Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
01. Moon Over Broadway (1997) 3.5/4 02. The Ninth Gate (1999) 3/4 03. Thesis (1996) 3/4 04. Heroic Losers (2019) 3/4 05. Moebius (1996) 3/4 06. 7th Floor (2013) 3/4 07. Frozen (2010) 3/4 08. Black Snow (2017) 2.5/4 09. What Lies Beneath (2000) 2.5/4 10. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008) 2.5/4 11. One Cut of the Dead (2017) 2.5/4 12. Stir of Echoes (1999) 2/4 13. The Sonata (2018) 2/4 14. The Plagues of Breslau (2018) 2/4 15. Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (2013) 2/4 16. Warning Sign (1985) 2/4 17. Party (2004) 2/4 18. Murder by Phone (1982) 2/4 19. The Oxford Murders (2008) 1.5/4 20. Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out (2012) 1.5/4 21. Stigmata (1999) 1.5/4 22. 88 Minutes (2007) 0.5/4
LOST FILMS (speculative scores based on available materials) Charlie Chan's Chance (1932) 6.5/10 Charlie Chan's Courage (1934) 6.5/10 Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) 5.5/10 Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (1933) 5/10
SIDNEY TOLER AT FOX Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939) 9.5/10 Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940) 9/10 Dead Men Tell (1941) 8.5/10 Charlie Chan in Panama (1940) 8.5/10 Charlie Chan in Reno (1939) 8/10 Castle in the Desert (1942) 8/10 Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise (1940) 7/10 Charlie Chan in Rio (1941) 6/10 Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) 5/10 Murder Over New York (1940) 4.5/10 City in Darkness (1939) 3.5/10
SIDNEY TOLER AT MONOGRAM The Shanghai Cobra (1945) 6.5/10 The Scarlet Clue (1945) 6.5/10 Dark Alibi (1946) 6/10 The Chinese Cat (1944) 5.5/10 The Trap (1946) 5.5/10 Dangerous Money (1946) 5.5/10 The Jade Mask (1945) 5.5/10 Black Magic (1944) 5/10 Shadows Over Chinatown (1946) 5/10 Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) 4/10 The Red Dragon (1945) 3/10
ROLAND WINTERS The Shanghai Chest (1948) 6/10 The Chinese Ring (1947) 6/10 The Sky Dragon (1949) 5.5/10 The Golden Eye (1948) 5/10 Docks of New Orleans (1948) 4/10 The Feathered Serpent (1948) 3.5/10
OTHER FILMS The Return of Charlie Chan (1972) 5.5/10 They Were Thirteen (1931) 5/10 Behind That Curtain (1929) 1.5/10 Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981) 1/10
TV SHOWS The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (1957-58) 5.5/10 The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan (1972) 4/10
ALL EXTANT FILMS RANKED 01 - Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939) 9.5/10 02 - Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936) 9/10 03 - Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940) 9/10 04 - Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) 8.5/10 05 - Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936) 8.5/10 06 - Dead Men Tell (1941) 8.5/10 07 - Charlie Chan in Panama (1940) 8.5/10 08 - Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935) 8/10 09 - Charlie Chan in Reno (1939) 8/10 10 - Castle in the Desert (1942) 8/10 11 - Charlie Chan's Secret (1936) 7.5/10 12 - Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935) 7/10 13 - Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise (1940) 7/10 14 - Charlie Chan in London (1934) 6.5/10 15 - The Shanghai Cobra (1945) 6.5/10 16 - The Scarlet Clue (1945) 6.5/10 17 - The Black Camel (1931) 6/10 18 - Charlie Chan in Paris (1935) 6/10 19 - Dark Alibi (1946) 6/10 20 - Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936) 6/10 21 - Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937) 6/10 22 - Charlie Chan in Rio (1941) 6/10 23 - The Shanghai Chest (1948) 6/10 24 - The Chinese Ring (1947) 6/10 25 - The Return of Charlie Chan (1972) 5.5 26 - The Chinese Cat (1944) 5.5/10 27 - The Trap (1946) 5.5/10 28 - The Sky Dragon (1949) 5.5/10 29 - Dangerous Money (1946) 5.5/10 30 - The Jade Mask (1945) 5.5/10 31 - They Were Thirteen (1931) 5/10 32 - Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) 5/10 33 - Black Magic (1944) 5/10 34 - The Golden Eye (1948) 5/10 35 - Shadows Over Chinatown (1946) 5/10 36 - Murder Over New York (1940) 4.5/10 37 - Docks of New Orleans (1948) 4/10 38 - Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) 4/10 39 - The Feathered Serpent (1948) 3.5/10 40 - City in Darkness (1939) 3.5/10 41 - The Red Dragon (1945) 3/10 42 - Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937) 3/10 43 - Behind That Curtain (1929) 1.5/10 44 - Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981) 1/10
A flat and unambitious production of a slight story
"The Woman Who Buys a Local Newspaper" is another of those TV movies based on the works by Seicho Matsumoto, one of Japan's most famous mystery writers. His novels and short stories have been remade, redone, and recycled so much in Japan that this particular story alone with its rather thin plot has been adapted nine times. That's more than any individual work by Agatha Christie (except, perhaps, "And Then There Were None") and this is not even one of Matsumoto's most highly regarded works.
