Friday, November 24, 2017

A Little Man With Enormous Moustaches

“There’s no doubt at all about what the man’s profession has been. He’s a retired hairdresser. Look at that moustache of his.” 
"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd"

The transformation from an image conjured up by a collection of words printed on paper to a fully realized visual image is always a perilous one. If you have a hundred persons reading the exact same description and ask them to visualize the contents for other people, you might still end up with a hundred different manifestations of what should be one and the same. This holds especially for adaptations of popular works, often ensuing in discussions on what actually defining characteristics actually are, and how free an adaptation (or interpretation) can be, and if one can argue that "the original work" might not always be the best base. Today, I wish to take a look at one of the most often adapted infamous beings from mystery fiction and look at the characteristics and merits of each interpretation. When I mention the name of mystery queen Agatha Christie, you'll probably instantly understand what I'm talking about. I'm naturally speaking of the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot....... 's moustaches.


Hercule Poirot's moustaches are an important presence in the stories featuring the Belgian detective, appearing in all the stories where he appears in to. Would Poirot be Poirot without his moustaches? Of course not. There's a reason why you thought of Poirot when you saw the image above. Had it been a hat or a walking stick, you would never had recognized it as a symbol for Poirot. It's thus not an exaggeration to pose that Poirot only exists in our minds as a character because of his moustaches. The moustaches don't exist for Poirot, Poirot exists for the moustaches.

While often interrupted by long segments with a mystery plot, the stories by Agatha Christie about Poirot's moustaches do manage to portray a lively image of them. They have been described as "magnificent" (Double Sin),  "suspiciously black" (Appointment with Death) and "stiff and military" (The Mysterious Affair at Styles). A certain expert on moustaches from Belgian has been known to say that "nowhere in London have I observed anything to compare with them" in regards to the entity known as Poirot's moustaches. While Poirot's moustaches are already grand on their own, time is of course invested in them to keep them in tip-top shape. It's been said that the only thing about his own appearance that pleased Hercule Poirot was "the profusion of his moustaches, and the way they responded to grooming and treatment and trimming" (Hallowe'en Party). Poirot's moustaches don't do well in warmer climates however, as the heat makes them go limp (The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb).

As one of the most popular of Christie's creations, Poirot's moustaches have been adapted for both the silver and the smaller screen back home countless of times, each interpretation bringing something new on the table. In this humble monograph I will not attempt to do a comprehensive write-up on the moustaches, but only examine a selection of those adaptations, mostly the ones I myself am most familiar with.

Murder On The Orient Express (Film, 1974, on the face of Albert Finney)


The moustaches in the 1974 theatrical adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express are indeed magnificent: the profusion is unmistakenly there, especially between the nose and mouth, but notice how meticulously trimmed it is: the moustaches form a triangle, but the ends curl upwards to give it a playful look and to soften the facial characteristics of the man behind them. The moustaches are also undeniably suspiciously black.

Death On The Nile (Film, 1978, on the face of Peter Ustinov)


The moustaches in Death on the Nile however are not suspiciously black, and not even unsuspiciously black. One could argue that it wouldn't make sense for Ustinov to have black moustaches considering his cranial hair, but this does raise questions of what should be considered more important in an adaptation. Compared to the moustaches in Murder on the Orient Express, the Nile moustaches also lack the energy: look at how thinly grown it is beneath the nose. Is it a magnificent moustache? While there's certainly length, and the playful curls at the ends do add some character, one can only say that these moustaches are far less impressive than the 1974 ones.

Agatha Christie's Poirot (TV, 1989-2013, on the face of David Suchet)


David Suchet had the honor of being the vessel of Poirot moustaches for the longest period of any of its interpreters and that allowed for something not possible in earlier adaptations: change throughout time. Early on in this series, Poirot's moustaches were, while not as rich as in the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express moustaches, quite splendid: they were full, black and featured a more pronounced curl at the ends. I described the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express moustaches as a triangle, but here we have moustaches that feature nicely rounded curves that emphasize how well trimmed it is. The moustaches were often revised in later seasons: by the time of the last season, Poirot's moustaches were similar in volume like in earlier seasons, but the energy, the vigor had made way for fatigue, as the curls had all but straigthened out.

Murder On The Orient Express (TV, 2001, on the face of Alfred Molina)


They are black, yes, but obviously, these moustaches lack the strength of the 1974 editions, as well as those from Agatha Christie's Poirot. They look like they were only grown a few weeks ago and certainly don't show signs of having been groomed and trimmed, and don't even invoke the grandeur that Poirot's moustaches must have. No criminal would fear these. 

Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple (TV, 2004)


In the Japanese animated series Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple, we have a set of moustaches that are magnificent. Look at how richly grown it is, that's almost two fingers thick, enough to cover his mouth completely. Yet it is not only volume: notice how the curl up at the ends actually turn inwards. The 1974 edition only managed to curl outwards, while the moustaches in the early seasons of Agatha Christie's Poirot pointed straight upwards, but the moustaches in this series have enough density and volume to manage a curl inwards!

Murder on the Orient Express (PC videogame, 2006)


In this PC videogame adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, David Suchet was once again allowed to portray the vessel of Poirot's moustaches as Poirot's voice actor, and one can see that the moustaches here are quite similar to the early ones from Agatha Christie's Poirot. The curl up and the volume is quite similar to the TV series, while the distinct triangle form is reminicent of the 1974 theatrical adaptation of the famous moustaches.

Orient Kyuukou Satsujin Jiken (TV, 2015, on the face of NOMURA Mansai)


While the setting was relocated to Japan and the names of all the characters were changed, this two-part special is in fact both a faithful, and radically original adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, and it doesn't take a genius detective to recognize that Suguro Takeru's moustaches are in fact Poirot's moustaches. While a bit thin at the center, Suguro's moustaches have a refined look, emphasized by the distinct "W" form of it, different from the earlier triangle or horizontal line with curling ends forms. The ends are this time also exceptionally long, again showing off how much work such a moustache needs.

Murder On The Orient Express (Film, 2017, on the face of Kenneth Branagh)


The 2017 theatrical adaptation of Poirot's moustaches is by no means black, but it is definitely magnificent. "Stiff and militairy" they are not, as the volume is almost threatening: most of the other moustache adaptations mentioned earlier would fit two or three times in it! In fact, these are the only moustaches that actually go around to the sides of the face, in a distinct "WW" (double W) form. The almost grotesque form however becomes less pronounced once you actually see it in motion, probably because it is in fact basically a cartoon moustache. Character designs in animation often cheat by making certain characteristics always visible on the design no matter the camera angle, for example a standing pluck of hair that is always seen on the right side of a character no matter where the camera is. The 2017 moustaches follow the same principle: because the moustaches are so absurd long with a double W form, you'll see "W"-shaped moustaches from basically any angle besides from the back. It makes the moustaches ever present.

