s made a serious misjudgment. Fortunately, he’s been running the investigation without any active supervision, so he can carefully edit the facts presented to the local Chief Constable and the senior officer at Scotland Yard. In this instance, Hamish McLeod as his conscience would approve the decision to leave many of the sleeping dogs undisturbed.

 

In the immediate period after the Second World War, I knew men like Rutledge. Today we give this condition the slightly more grandiose label of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But no matter what the label, their psychological wounds were profound and disabling. It’s still relatively unusual to have a series character carrying such serious injuries. In this case, it’s not just the claustrophobia, but many different stimuli can send him into a distracted state (which is not a good idea if he’s driving at the time). Of course, his awareness of another person would mark him out as less than sane in modern terms. That he continues to function at a high level is a testament to his stubborn courage. Many weaker men would undoubtedly have committed suicide. What makes this case more challenging is the need to talk with many in the Fens who had been in the trenches. Meeting so many other wounded soldiers adds to the psychological pressure. Yet, for all his problems, he not only elicits new information from the communities, but is also able to draw inferences that had escaped the local police. It’s as a fine a piece of “follow the breadcrumbs” investigating as you could hope to find. Indeed, not only as a historical mystery but also as a puzzle to solve, Hunting Shadows is a particularly impressive book.

 

For the review of another book by Charles Todd see A Bitter Truth.

 

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

 

Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 1 and 2

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Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) brings us a new detective, Kosaku Kirishima (Eichiro Funakoshi), who worked as a doctor, but when a patient of his was charged with a crime, he felt powerless. This feeling grew worse when the patient committed suicide. A few days later, the patient was proved completely innocent. Our hero viewed the suicide as a personal failure. He resigned as a doctor and joined the police, hoping to prevent future miscarriages of justice. Deciding that an unconventional approach might sometimes be the right approach, the senior officers create a special investigation unit with two other people who have shown ability plus Hidetoshi Sanada (Masahiro Takashima) a relatively conventional officer to run the unit. Rinko Tomoe (Nene Otsuka) is poached from the crime scene/forensic science department, while Mamoru Mikoshiba (Renn Kiriyama) was an IT guy who changed careers.

The team considers the latest clue

The team considers the latest clue

The first episode is both an introduction to the key characters in the newly formed unit plus an engaging mystery. Our hero as a form of agent provocateur comes into the unit with the skills of a kinesiologist, i.e. he’s an expert in the scientific observation of human behaviour. We’re therefore to believe he can tell when someone is being less than truthful or use the interpretation of body language to say something about a person’s emotional state. The story begins with a man stalking and then making a feeble attempt to murder a relatively famous journalist played by Ken Yasuda. The attacker is wrestled to the ground by people in the area but the conventional police conclude this man’s life is in danger and try to persuade him to come under their protection. From the outset, Kosaku Kirishima assumes there’s something wrong about the set-up and, rather in the spirit of Columbo, sets out to provoke the journalist to get a measure of how he reacts in different situations. Needless to say, this comes as something of a shock to Hidetoshi Sanada who constantly finds himself wrong-footed by this maverick. But because he’s prepared to talk and, more importantly, listen to people, Kosaku Kirishima soon has interesting information to try to fit together. In fact, everything does come together rather nicely with Rinko Tomoe coming up with useful insights into where the body might have been before it was dumped, which helps expose a very nice piece of misdirection by the killer. This is beginning to establish the basis of a team and, perhaps against his better judgement, Hidetoshi Sanada agrees to accept the leadership of the unit.

Ken Yasuda

Ken Yasuda

The second episode is another of these mysteries where, once you know the answer, you berate yourself for not thinking of it. It’s so magnificently obvious once you know but masterfully hidden in plain sight from the opening scene onward. The set-up is easy to state. Four mothers have a very difficult relationship because of the difference in their son’s performance at the local kindergarten. On the relevant day, one child is celebrating a birthday so two of the other mothers come round for a party. Early the next morning, the body of the hostess is found dead on the roof of her apartment block. The neighbourhood is abuzz with rumours of a stalker wearing a black hoodie. Not surprisingly, the conventional police set off to identify this man who’s also thought to have been involved in an incident some two months earlier. Kosaku Kirishima can’t understand why the body was left on the roof. In due course, they discover enough evidence to show she was killed in her own apartment but an excellent cleaning job was done. Despite this, the conventional police continue their pursuit of a stalker (now assumed to have cleaning skills). Meanwhile, Kosaku Kirishima is focusing on the kindergarten and gossiping with all the mothers, even trapping Hidetoshi Sanada into paying for cake and coffee to loosen tongues at a local café. As the investigation proceeds, each of the three mothers is caught out in lies but none of them seem to have the opportunity to commit the murder. And there’s still the puzzle of why the body was moved from the apartment to the roof. When it comes, the answer is not unique to Japan but we’re shown different reactions to the problem from people living in this apartment block.

I just have one small niggle. Being brought up in England, I’m familiar with the hunting dog breed called a Pointer. As the name suggests, it’s trained to adopt a static pose pointing towards the desired prey. The human hunter waits with his gun as beaters move forward to startle the prey into the open. The director has Kosaku Kirishima adopt the Pointer approach to his potential prey. Every time he senses something not quite right, he freezes into immobility with his gaze locked on the human as the camera cuts away to shots of eyes looking away, lips thinning, hands being thrust into pockets, and feet shuffling uncomfortably. Hopefully, this heavy-handed signalling of behavioural analysis will become less clunky as the series progresses. As it stands. Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ makes a good start.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 3 to 5
Honboshi: Shinri Tokusou Jikenbo or ホンボシ (2011) Episodes 6 to 8

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