Like most of Matsumoto's stories, this is a thriller, a murder mystery more precisely in which the detective is novelist Ryuji Sugimoto. I must confess I quite like the premise which sees a mysterious woman from Tokyo buy a subscription to a newspaper from a small town she doesn't live in just because she enjoys Mr Sugimoto's novel which is being serialized there. A few days later, however, she cancels her subscription saying that the novel has become boring. Driven as much by vanity as by professional curiosity, Ryuji investigates the woman and finds she has no idea who he is. Meanwhile, the dead bodies of a pair of adulterers are found in the small town. The police think it's a double suicide but Ryuji becomes convinced that they were murdered by the mystery woman.
Unfortunately, this TV movie is not a particularly engaging one mainly due to its listless nature. Despite a solid cast, it never manages to generate much excitement or suspense. It proceeds at a sluggish pace and without any real atmosphere or mystery. None of the cast seems particularly invested either and their bored performances contribute to the overall feeling of ennui which pervades the entire picture.
Ryuji is played by none other than Masakazu Tamura, one of the most charismatic and interesting Japanese actors. Sadly, his performance here is curiously lacking in energy. He seems tired and frail and his characteristic voice is hoarse and quiet. He seems to have lost that particular spark of excitement that used to be present in all of his performances. Here his turn as the mystery writer turned detective is rather dull and I was not surprised to find out that this was his penultimate performance before his untimely death in 2021.
Slightly more effective is Ryoko Hirosue as the mystery woman. She brings a certain sinister charm and sexiness to the role but she cannot salvage her severely underwritten character. Ryuji and she are supposed to develop a romantic relationship with one another but Hirosue and Tamura share no chemistry whatsoever and their relationship is as flat and dull as the movie itself. For one, he is almost 40 years her senior (and appears older) but more importantly, he seems so tired and bored that she might as well be trying to fall in love with one of the set walls. I did like some of the supporting cast, however, especially Asami Mizukawa as Ryuji's overly enthusiastic assistant.
The story is decent but the denouement is quite disappointing and there is simply not enough material here for a 110-minute movie. "The Woman Who Buys a Local Newspaper" was originally a 30-page short story and I could see it working as an hour-long episode of an anthology series but when it is stretched to almost double that runtime its weaknesses begin to show. Especially, I should add, in a production as flat and unambitious as this.
Furuhata chugakusei (2008)
A delightful detective story for kids
When I was a child, I used to love movies and books about kid detectives. "Clubhouse Detectives", Enid Blyton's Five, Nancy Drew... You name it, I loved it and had I seen "Junior High School Student Furuhata" at the time, I would have loved it as well. As its clunky title implies, it's a prequel series set during the childhood of Furuhata Ninzaburô, the indefatigable Columbo-like detective played brilliantly by Masakazu Tamura in the self-titled TV show. This prequel was made by the same team as the show including writer and creator Kôki Mitani, director Keita Kôno, and composer Yûsuke Honma which explains how come it continues the high-quality level of its parent series. Even Tamura himself shows up in a brief cameo to introduce the work and the epilogue is provided by another regular whose appearance was a pleasant surprise.
The mysteries young Furuhata solves are not all that serious but there is an intriguing link to the stories of Sherlock Holmes which hint at a greater conspiracy afoot. There's the curious case of the dog in the nighttime, a solitary cyclist staking a young girl, and a buried treasure whose location can only be uncovered through a mysterious ritual. It's kiddy stuff, of course, but Kôki Mitani's clever and lively script kept my attention throughout. There's also a neat twist at the end which I wasn't expecting and which witty plays with the very format of the child detective stories.