This monograph on moustaches has gone on for long enough, so I will end my admittedly incomplete examination here for the moment. The goal of this study was to indicate a preliminary selection of adaptations of Poirot's moustaches, and there is still much room for further research, for example in regards to the two videogame adaptations of The ABC Murders. Admirers of the moustaches are welcome to comment on their favorite interpretation of Poirot's moustaches in the comments below. Merci.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Bitter End

「事件の謎は、この舌が味わった!」
『神の舌を持つ男』

"I got a taste of this case's mystery!"
"The Man With the Tongue of God"

The best detective series about food that I know is still Kuitan. The comic, mind you, not the TV drama.

Tomonaga Ranmaru is known as the Man With the Tongue of God, as he can recognize any taste, and even analyze what's inside anything he licks. His gift is also his curse, as he can't even kiss a woman without the kiss turning into a cold breakdown of chemicals because of his taste buds. Ranmaru arrives one day in the remote village of Houzuki, where he falls in love with the local doctor. He decides to stay in the village, working as a masseur in the local inn, when his old companions finally trace him there The reunion is however not only with friends, but also with death, as once again, Ranmaru and his companions find themselves facing a mysterious murder. As Ranmaru's made a name for himself solving mysterious murders using his Tongue of God, he's asked to solve the murder on a local young man, whose body had been hidden inside a sink hole that recently appeared. Meanwhile, the local elderly are crying something about an ancient curse that is haunting the village, and they are blaming Ranmaru for the death. Can Ranmaru find out what's behind all this in the 2016 film Ranmaru Kami no Shita wo Motsu Otoko Sakagura Wakadanna Kaishi Jiken no Kage ni Hisomu Texas Otoko to Bohemian Okami, Soshite Bijin Muraisha wo Oitsumeru Nazo no Kagome Kagome Rouba Gundan To Sankenja no Mura no Noroi Ni 2 Sas Mania with Miyaken to Goddotan, Beroncho Adventure! Ryaku Shite... Ranmaru wa Nido Shinu. Houziki Death Road Hen ("Ranmaru - The Man With the Tongue of God - The Texas Man and The Bohemian Inn Hostess Lurking In The Shadows Behind The Mysterious Death Of The Young Sake Brewer, And The Army of Old Kagome-Kagome Women Who Are After The Beautiful Village Doctor, and The Village Curse Of The Three Sages, and A Two-Hour Suspense Drama, WITH Miyazaki Kenji and God Tongue, A Licking Adventure! In Short: Ranmaru Will Die Twice. Houzuki Death Road Chapter").

But the film is usually called Ranmaru. And you may have guessed from the title, but this is a comedy (parody) detective film.


Kami no Shita wo Motsu Otoko ("The Man With The Tongue of God") was a 2016 TV drama that I have not seen, though there were some names in the production team that caught my attention back then. First of all, the screenplay of the show was written by Sakurai Takeharu, who also wrote the screenplays for the films Kirin no Tsubasa and Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney, as well as for the Detective Conan films Private Eye in the Distant Sea, Sunflowers of Inferno and The Darkest Nightmare. Meanwhile, Tsutsumi Yukihiko signed for the direction of the show, and we know him as the brilliant mind behind the greatest Japanese comedy-mystery show, Trick (and he also did the first TV drama adaptation of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, as well as Keizoku among others). From some short trailers I saw, I gathered Kami no Shita wo Motsu Otoko was very much made in the spirit of Trick, so I was certainly curious to the series, but I never got around to it. The 2016 film Ranmaru is set after the series, but it conveniently starts with a five-minute recap of the series.

And... it's pretty bad. Perhaps it's because I didn't watch the series, but this film felt like nothing more but an inferior version of Trick. Everything is ripped from that series, only it's not performed as well. Tsutsumi Yukihiko's distinctive style of directing can be felt throughout, from the quick cuts to the snappy dialogue and non-secutor jokes, but it all feels... so forced in comparison to Trick. The main setting of the story for example (small village in the middle-of-nowhere, ancient village curse), with the villagers speaking with a thick accent: it's something we've seen this countless of times in Trick. The comedy too is almost cowardly compared to the bizarre comedy of Trick, as Ranmaru relies much more on actual pop culture references, and most of the time they make it a point to make sure the viewer got it. By pointing it out. Once or twice. Just to be sure. Which becomes very tedious after the first two times. There's a running joke for example about the characters recognizing that Ranmaru is dressed as Kindaichi Kousuke, but can't recall the name, so they cry out "That's Kin...Kin...Kin....." Which is kinda overkill if the joke's just that he's dressed as Kindaichi. Compare to Trick Special 3, which was completely a parody on Inugamike no Ichizoku, but without actually crying the name out to show how "subtle" the reference was.


And this could be forgiven if the core mystery plot was good, but man, I've seldom seen a full-length mystery film with such a horrible plot! The one murder that happens in the whole story is so boring it doesn't manage to carry the whole film (the death just isn't interesting enough), and the way the murderer is revealed is utterly ridiculous and lazy, as the murderer basically left their calling card, complete with name and telephone number, at the scene of the crime, with the direction making sure the viewer absolutely caught that. Now I think about it, it's precisely the same as how the jokes go in this film. It assumes the viewer can't figure anything out on their own, so every joke and clue is horribly obvious, and they still dwell on it for ages. The gimmick of Ranmaru being able to taste and recognize everything is also rendered completely irrelevant because of the clue, as taste has absolutely nothing to do with it!

While the Trick films might not have been super-complex mystery films, they were always entertaining from start to finish, with multiple smaller, simple mysteries to solve, that eventually chained into one longer story. The Columbo method, in essence. But there's only one driving mystery in Ranmaru, and it's a bad one too, so the whole film collapses because of that. And one could argue that as it's more meant to be a comedy/parody film, the mystery plot doesn't need to be that strong, but the problem is that the comedy elements of Ranmaru are also pretty disappointing.

So yeah, Ranmaru was a pretty disappointing mystery film considering the main production staff members. I had expected more of it as a comedy film, and more of it as a mystery film. It's not good at either of those genres, and it undermines its own premise by doing next to doing with the taste-gimmick. Avoid at all costs.

Original Japanese title(s): 『RANMARU 神の舌を持つ男 酒蔵若旦那怪死事件の影に潜むテキサス男とボヘミアン女将、そして美人村医者を追い詰める謎のかごめかごめ老婆軍団と三賢者の村の呪いに2サスマニアwithミヤケンとゴッドタン、ベロンチョアドベンチャー! 略して…蘭丸は二度死ぬ。鬼灯デスロード編』

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Mourning Locomotive

"My name is Hercule Poirot, and I am probably the greatest detective in the world."
"Murder on the Orient Express

A lot of the media we consume nowadays is an adaptation of some other work. I myself don't consider that a problem by the way. It has happened often that I read/watch/listen to an adaptation of a work I might not have consumed otherwise. It might be very difficult to procure the original work for example, or perhaps the format of the adaptation is much better accessible (for example, one film of two hours as opposed to having to read a six-hour novel). And sometimes, your initial interest in an adaptation was only piqued because of a certain name involved with the project, for example an actor. And while I certainly don't deny there are err... less optimal adaptations out there, I do think that the change in medium and format can often add new, surprising dimensions to a work. I don't often watch the Detective Conan animated TV series for example, because I prefer the pacing and artwork of the original comic, but some scenes definitely become much more engaging with the awesome voice-acting of the series.

