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Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino 東野 圭吾 (translated by Alexander O Smith)

January 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Salvation of a Saint low resolution image for identification only

There’s always a difference of emphasis between the written and visual forms of storytelling. An author relies on the reader to create the appropriate images in the mind as a response to processing the words. The director of a film or television episode shows the audience images as an integral part of the storytelling process. Indeed, in many important ways, the visual iconography is more important than the words the characters speak because we get to see the mis en scène, to judge the meaning of the various personal signifiers such as clothing, the presence or absence of visible tattoos, etc., and to observe the behavioural signals. When you put the complete communication package together, the visual medium allows the audience the best chance to judge the credibility of the creative process in bringing the story to the screen.

 

To understand the relevance of this introduction to Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino 東野 圭吾 (translated by Alexander O Smith) (Minotaur Books, 2012), we need to go back to Tantei Galileo (探偵ガリレオ) (1998) which first introduced Dr. Manabu Yukawa, the amateur detective, to the Japanese public. We now move forward to Yōgisha X no Kenshin (容疑者Xの献身) (2005) a novel which won both Japan’s Naoki Prize and Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize in 2005. It was duly translated and published as The Devotion of Suspect X (Minotaur Books, 2011) In 2007, the television series featuring the university professor often called in to advise the police (sadly only ten episodes in length) was aired as Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ. Switching back to the novel form, we have Seijo no Kyūsai (聖女の救済) published in 2008 and now published in America as Salvation of a Saint. The publication of the Japanese edition was timed to coincide with the launch of the film version of Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008). We now come up to date with the first chance to read the next exciting episode in the Galileo series.Keigo Higashino

 

To introduce the form of the books, The Devotion of Suspect X is an inverted crime story, i.e. we see the death in the first part of the book and are therefore focused on the way in which the “mastermind” constructs an alibi. It’s a remarkably inventive book and an even more powerful film. As to the puzzle of the alibi, I can’t recall reading or seeing this particular method of deflecting the police investigation before (although it’s quite common in forward planning a murder). In Salvation of a Saint, we come back to the conventional police procedural format. Shumpei Kusanagi and Kaoru Utsumi draw what could be a suicide case and, when it seems more likely to be a murder, they disagree on whether the deceased’s wife is the best murder suspect — one obvious alternate suspect is the deceased’s mistress. The problem for them to resolve is simple. Over the weekend when the death occurred, the wife was clearly in a completely different part of Japan. Given the number of witnesses who saw her during the time she spent away from home, it would be impossible for her to have returned to administer the poison. Kusanagi believes in the alibi as a complete defence. Utsumi is equally convinced that the wife killed her husband and manufactured the alibi. Unfortunately, she’s unable to explain how the poison appeared in the deceased’s coffee. That, of course, is where our good professor comes into play. He’s the one we all rely on to solve “impossible” crimes. Except this crime initially defeats him at a theoretical level. It’s only when he hears arguments from both detectives and then follows up on their independent lines of investigation that he begins to see how it might have been possible and who must therefore be guilty of the crime.

 

To make it clear, almost all the spade work is done by the two detectives and, despite his annoyance at Utsumi’s insistence her instinct is correct, it’s the behaviour of Kusanagi that ultimately proves decisive — albeit not quite in the way you might expect. This takes nothing away from the even-handed way in which Yukawa arbitrates between the two detectives. Once he understands the real nature of the problem, he has to see beyond his initial impression that this is a perfect crime without any evidence to show who did it, and provoke the two detectives into finding the right evidence of both motive and method. At this point, I’m going to admit complete astonishment at the brilliance of the solution. I’ve been reading mystery books for more than fifty years and I have never, repeat never, encountered anything quite like this before. It’s one of these jaw-dropping answers that, despite the obvious difficulty the murderer would have had in executing it, is nevertheless so credible given the characters of those involved. Keigo Higashino has done it again! This is quite simply a masterpiece of detective fiction. No matter what the format you choose to rely on, you should track down the television series which is good and the film which is outstanding. This just adds the cherry on the cake.

 

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

 

You may be interested to know that the book is also available as an audiobook from Macmillan Audio. You can listen to a clip if you click here.

 

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 — the adaptation of Salvation of a Saint
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)

 

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)

 

Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ

July 2, 2011 7 comments

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.

Fukuyama Masaharu as Galileo relies on diagrams to explain astral projection

 

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.

Shibasaki Kou as Kaoru Utsumi struggling to understand an autopsy result

 

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.

 

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