The two stars, Ryôsuke Yamada and Soran Tamoto are charming and charismatic leads and their relationship very much reminded me of the stars of "The Young Sherlock Holmes" movie, another childhood favourite of mine. In fact, this young Furuhata Ninzaburô is a lot closer to Sherlock Holmes. His style of deduction is particularly Holmesian and it doesn't resemble Furuhata's in the least. He also exhibits a gift for cold reading which Furuhata never showed in the series. Seeing how Yamada never even tries to imitate Masakazu Tamura's distinctive mannerisms and how there are very few references to the old series, I wonder if "Junior High School Student Furuhata" wouldn't have been even better had it been presented as an original work. I'm not a huge fan of making Mukojima Furuhata's childhood friend seeing how their relationship was portrayed in the original series. Viewing those episodes and Furuhata's dismissive treatment of Mukojima in them with this hindsight makes our favourite detective look like a real jerk.
But overall, I really enjoyed "Junior High School Student Furuhata". It's a very well-made detective story for kids with two likeable leads, a clever mystery, and some interesting and unobtrusive twists on the standard formula. Since prior "Furuhata Ninzaburô" knowledge is not necessary, I'd recommend this one for young children up to the age of 13 or so. The excellent soundtrack, however, will appeal to all ages.
Furuhata Ninzaburô: Final Dance (2006)
Shall we dance
And so it ends!
After 12 years of intermittent airing and 42 mostly excellent episodes, "Furuhata Ninzaburô", a show I've grown to love very much, comes to an end. Thankfully, "Final Dance" is one of the show's finest episodes, a glittering display of superb work from the cast and the crew and a glorious note to end the series on.
Let us begin with the guest star, Nanako Matsushima who plays twin writers who write under the pen name Kyoko Kagami. According to the rules of television twins, one is glamorous and outgoing while the other is frumpy and shy. Nothing new there. However, Matsushima is absolutely fantastic playing both roles. During the seamlessly accomplished sequence in which they appear together, you could swear you were watching two different actresses. Not only does Matsushima perfectly manage the physical transformation required, but she also does a stunning job of projecting their different personalities. She is quite simply the best guest star Furuhata Ninzaburô has had since Akina Nakamori in 1994. It is fitting then that Nakamori's character Chinami is mentioned at the very end of the episode.
Not only is Matsushima's performance superb but so is Masakazu Tamura's. Now, it is not surprising that Tamura is brilliant on this show but this episode might just be his best performance. For the first time ever, we get a tantalizing glimpse into Furuhata's love life and Tamura gets to play the indefatigable detective in a situation we've never seen him in before. Namely, a touching romance develops between him and one of the twin sisters and the chemistry between Tamura and Matsushima is absolutely tangible.
The episode is titled "Final Dance" after the episode's extended final scene. It is an uncharacteristically emotional and touching scene and I found myself tearing up watching it. I never expected to cry watching "Furuhata Ninzaburô" but this is a show that continually surprises its viewers. Masakazu Tamura's closing monologue in which he compares Kyoko (the show's last killer) with Chinami (the show's first killer) is a magnificent piece of acting from Tamura and writing on behalf of Kôki Mitani.
If I had a complaint with this episode it is the final big twist. I won't spoil it here but the foreshadowing Mitani does throughout the episode is far too obvious and I twigged it almost at once. Interestingly, however, there is a suggestion that Furuhata figures it immediately as well but simply can't come to admit it due to his burgeoning feelings for Kyoko. An intriguing idea but utterly unexplored. The bigger problem with the twist, however, is that Mitani sacrifices a far more interesting and emotional plotline in order to pull off what is ultimately a disappointing and obvious twist.
But it is merely a sad smudge on an otherwise first-rate episode. I must also mention at the end that I loved the "Furuhata Ninzaburô" spoof that Kyoko is writing. I must also commend Masahiko Nishimura and Masanori Ishii for their hilarious performances (it is a shame, however, that there isn't a final goodbye for them, as they simply disappear from the third act). Finally, I have to ask the question of where was Keita Kôno hiding his talent all these years. He has been consistently my least favourite director on the show with his dull and flat-looking episodes, but his work on the fourth season has been exemplary. This episode is particularly good with some genuinely clever visuals and seamless visual effects. It is a cinematic finale for one of my all-time favourite TV shows. I am sad that "Furuhata Ninzaburô" is over but if it had to end then this is as brilliant a final dance as any of us could have hoped for.