The first time I ever experienced Agatha Christie's famous mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express (1934) was with the 1974 theatrical adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet. I don't remember how old I was (I was quite young), but the film was on the television on a holiday afternoon, and I think I only started watching halfway through, but it really got me. I was already aware of Christie's egg-shaped detective Poirot through the TV series starring David Suchet, and it took some time for me to realize that the character Albert Finney was in fact the same Poirot, but by the time the denouement had started, I felt the the same wonder of surprise I felt when watching the Poirot TV series. I absolutely loved the whole setting, from its wonderfully diverse cast to the romantic, yet claustrophobic setting of a luxury train stranded in the snow and of course a classic Christie solution. Yes, the solution might be a bit too well known these days, but the way the story slowly plays with reader expectations as it moves towards the conclusion and the way the various characters play foil to each other is fantastic.

I have afterwards also read the original book, but have always kept a weak spot for the 1974 film as it really visualizes the grandeur of the setting really well and I love the denouement scene, which in my opinion has more drive, more energy than the original novel as Poirot reveals truth upon truth. Murder on the Orient Express might also be the work I've consumed the most adaptations of. The BBC Radio audio drama adaptation for example is a fantastic adaptation that is quite faithful to the original novel. I was quite disappointed in the adaptation for the Poirot TV series in 2010. While it definitely managed to set itself apart from the 1974 adaptation by focusing on Poirot's internal turmoil on the issue if murderering the victim, a ruthless child murderer, was a sinful crime or not, but it went way too far into the darkness for my taste. The Japanese 2015 adaptation for TV directed by Mitani Kouki consisted of two episodes. The first episode was entertaining, but far too close to the 1974 film. The second episode however did something that had not been done before: it was an inverted mystery story, which told how the murder on the Orient Express was planned and eventually executed. This second episode suited Mitani's style much better, as he mostly specializes in comedies about "backstage" settings (Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald for example is about the antics going on during the live performance of a certain radio drama, while The Uchoten Hotel is about the most chaotic night ever at a hotel). This adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express was not perfect perhaps, but definitely worth a watch and an exciting adaptation that truly added something new.

To be honest, I was not very enthusiastic when I first heard that 2017 would bring us a new theatrical adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. Recent adaptations of Agatha Christie's work were a bit of a hit or miss for me (And Then There Were None was a hit, Partners in Crime a miss) and I had already consumed so many adaptations of this story, could this new film directed by Kenneth Branagh actually bring something new to the table? In any case, there was a star-stud cast on board (of which Judi Dench definitely interested me the most), and it appeared to be a fairly faithful adaptation, in the sense that it would actually take place in the past, and not in contemporary times or the future. So I decided to bite the bullet, and watch it. For those not familiar with the story in any form (why have you have read until this point?): the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is travelling back from Istanbul to Calais with the luxury train the Orient Express. On the second night one of his fellow passengers on the Calais Coach, a Mr. Ratchett, is horribly stabbed to death. It just so happens that the train stranded in the snow that same night and because all the coaches are kept locked in the night, the murderer must still be present in the Calais Coach, and Mr. Bouc, a director of the Wagon Lit and friend of Poirot, implores Poirot to figure out who of the remaining passengers on the Calais Coach is the murderer before the train is rescued and the police arrives.

As I said, my expectations were not very high, but I have to admit, I enjoyed this film more than I had expected. The first and most important thought on my mind was of course, can this adaptation bring something new, or at least something to set it apart from the other adaptations? And I think it does. First of all, it manages to find itself a nice spot right between the at times far too glamorous and lighthearted 1974 adaptation, and the into-the-depths-of-my-soul darkness of the 2010 Suchet TV adaptation. While I love the comedy of the 1974 film, and I think it also fits the atmosphere of the tale because many characters in the cast play off well against each other, I think the 2017 film manages to bring more gravitas to the story, without going overboard like the 2010 TV edition. The victim Ratchett is soon revealed as a horrible murderer himself, and while the 1974 film ends with basically a dinner party celebrating the man's death, the 2010 TV edition focuses extremely on Poirot's internal struggle on whether he himself should condemn the person who killed someone who is perhaps better of dead. The 2017 film focuses more on the effects the evil deeds of Ratchett had upon others, and it allows this film to actually address similar issues like the 2010 TV adaptation did, but without sounding too high-handed.


The 2017 film also does a good job at presenting the viewer with diversity to the eye. An often heard critique on the original story is that most of it consists of dry interviews by Poirot with the many, many suspects, so you get a long line of scenes of people telling their stories inside a small train. The 2017 film at least attempts to bring more variety, by changing up the background scenery of the scenes (one of the interviews is done outside the train for example) evey time, and through the streamlining of some of the interview scenes (the jumping might perhaps make the story slightly harder to grasp for someone not familiar with the original though). Poirot also makes some wild accusations at his suspects to rile them up, leading to a few early confrontation scenes that are not present in the original story, again to make the long middle part more exciting to watch. The effect of this is debatable: I actually think the denouement of this 2017 adaptation misses a bit of the energy the 1974 film had, because the revelations were more end-loaded there, resulting in a more impressive denouement scene, whereas in the 2017 film, it's fairly short and depends less on the mystery-solving, but other elements like visual allusions. This film is also interestingly not particularly gory or yelling bloody murder. In fact, you don't even get a good look at the body when it is first discovered, and even in the denouement scene, you don't really get a good look at how the actual stabbing of the victim is done. Despite the word murder in the title, the actual death of Ratchett is really not the focal point of the story, but into the effect he had on other people while in life.

Those who have seen the trailer, might also have noticed a few scenes that might appear like *gasp* action scenes. Poirot is certainly not a fighting Sherlock Holmes like Robert Downey Jr. portrayed the great detective, and the scenes in this film that actually involve people running or doing even something remotely strenous amount to perhaps to three, four minutes in total, but still it's weird to see Poirot in action scenes. Poirot is not portrayed even remotely as an action hero, mind you, but even the little things he does here feel a bit weird. Ah well, perhaps this is a slightly younger Poirot who still has some of the old policeman in him. And obviously, these "action scenes" are again to shake things up a bit in the middle part. Poirot himself works really well on the screen by the way, he's the compassionate seeker of truth and champion of justice you know from the books and other adaptations, and also has the streak of mischief and eccentricity that belongs to him.