A game of brotherly love
It's a shame it took "Furuhata Ninzaburô" such a long time to repeat its greatest, most original and most audacious gimmick. Seven years after the SMAP special, "A Fair Murderer" once again features a real celebrity playing themselves as the killer. The celebrity in question is baseball player Ichirô Suzuki. Interestingly enough, both times the idea for the gimmick came from the celebrities themselves. Furuhata even explains as much in his closing monologue saying that originally the killer character's name was Hachirô until Suzuki insisted on using his own name.
The big twist of the story, however, is that Furuhata's faithful friend and colleague Mukojima is the killer's accomplice and older brother. It is a bold move by writer Kôki Mitani to cast the loveable comic relief in such a dark part but it finally gives Mukojima's actor Takashi Kobayashi a chance to shine. Kobayashi has been a part of the series since the very beginning but most of his appearances have amounted to brief comedic cameos. Here, he is front and centre in what is actually a surprisingly emotional and atmospheric episode.
Most of it focuses on the story of the two brothers one of whom dreamed of becoming a baseball star and the other who became one. Lord knows that Ichirô Suzuki is not the most natural of actors but the scenes with his on-screen brother are absolutely touching. It is Kobayashi, of course, who does most of the heavy lifting and he is so good and so truthful in this episode that I think it's a shame he was so underutilized in the rest of the show.
Also on top form here is Tamura Masakazu. Look the way Furuhata's heartbreak shows in his eyes when he realizes Mukojima is involved. He and Suzuki share a scene together which is absolutely phenomenal. Set on a baseball field, it's a scene that seamlessly switches moods from melancholy to comedic and finally to dramatic as Furuhata issues a challenge to the killer. This seven-minute scene is as good as any ever featured on "Furuhata Ninzaburô".
So, as you might have gathered, "A Fair Murderer" is a superb drama. Where it falters sadly is in its thriller elements. The mystery is essentially non-existent especially since Suzuki, supposedly obsessed with fair play, almost confesses in his first interrogation scene. Furuhata has very little detecting to do here since the clues are extremely obvious and Suzuki seems to want to get caught. The climax of the story, the big gotcha moment, is one of the weakest of the series. After gathering so much good evidence against Suzuki, the one Furuhata uses to break him is laughably weak. I did, nevertheless, find it very funny that even though most "Furuhata Ninzaburô" murderers get caught because they don't clean up the crime scene well enough, Suzuki gets caught because he cleaned it up far too well.
Last but not least, I do have to commend the direction by Keita Kôno. Kôno, who is "Furuhata Ninzaburô's" most prolific director usually turns in very dull-looking, by-the-numbers episodes. Here, surprisingly, his direction is astoundingly stylish, atmospheric, and dynamic. Why hadn't he directed this well before? Why don't all his episodes look this good? Which stars aligned to make "A Fair Murderer" such a visually interesting episode? That's a better mystery for Furuhata Ninzaburô to solve!
"My plan for the perfect murder"
"This killer is the most ingenious I've ever met," says Furuhata in his brief but intriguing introduction and yet the killer in question appears to be an 11-year-old boy! Well, not quite. The person performing the killing is in his 20s but he commits the murder using a plan he wrote when he was a schoolboy obsessed with detective fiction. It's a ludicrous plot but Kôki Mitani makes it work with his usual combination of wit and plotting brilliance. Like all the episodes of "Furuhata Ninzaburô", we are privy to the identity of the killer and the method of murder from the very beginning, and yet, in a very clever move, Mitani never lets us in on his whole plan so that as we watch it unfold we are as baffled by it as Furuhata himself.
What Furuhata says in the introduction is not entirely hyperbole either. There's a real devious ingenuity and shocking cruelty on display here which clashes somewhat with the jocular tone of the episode. Even though the Horibe family suffers a series of misfortunes and deaths over the course of this episode, all of its members remain curiously cheerful and pleasant throughout. There are very few hints of sadness or fear among them and yet no one ever comments on their frankly bizarre good cheer. The killer himself is the most obvious example as he doesn't even seem to bother masking his elation at the victim's demise. I don't know why Furuhata even bothered solving this one, the killer's joyful demeanour would be enough to convict him alone.
The killer is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara, best known for playing Light in the "Death Note" films. His character here is actually quite similar - a spoiled and conceited young man who refers to a notebook to kill. Sadly, the Furuhata vs. Light Yagami confrontation is nowhere near as exciting as it sounds. Fujiwara's character is fairly underwritten and the two share far too few scenes. In the end, there's almost no relationship between Furuhata and the killer, an element which is the definitive staple of this show. When they do appear together, there's no chemistry or animosity between them and consequently, very little tension is present in the episode.
A far more interesting character is the killer's overprotective teacher. He's played by the legendary Kôji Ishizaka and the scenes between him and Furuhata are actually far more charged and entertaining. Quite how the teacher fits into the overall plot is one of the mysteries that Mitani keeps under wraps until the very end. This twist is one of the series' very best.
"The Resurrection of Death" is not as good as the sum of its parts but the parts that work are excellent. The plot is far-fetched but endlessly intriguing and the piecemeal way in which Mitani reveals its many turns kept my attention throughout. I do wish that Keita Kôno's direction was more atmospheric so as to bring out the creepier aspects of the story to the forefront. Also excellent are the comedic scenes in which Shintaro becomes convinced that the Horibe family curse has passed onto him. This subplot gets dropped halfway through the episode, but the gags are expertly played as ever by Masahiko Nishimura.
Overall, I did enjoy "The Resurrection of Death" very much for its formal inventiveness and the excellent performances from Ishizaka and Nishimura, but I do feel that the episode would have been much, much better with a more interesting killer and more stylish direction.
An admirable attempt that doesn't quite come together
Gérard Depardieu takes up the pipe to play the indefatigable commissaire Maigret. He is such an obvious casting choice with his understated intelligence, gentle wit, and hulking physique that it's a wonder he hadn't played the part before. At age 73, he is quite obviously too old for the part. He spends most of the movie leaning or sitting down and the few times we see him walk he seems barely able to amble along. But this seems to be how director Patrice Leconte has reimagined the character anyway.
His Maigret is an old man, easily tired, contemplating his mortality. He is introduced while in the middle of a doctor's appointment. He's in fine physical health we're told but the weight of the world seems to be on his shoulders. No, this Maigret is not alright. There's something severely wrong with him, a kind of emptiness eating him from the inside. He's dying and he's aware of it.
Another obvious fit for a Maigret movie is director/writer Patrice Leconte who had previously made the superb Simenon adaptation "Monsieur Hire". His direction here is curiously frigid, styleless and distant. This is not an easy movie to watch. It's so weighed down with sorrow that it becomes downright oppressive. It plays out in vast open spaces cluttered with garbage - long discarded, broken things, once useful now forgotten and in the way. His Paris resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland which, like the one in Richard Lester's "Bed Sitting Room", bears certain signs that it was once inhabited by a civilization.
A clue as to Leconte's artistic intentions is hidden in a sombre and impactful scene in which Maigret interviews an elderly Jewish man (André Wilms) looking for a daughter he'll never find. He sits in his office surrounded by antique chairs stacked on antique desks and wrapped in cobwebs and dust. "When you lose your child you lose everything," he says, "There's nothing left. Only the night."
The plot follows Maigret as he investigates the death of a young woman found stabbed and discarded on the street like a piece of trash. He doesn't know her name or anything about her but slowly, by following the smallest clues, he pieces together her entire personality. Before he even identifies her he can say things like "she would never do that" with absolute certainty.
He finds this out by talking to various people, some of whom knew her, some of whom didn't, and some of whom are lying they didn't. These people include an actress who isn't an actress living her life on sets opening fake doors, a rich and arrogant man who lives with his mother and relies entirely on her platitudes, a judge obsessed with his pet fish, and a pharmacist who issues drugs based on her customer's faces.
The performances are excellent especially that of Jade Labeste as Betty, a poor girl Maigret encounters on the streets and whom he is determined not to allow to suffer the same fate as the girl whose death he is investigating. Labeste's charismatic, world-weary performance is the standout of the film and has a certain classical quality that reminded me of the French cinema of the 1960s. I can't wait for her to lead a film all on her own.
These small characters are the most important and their plights and the world they inhabit together are at the centre of the film. In that sense, this is one of the most accurate Simenon adaptations. What Leconte's film doesn't manage, however, is the delicate balance between character study and thriller.