I have no principal objections against changes when adapting a work, and you really have to go against what I think is the spirit of the original work before you hear me really complain. The Japanese 2015 adaptation was set in Japan for example, but still worked as the characters were still loyal to their original counterparts. That the Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson is changed to a Latina missionary because she's played by Penélope Cruz in this film doesn't really bother me for example, especially not because her new name is actually borrowed from another Poirot story. A few new red herrings work out quite well too. Other changes are less troublesome, I think though. The characters of Doctor Constantine and Colonel Arbuthnot are merged in this film for example, but that doesn't work for me: Doctor Constantine was needed in the original story to give independent insight into the time of murder, because he could not have committed the murder. In the 2017 film, it's Dr. Arbuthnot who examines Ratchett even though he himself is one of the suspects, so that affects the strength of his testimony. The biggest problem however occurs during the denouement, when the murderer confesses to the crime and explains how it was commited from their point of view. I might've missed a line of dialogue somewhere, or perhaps the editing was not optimal, but the presentation at the very least made it seem like the order of certain events had been swapped in this film, which however renders most of the actions taken by the murderer quite meaningless! They were done for a certain reason in the original story, and all the other adaptations I know stuck to that, but by changing that detail, the reason for doing all those actions disappears, so it makes you wonder why those actions were taken anyway in this film. Perhaps I just missed a line though, and it's all my mistake (which I hope, as it'd be a rather big mistake in the plot).

Spoilers for Murder on the Orient Express (original novel and 2017 film) (Select to read):
In the 2017 film, it appeared like Linda Arden called for Michel and spoke French to him from Ratchett's compartment after they had killed him. In the original story however, that line was only spoken to fool Poirot into thinking Ratchett had already been dead by that time (as Ratchett couldn't speak French), which was during a period when everyone in the Calais Coach had an alibi. In truth Ratchett was murdered long after that line was spoken, when nobody had an alibi. In the 2017 film however, it appears the crime was committed in the wrong time period.
End Spoilers


Oh, and something on Poirot's mustache in this film. It looks ridiculous, almost grotesque, but it's surprisingly not really distracting or even that present once the film gets going. What bothered me was the inconsistency in how they treated in the film however. Why would Poirot put on a mustache-cover when he sleeps one night, but not the other?

Some final thoughts. I think this 2017 adaptation works despite, or perhaps because of some of its idiosyncrasies. It feels unique enough an adaptation of a work that has been adapted many times and I think it will also be an entertaining view for people not familiar with the original story, or even Poirot himself. The film ends with a reference to another famous Poirot novel, that might or might not be adapted at some time I guess, though my personal recommendation would be The Big Four. Oh man, a straight adaptation of The Big Four would be a hoot, and also have enough action, plot twist and charismatic characters to suit a theatrical release, and I think this Poirot, as played by Kenneth Branagh, would actually be able to fit that story.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Foul Play in Funland

やさしい音色に
まばゆい光
心ん中に秘められた
愛しい人は目の前で笑う
確かなmarionette fantasia
「Marionette Fantasia」(Garnet Crow)

A gentle sound
And a blinding light
And hiding within the depths of my heart
A loved one is smiling in front of me
Truly a marionette fantasia
"Marionette Fantasia" (Garnet Crow)


I find dolls, or human-like puppets, incredibly creepy, to be honest. Just like clowns. There's probably a perfectly sound psychological reason for that, something to do with deformed human characteristics or something like that, but all I know is I think they really really creepy.

After giving up on a career in boxing, young Katsu Toshio is forced to find another way to earn his living, and he decides to answer to a job advertisement of the Udai Economic Research Group. He is surprised to learn that the Udai Economic Research Group is in fact an one-woman detective agency, specialized in performing financial background checks on businesses. Udai Maiko hires Toshio on the spot, and drags him along to help with a little private side-job she was offered by a previous client. Mawari Tomohiro, production chief of his family's toy firm, wants Maiko to tail his wife for a day and Maiko and Toshio do find evidence of her infidelity. The duo shadow both husband and wife at the end of the day, hoping to get a chance to speak with the husband, but they all get caught up in a freak car accident, in which Tomohiro dies. Toshio manages to save the wife Masao, but tragedy seldom travels alone, and it's only a few days after Tomohiro's accident when their two-year old child also dies because of an accident. While at first this seems just like a very unfortunate series of events, a visit to the Screw Mansion inhabitated by the main Miwari family (Tomohiro's uncle and cousins) also ends with a death in the family, and one that is surely not accidental. What is lurking behind all these deaths in Awasaka Tsumao's Midare Karakuri ("A Clockwork Gone Wrong, 1977)?

Awasaka Tsumao (1933-2009) was one of the best known Japanese mystery writers in his lifetime. He was also a gifted stage magician, and he used his knowledge of both stage magic, and the art of misdirection to create fantastic mystery stories, like the Father Brown-esque impossible gems in the A Aiichirou series, or stories that were about all about magicians like 11 Mai no Trump. Midare Karakuri might not be about stage magic, but the work (his second novel) is considered to be one of Awasaka's best novels. It also carries the English title Dancing Gimmicks.

In my review of 11 Mai no Trump, I praised how the story incorporated stage illusions in the mystery plot: Awasaka was obviously very knowledgeable on the topic, but he made it accessible to the reader, and mixed the theme in a meaningful matter with the core detective plot. Midare Karakuri too focuses completely on one single topic: karakuri toys, or toys with "gimmicks" or "gadgets". The mysterious deaths of the members of the Mawari family, and the history behind their toy firm, is richly decorated with a lot of talk about toys, especially toys with some kind of mechanism inside of them. Mechanized toys have a long history in Japan: the Edo period for example was a flourishing time for karakuri puppets, highly sophisticated automatons which could serve tea or play an instrument. "Modern" toys for children are actually simply an evolution of those toys which were once meant for adults. Several characters hold fairly detailed "lectures" on the topic of pre-modern karakuri puppets, which can be very interesting and educating, but I can't deny that these segments also feel like huge info-dumps, which take you out of the story. Lecturing was also present in 11 Mai no Trump up to a point, but it never felt so outright back-to-school like in Midare Karakuri. The story also features other forms of "gimmick entertainment", like a gigantic garden maze inspired by Hampton Court Maze, and muses a bit on the topic of mazes and labyrinths too.

The mystery plot starts off very slow and especially the first half felt very directionless. Some deaths do occur in that first half, but they are not considered murder per se in the narrative, so most of the story up to that point is about Maiko and Toshio just poking around, talking a lot about toys. The characters are interesting, and I think Maiko as an overweight ex-policewoman running a shady detective agency was a great character (I even think this is the first time I've seen a strong female main character in Awasaka's stories). But still, the story takes a long time to arrive at the point of an actual investigation into a murder, and into a more pro-active stance towards detecting. In a way, Midare Karakuri reads more like a light detective series, with a male/female duo as the protagonists (and a minor, and somewhat melodramatic romance subplot between Toshio and one of the suspects) for most of the book. Preferences differ, but compared to the grand box of magic tricks that was 11 Mai no Trump, Midare Karakuri feels a bit "light" and less impressive on the whole. The comedic tone is strangely enough not as pronounced as in Awasaka's other works. There's still some comedic chattering going on at times between Maiko and Toshio, but it never reaches full total chaos like in 11 Mai no Trump or the slapstick-esque situations of the A Aiichirou series.

Most of the individual deaths in Midare Karakuri aren't that impressive on their own, but they do string together into a fairly entertaining mystery tale. I think the murderer is rather easy to guess, especially as pretty much everyone is dead near the end of the story, but the whole set-up works great with the theme of the book. There's a minor, simple dying message around halfway in the story, but I think one late murder is very impressive as an impossible poisoning trick: all the capsules in the victim's bottle of medicine had been swapped for poisonous ones, which means the pills could only've been swapped on the day the victim took the pills, but they couldn't have been swapped then, as he was on his guard the whole day because of the other deaths. The solution is ingeniously simple and brilliant, and this part is probably the best part of the mystery plot. It's truly a trick that a magician would think of, I think.

So I'd rank Midare Karakuri, as Awasaka's second novel, not as high as his first novel, but it's still a good, entertaining mystery novel. It can feel a bit slow early on, with a few longwinded lectures on karakuri puppets and a somewhat meandering plot, but the overall mystery plot is solid, even if a bit simple, and the impossible poisoning deserving a special mention as an ingenous piece of misdirection.

Original Japanese title(s): 泡坂妻夫 『乱れからくり』

Friday, November 10, 2017

Distant Memory

Oh no, not me
 I never lost control 
You're face to face 
With the man who sold the world 
"The Man Who Sold The World" (David Bowie)

The longer a book remains in my backlog of unread books, the less likely I'm going to read it, to be honest. Books don't move up the figurative pile based on how long they've been there, but are more likely to remain in the lower regions, as I tend to favor the books that have arrived more recently. This pile never shrinks by the way, so books which fall down to the lower regions remain there, without any hope of making their way to the top. The only way out of this limbo is a whim, when I suddenly decide to read that book for one reason or another even though it's been here for quite some while.

Not remembering what happened exactly last night isn't exactly a rare occasion for most people, but losing six years worth of memories is of course a tad extreme. The last memories Sergeant Hui Yau-Yat of the Hong Kong Police Force has are those of him investigating a brutal murder on a married couple (and unborn child) inside the Dungsing Building in 2003, but the following day, he wakes up with a splitting headache in his car and after he arrives at his work, he realizes it's now suddenly the year 2009. He has no recollection of anything that has happened in those six years, which makes the visit of a female reporter working on a story on the 2003 Dungsing Building Murder Case the more surprising. He learns from the newspaper clippings she brought that the Dungsing Building Murder Case had a tragic ending a few weeks after his last memory, with the main suspect dying in a horrible traffic accident they themselves caused while on the run, and the reporter wants to write an article on what happened after the case ended with the people involved, starting with Sergeant Hui as one of the detectives on the case. While his amnesia is definitely a problem, the detective feels the Dungsing Building Murder Case needs to be investigated at once, especially as he vividly remembers that he was the only one who thought they were in fact on the wrong trail, and that somebody else had committed the murders. The detective and reporter thus dig in the old Dungsing Building Murder Case while also looking for an explanation for his six-year blank in Chan Ho-Kei's Yíwàng, Xíngjǐng (2011), which also carries the English subtitle The Man Who Sold The World.

Chan Ho-Kei (also known as Simon Chan) is a mystery/science fiction novelist from Hong Kong who lives and publishes his work in Taiwan. His 2015 mystery novel 13.67 gathered much critical acclaim, and is available in English as The Borrowed, and in some European countries as Hongkong Noir (don't you just love it when they come up with so many variations on the title?). The book was recently published in Japanese and gathered a lot of praise there too, also from some major figures in the Japanese myster fictoin industry. All the commotion reminded me I had a book of him lying around too. The Man Who Sold The World was the winner of the second Soji Shimada Mystery Award, a Taiwanese award which involves international publication deals and as I can't read Chinese, I read the Japanese translation Sekai wo Utta Otoko (The Man Who Sold The World), which was published in 2012. The third Award was won by Hú Jié's Wǒ Shi Mànhuà Dàwáng by the way.

Amnesia is of course one of the most overused tropes in mystery fiction. It is an easy way to add suspense and mystery to a story, and a character. It's a way to add an internal conflict (or confusion) to a character, especially if, and this is usually the way the trope is used, the character suffering from amnesia is in fact connected in one way or another to the case at hand and their memories are of crucial importance to solving the whole problem. As the amnesia is involuntary, the character thought to be in possession of important information can't give them even if they wanted. But the many variations on the plot device are rather easily recognizable as they are simply so incredibly common, so it's quite difficult to really surprise the reader using the amnesia device.

The Man Who Sold The World obviously doesn't use the amnesia trope just for fun, so yes, it is involved with the main mystery plot, but the precise manner is sadly enough telegraphed very obviously, and as such, its execution falls a bit flat. To be completely honest, it's perfectly well-clewed and set-up, but the effect the novel apparently wants it have on the reader is not nearly as strong as intended. Mind you, I don't think a puzzle being easily solvable is a bad thing on its own. One of the most educative "Aha" moments I had with mystery fiction was with a short mystery story where the intention behind several elements were quite clear to the readers from the start (Don't worry, I can guarantee almost nobody read this story and never will). For example, the author wanted the reader to pick up that the murderer was lefthanded, and that they used a particular hallway to get to the crime scene. And it was clear that the dinner scene and the commotion about the watches was to show which of the characters was lefthanded. But I, and the other readers, still had fun with the story as while the intention of many elements were clear, we still had to puzzle around a bit as we needed to hunt for the elements we knew we needed. The puzzle wasn't just about who was lefthanded and who could've passed through the hallway, there were several characteristics the murderer must have, and the reader had to look very carefully in the text to see which character fitted all those characteristics, gathering several clues that were simple enough on their own, but made more complex due to how they interconnected. In The Man Who Sold The World however, the function of almost everything is to serve single one point, which makes it less satisfying as you either see it or not, and the execution is not bad, but certainly not astonishing. 

The solution to the Dungsing Building Murder Case is similarly executed in an admittedly very able, but still not terribly exciting manner. Describing the structuring, and clewing in The Man Who Sold The World as utilitarian might be going too far, especially as the narrative on its own is thrilling enough to keep the reader hooked, but I would've appreciated a bit more playfulness in terms of clewing, just to keep the reader on their toes better. For now, most of the clues connect too directly to their destination, and you don't really need to puzzle with several pieces to arrive at the solution.
 

Some might be interested in Hong Kong as a setting for a mystery story, as it's definitely not a common place to see. I am not entirely unfamiliar with Hong Kong, but I am not terribly familiar with the place either, but I thought its portroyal in The Man Who Sold The World interesting enough. It's definitely not alienating for the reader who has never been to Hong Kong, but you'll pick up little things here and there, like the food they eat in restaurants. I gather that the location is better portrayed in Chan's 13.67/The Borrowed/Hongkong Noir, as it's divided in various short stories spanning a longer period of time.

The Man Who Sold The World was in my eyes a decently written mystery novel, that however does lack a bit of oomph. The clewing is perhaps a bit too straightforward, which becomes all the more apparent as the core mystery plot, of the murder in the Dungsing Building, is rather small in scale, which makes the connections between clue and conclusion too transparent. I sadly didn't find out why Chan's other novel is so well received in this particular novel, though I still plan to read that one sooner or later.

Original Taiwanese title: "遺忘・刑警 - The Man Who Sold The World"

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Double Death

ざわめき Cry 大空へ飛び立つように時を通り抜ける
哀しい位ささやか 淡い記憶 やさしくそそぐ光
「Nostalgia」(Garnet Crow)

Noisy cry / Jump in the blue sky like you're passing through time
A memory so faint and small it's sad / The light gently pouring in
"Nostalgia" (Garnet Crow)

Every year, I try to return to Fukuoka, even if it's only a fictional version...

The dead man and woman lying on the beach of Kashiihama in Fukuoka seemed like a clear-cut case for the local police at first sight. Considering how neatly they were lying next to each other, a double suicide seemed like a reasonable conclusion. However, the deceased man was a ministry official who been the target of a large-scale corruption investigation back in the capital Tokyo, and fact is that his superiors can breathe a lot easier now they know he's dead and can't talk anymore. Detective Mihara of the Metropolis Police Department can't believe the man committed suicide and suspects someone set him as a scapegoat, while detective Torigai of the Fukuoka police too suspects the apparant love suicide might hide something more sinister. The trail eventually leads to a certain suspect, but there is one major problem: the suspect must have been in Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu on the night of the double suicide, but he has an iron-clad alibi that puts him all the way in the northen outskirts of the country, in Hokkaido that night! Can Mihara and Torigai break this unbreakable alibi in the 1958 film Ten to Sen ("Points and Lines")?

The movie Ten to Sen is based on the first full-length novel written by Matsumoto Seichou with the same title. Matsumoto is best known as the main figure in the shakai-ha (social school) movement, a school in mystery fiction that places emphasis on the social backgrounds of crimes, and is often juxtaposed against honkaku orthodox puzzle plot mysteries. And while his first novel does include shakai-ha elements (the corruption scandal that lies at the heart of the case), it's also a classic alibi-deconstruction puzzle plot mystery in the spirit of Freeman Wills Crofts. The book ranked in 6th in the 2013 edition of the Tozai Mystery Best 100, making it one of the most respected Japanese mystery novels of all time. And speaking of time: the original novel must have been incredibly succesful from the beginning. For the original book was serialized between 1957 - 1958, and the film was released only a few months later in 1958!


The film follows the book quite faithfully, so what you get is a classic puzzle plot mystery about a detective attempting to break an alibi that seems perfect, as his one suspect was on the other side of the country. The story is definitely a bit outdated now, and a lot of modern readers will probably think the main trick seem obviously simple, but imagine yourself in Japan in the late sixties, and you might understand why it was more impressive back then. And even then: the mystery plot has much more than that. The story interestingly enough makes use of actual time schedules from 1957, resulting in one of the more famous "moments" in Japanese mystery fiction, often referred to as the "Four Minutes At Tokyo Station": you'll have to watch the film or read the book to get it. The short story Yonpun wa Mijikasugiru by Arisugawa Alice has a nice meta-discussion about the topic by the way). Anyway, if you like Crofts, I think you'll enjoy this film too. That said though, the film is fairly short at 85 minutes, so while it handles everything in the book, it goes really fast, so you'll need to pay attention, or else you'll miss the connections between the scenes. An additional ten, fifteen minutes would've done wonders for this film.


I'm not too familiar with older Japanese films, so I knew few of the actors, but I was surprised to see Takamine Mieko in a major role: she also played big roles in Ichikawa Kon's film adaptations of the Kindaichi Kousuke novels in the 70s (Inugami Matsuko in Inugamike no Ichizoku and Higashikouji Takako in Jooubachi). Main actor Minami Hiroshi on the other hand had only just debuted as an actor two films earlier, and his stilted acting creates some unintentional comedy: the way he suddenly decides the man in front of him is suspicious is hilariously odd, making him seem delusional.

Ten to Sen, as a story, is definitely a precursor to the travel mystery genre championed by Nishimura Kyoutarou, where travelling and domestic tourism becomes an integral part of the mystery story. The visual medium of the Ten to Sen film obviously strengthens this concept of travelling, as we actually see the police detectives travelling to Fukuoka, Tokyo and Hokkaido. An advantage of this film having been produced around the same period as the original book's publication is that everything looks exactly like'd you'd expect. Recreating the past through proper art design is of course a thing in TV drama, but nothing beats the real thing, right?


I have mentioned this countless of times, but I have lived in Kashiihama, Fukuoka during my studies there, my dorm being located about five minutes away from the crime scene in the opening. The presence of two stations nearby, JR Kyushu Kashii Station and Nishitetsu Kashii Station, plays an important role in the story, as the movements of the dead couple become the focus of investigation. It's pretty odd that those two stations are so close to each other (basically the same street), and the way it's described in the novel shows that Matsumoto really knew what he was talking about, as he ingenously incorporated the two stations in his story. I remember I myself got on the wrong line when I first lived there, arriving at a different Kashii station than the one I had expected. While the film was not filmed at location, the set was nearly identical to the actual Kashii Stations, if we compare old photographs of the stations to how they are portrayed in the film. By the way, the current building of Nishitetsu Kashii Station is moved slightly to the back compared to the original one, so they planted a cherry blossom tree at the place where the original building stood to commemorate it. It is called the Seichou Cherry Blossom as a reference to Ten to Sen, which made the station famous.

The film Ten to Sen is thus a faithful adaptation of the book, which really benefits from actually being produced in the same time the book was written in the first place. The main story about an unbreakable alibi is still a classic tale of mystery, even if it's a bit outdated nowadays. The film suffers slightly from its short runtime, with the story developing at a high pace, but it's an atmospheric, entertaining adaptation. There's also a two-part TV drama adaptation from 2007 by the way, starring Beat Takeshi, which in general has been lauded as a great adaptation too, as it's supposed to have done a great job at recreating the late 1950s atmosphere.

Original Japanese title(s): 『点と線』

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Lucky Seven

時の流れには逆らえず色褪せてゆく想いもあり
「As The Dew」(Garnet Crow)

Unable to go against the flow of time, some feelings will fade away
"As The Dew" (Garnet Crow)

The cover of today's book is simple and clean, featuring deformed illustrations of the authors featured in this anthology, but I really like it!

Disclosure: I have translated works by Arisugawa Alice, Norizuki Rintarou and Ayatsuji Yukito, among which Ayatsuji's The Decagon House Murders.

Ayatsuji Yukito made his debut as a professional author in 1987 with the publication of The Decagon House Murders (org. title: Jukkakukan no Satsujin). The mystery novel had clearly derived its inspiration from the classic puzzle plot mystery novels like they were written in the Golden Age, but it was at the same time also clearly a product of its time, aware of the tropes from, and the discussions surrounding classic mystery fiction, and its story built further on that as a modern take on the classic puzzle mode. Ayatsuji's debut was only the start, as he was followed by many other debuting authors from a similar background (often college students) who'd write in what is now called the shin honkaku or "new orthodox" school of mystery fiction. 2017 is thus not only the thirtiest anniversary of The Decagon House Murders, but also the thirtiest anniversary of the shin honkaku movement. 7-nin no Meitantei ("The Seven Great Detectives", 2017) is a special anthology to celebrate this anniversary, featuring seven original stories on the theme of "the great detective", by seven representative authors of the early shin honkaku movement

The book is also known as part of the bookmark-gacha craze among Japanese mystery fans: three anthologies were published to celebrate the thirtieth birthday of the shin honkaku movement. A special series of a lot of bookmarks were made for these books, and you get one of them at random by purchasing one of the anthologies. A large number of them feature an illustration of one of the seven authors in 7-nin no Meitantei, together with an iconic quote from one of their works, while there's also one which features all seven authors. Behold the fans who try to collect all of them or find the one bookmark with their favorite author or quote. I got the one with everyone on it by the way.

The seven authors included in 7-nin no Meitantei have all been discussed at least once here on the blog, and as I noted in the disclosure message above, I have even translated some of their work. It might be interesting to note that five of these authors studied in Kyoto: Ayatsuji Yukito, Abiko Takemaru, Norizuki Rintarou and Maya Yutaka were all members of the Kyoto University Mystery Club, while Arisugawa Alice belonged to the Mystery Club of his own Doshisha University. Many authors of the early shin honkaku movement made their debuts as students or soon after graduation, and were often active members in the Mystery Clubs (student clubs for lovers of mystery fiction) of their respective universities, which is partly why a lot of the early shin honkaku works featured so many students, and also why the books tended to be so incredibly genre-savvy (as they were written in rather skewed enviroments, among other mystery fans). Oh, one warning: I can only add a certain number of characters in the tags to each post, and I was not able to tag everyone/add all the related tags, so you'll have to click on the author links in the post itself for some of them.

The anthology opens with Maya Yutaka's Suiyoubi to Kinyoubi ga Kirai - Ookagamike Satsujin Jiken ("I Hate Wednesdays and Fridays - The Ookagami Family Murder Case") and features his series detective Mercator Ayu. Narrator/mystery author Minagi is lost in the mountains, but finds shelter in the mansion of the recently deceased Doctor Ookagami. He had four adopted children, who form a musical quartet, and they are scheduled to perform at the mansion the following day for their annual recital. While Minagi is still recovering from his ordeal in the outdoor bath, he spots a cloaked figure making their way to a garden lodge overseeing a cliff. When the figure leaves again, he notices they have shrunk in size, and when he peeks inside the lodge, he finds distinct signs of a murder having occured there: blood, a weapon and a sinister sign featuring a quote from Faust, but there's no sign of any victim. Later, one of the adopted children is found murdered, together with another quote from Faust, but there is no weapon. More mysterious events occur in the mansion, but all is explained when brilliant detective (with a rather abusive attitude towards his "Watson") Mercator Ayu arrives on the scene.

The anthology starts right away with a screwball, because that's the only way I can describe this story. There's something of an impossible crime here (disappearing victim, disappearing murder/weapon), but what this story really is, is a parody on Oguri Mushitarou's infamous anti-mystery Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken. The mansion, the backstory of an eccentric person adopting four children who form a quartet, the Faust imagery, it's all straight out of Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken. Several other later story development are also clearly lifted from that book. The problem I have with this story is that it doesn't really work in its current form. The pacing of this story is incredibly high because it follows the plot of Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken, but that was a full novel and this is a short story. The result is a story that I recognize as a parody on Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken, but it doesn't do much but mirror a few situations and circumstances in quick succession. The core mystery plot is therefore a bit too concise for my taste, as the tale just tries to cover too much ground for a short story. And I happened to have read Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken, but I can imagine that for someone who hasn't, this story will feel disjointed. I think this story would've worked better in a dedicated Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken tribute anthology. As a "Mercator Ayu taking on Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken" type of story, I guess it's okay, but I find it a strange choice for the opening story of this particular anthology. Then again, I guess Maya's work is seldom really straightforward.

Rakugo is a traditional form of Japanese entertainment, where a storyteller tells a comical story with witty dialogues, acting all the roles of the story themselves. Yamaguchi Masaya's Dokumanjuu Kowai - Suiri no Ichimondai ("I'm afraid of Poisoned Manjuu - A Deduction Problem") is part of a series where Yamaguchi builds on classic rakugo stories to turn them into mystery stories. The theme for this story is the classic rakugo story Manjuu Kowai ("I'm Afraid of Manjuu"). The retelling of Manjuu Kowai is followed by the continuation of the tale, where one of the major characters from Manjuu Kowai is murdered by a poisoned manjuu, just as he was about to disinherit his good-for-nothing sons. I liked the idea better than the execution, because the mystery part of the tale is basically a not-even-really-thinly-disguised variation of the "one of them always lies, one of them always tells the truth, who is the liar?" riddle. At this point, it doesn't feel like a story anymore, but just a slightly dressed-up riddle.

The previous story was set in pre-modern Japan, but Abiko Takemaru's Project: Sherlock is clearly set in the present, or even in the future. It tells the story of how a special computer database named Sherlock is built by a police IT engineer. Sherlock is a database that allows anyone to simply solve crimes by inputting the necessary data in it. Sherlock has a rich open source database of case files (both real and fictional) which is fed by a worldwide community, and by comparing circumstances and detecting patterns, the program can solve any mystery laid before it. This is a weird story: it reads more like a prologue for a longer story than an independent one, and while a murder involving Sherlock does occur late in the tale, it's not really meant for the reader to solve. There is potential for more in this story, but as it is now, it feels like you were only allowed to read the first chapter of many more.

Arisugawa Alice's Senchou ga Shinda Yoru ("The Night The Captain Perished") stars the criminologist Himura Hideo and his friend/Watson/mystery author Arisugawa Alice. Himura and Alice are on their way back from one of Himura's work trips when they decide to swing by a small villlage on the foot of a mountain where a murder happened last night. The victim, commonly referred to as the Captain, had been stabbed during his sleep in his home, and while a security camera nearby had caught the figure of someone fleeing the scene that night, this figure had covered themselves wisely in a large sheet of blue plastic, making it impossible for the police to identify them. The Captain had recently returned to his home village after a long life on sea, and his manly appeal had attracted the attention of at least two women in the village (one of them married), and it appears love-gone-wrong might be the motive. I have the idea the story is a bit longer than it needed to be (it is by far the longest story in this anthology), but the mystery plot is probably the best of the whole book. The structure is very familiar (short whodunit with three suspects), but it's expertly clewed. It's of course in the style of Ellery Queen, where you need to deduce what the murderer must have done on the night of the murder, how it was done, and eventually, who could've done those things we just deduced. The process as done here is great, and I think this is a good story to showcase how a good puzzle plot mystery doesn't need to rely on misdirection solely: it takes tremendous skill to lay down clues and puzzle pieces right in front of the reader, without any smokes or mirrors, and still have a puzzle that perplexes them, but the satisfaction you gain when you see how everything fits together is arguably even better than when an author uses aimed misdirection techniques.

Norizuki Rintarou's Abekobe no Isho ("The Switched Suicide Notes") features his series detective named after himself. Rintarou's father, Inspector Norizuki, has a weird case on his hands. Two suicides, one by poison, one by jumping off a flat. Suicide notes were also found at both scenes. So no problem, right? The conundrum Inspector Norizuki has however is that the suicide notes were switched: both victims had the suicide note of the other person! The two victims knew each other, and were both vying for the hand of the same lady, so they had no reason to be committing suicide together, but why did they have each other's suicide note? It's a wonderfully problem that feels realistic, and yet mystifying at the same time. The story unfolds by Rintarou proposing several theories to his father, which his father sometimes shoots down as he reveals a new fact he hadn't told his son yet, but the two do slowly move towards the truth. Or do they? A gripe I do have with this story that it is mostly built on theories: eventually the two arrive at a solution that is actually quite clever, and one that does seem to fit the facts, but they only arrive there by making several assumptions, and the story basically ends with the Inspector finally moving to check whether their theory is true. The story makes a good case for puzzle plots focusing on logical reasoning, with Rintarou proposing theories and having to adjust them as the Inspector introduces new facts, but it also undermines it a bit as we never leave the land of theories.

Utano Shougo's Tensai Shounen no Mita Yume Wa ("The Dream Of The Prodigy") is set in the future, starring the last few remaining pupils of the Academy, once the home to people talented in fields like hacking, engineering or even ESP, but once the war broke out, survival was the only thing left on everybody's mind. Acting on a rumor that the enemy country will launch a new destructive weapon, the students lock themselves up in the Academy's bomb shelter and while they do feel that something with tremendous power hit their city, they have no idea what happened outside because all communication was cut off. But then one of the students is found hanging. She appears to have committed suicide, but the following day another student is found dead right next to the first victim. Another suicide, or is there something else in this shelter? While this story does seem familiar, with its closed circle setting, it's not really a detective story (it is however a mystery story in the broad sense of the term). Explaining too much would spoil it, but the story is trying to work towards a certain conclusion, but that conclusion is barely clewed/foreshadowed, and the story is a bit strangely structured, with a very long intro, while it basically skims over the murders to jump the conclusion. Might've worked better in a longer format.

Ayatsuji Yukito's Kadai - Nue no Misshitsu ("Tentative Title: The Locked Room of the Nue") closes this anthology, and while it's technically not really a fairly clewed mystery story, it's a pretty heartwarming story that puts the thirtieth anniversary of shin honkaku in context. The story stars Ayatsuji Yukito, Abiko Takemaru and Norizuki Rintarou themselves, as well as Ayatsuji's wife Ono Fuyumi (a well-known horror/fantasy author herself), who were all members of the Kyoto University Mystery Club around the same period back when they were in college. Guess-The-Criminal is one of the oldest traditions of the club, where one of the members presents the first part of a mystery story to the others, ending with a challenge to the others guess whodunnit. The other members then have to guess who the criminal is, and explain the process that led to their conclusion. Nowadays, the stories are all written and printed out so everyone has their own copy, but back in the early eighties, these stories were told orally, so little remains of them now. Abiko remarks that a while back, he had a few drinks with Maya Yutaka (also a Mystery Club member who joined after them) and that he, while drunk, had said that he had once witnesses a really incredible and illusive Guess-The-Criminal story. The problem: he doesn't remember anything about it. Ayatsuji, Abiko, Norizuki and Ono all seem to have unclear, yet existing memories of such an event, which they vaguely remember as being titled The Locked Room of the Nue, so they start talking about what that story could've been, digging deep in their memories of the Mystery Club.

As said, this isn't really a mystery story, but closer to an essay where Ayatsuji, using the other authors as his fictional devices, looks back at his own time at the Kyoto University Mystery Club. As the four slowly start to remember more from the past, we also read about what the club activities were to what cafes they went to when they were still students, painting an image of the place and culture that would eventually lead to the birth of the shin honkaku movement. There are some nice moments, like when each of them remembers something else about the illusive story, to which Ayatsuji draws parallels with each author's writing styles, as well as a heartwarming ending. Read as a story that mixes autobiographical elements with a bit of fiction, I'd say this was an entertaining story for those wanting to know more about the shared past of these authors, but again, don't expect any detecting on your own.

7-nin no Meitantei has the usual ups and downs of an anthology, but in general, I'd say it's an interesting showcase of the work of the featured authors. The theme of "the great detective" worked better for some authors than others: Arisugawa Alice and Norizuki Rintarou's contributions were definitely the best detective stories included, and those stories featured their best known series detectives. Yamaguchi Masaya and Maya Yutaka too used their series detectives in their stories, though I found the stories themselves not as good as the previous two for various reasons. Utano Shougo and Abiko Takemaru on the other hand did not choose to go with their series detectives (partly because they haven't used them in decades), but tried to explore the theme of the Great Detective in stories that are almost science fiction, and your mileage on them might vary. Ayatsuji Yukito's contribution is not a mystery story at all, but a sort of nostalgic look back at a long forgotten past, before there was such a thing as shin honkaku, and works wonderfully as a closer for an anthology meant to commemorate thirty years of shin honkaku.

Original Japanese title(s): 『7人の名探偵』: 「曜日と金曜日が嫌い 大鏡家殺人事件」(麻耶雄嵩) / 「毒饅頭怖い 推理の一問題」(山口雅也) / 「プロジェクト:シャーロック」(我孫子武丸) / 「船長が死んだ夜」(有栖川有栖) / 「あべこべの遺書」(法月綸太郎) / 「天才少年の見た夢」(歌野晶午) / 「仮題・ぬえの密室」(綾辻行人)