Simenon knew that his psychological treatise needed a solid motor in the form of a mystery plot to keep the readers interested and the story on track. Leconte, in building up the characters, far too often lets the plot fall by the wayside. The result is a film which is intriguing and atmospheric but frequently aimless, uneven and taxing on its audience's patience.
He has little interest in the whodunnit aspect of the story which results in "Maigret" lacking a solid framework and, more importantly, a sense of narrative propulsion. Consequently, the pacing suffers, feeling alternatively too slow or too fast depending on Leconte's interest in the given scene. Exposition is quickly dealt with and the plot frequently gets muddy.
In "Maigret", I admired the ambition more than the result and the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The production design, the idea, and the performances are all superb but the film collapses under its own weight. It's a dour, depressing, hopeless sit without a strong narrative to buoy its heady artistic intentions.
The Japanese Ambassador's diplomatic immunity has just been revoked
OK, I know that's a corny joke to make but it's hard not to think of "Lethal Weapon 2" when you're watching a determined detective go up against an arrogant diplomat.
Almost five years after "The Most Dangerous Game", Furuhata Ninzaburô is back in "Your Excellency Did It", a two-hour special set in an unnamed South American country but mostly in a Japanese studio set representing the lavish embassy. After a funny introduction for Furuhata (his passport was stolen by a monkey!) we're quickly off into a very well-written story which still bears a lot of mystery even if we do know who the killer is from the start. We don't know, for instance, where the ambassador hid the body. We also don't know why he wrote such a peculiar ransom note. And why was the chef fired?
Kôki Mitani is clearly emulating the atmosphere of an old-fashioned Agatha Christie mystery with a small pool of suspects stuck in each other's company in a lavish manor house. The effort is more than successful and "Your Excellency Did It" proves to be one of the best mysteries of the whole show. I had a lot of fun piecing together the clues and figuring out what exactly His Excellency did.
Curiously, the special also has the atmosphere of a workplace sitcom, the kind Kôki Mitani has written before. A lot of its runtime is dedicated to the staff and residents of the embassy such as the Ambassador's entitled wife (a terrifically snooty Kazuyo Mita), his bohemian doctor (played by the warm and wise Masahiko Tsugawa), and his impatient secretary (a very funny turn from Kazuyuki Asano). Also present is the ubiquitous Hanada - this time employed as the Ambassador's right-hand man. Thankfully, like in "Death in the Clouds", he is written as a subtler, more believable presence than in most of season three, a part which Norito Yashima fills with charisma and good humour. He's a wonderful sidekick for Furuhata who unusually in this episode appears without either Shintaro or Saionji. However, with such a rich cast of characters, their absence is never felt.
The Ambassador himself is played by Kôshirô Matsumoto who proves to be a first-rate opponent for Furuhata. He's arrogant, entitled, and powerful which makes the climax all the more satisfying.
"Your Excellency Did It" is a first-rate special. It's dynamic, it's funny, and it's consistently engaging with its little mysteries and classic whodunnit atmosphere. It's also the first extended episode of "Furuhata Ninzaburô" that doesn't feel drawn out. Sure, it would have been even better had it been 15-20 minutes shorter but this time 'round even the padding is witty and fun to watch. Five years might have passed but Mitani and Masakazu Tamura have still got it.
Tom Clancy's Furuhata Ninzaburô
After a rollicking first part, "The Most Dangerous Game: Part 2" slows down considerably. This is partly down to the very nature of the story which has already come to a head in the first part. Furuhata is fully aware the cop is a fake and is now merely smoking him out and partly down to the fact that the second part seems to have been conceived as a more standard "Furuhata Ninzaburô" episode. The problem is that there are still 45 minutes to fill and more than half of it is padding. This is a problem that every single extended episode of the show has had so far as "Furuhata Ninzaburô" undoubtedly works best in 45-minute increments.
The episode plays out mostly in real time as Furuhata, the subway controller, and the fake cop drive from the control room to the baseball pitch where the ransom drop is supposed to be happening. Since Furuhata already knows the cop is a fake and the cop already knows Furuhata knows, there's very little real suspense to it all just a series of circumlocutory dialogue scenes. Why does Furuhata not merely arrest the fake cop immediately? There's no conclusive answer to this question. Masakazu Tamura plays it as if Furuhata is merely having fun with his dinner. Playing mind games with his opponent for kicks.
This conclusion is not so much disappointing as it is drawn out. Had the events of this episode been condensed into 15 minutes and tacked onto the first part, I'd have been a happy camper. As it is, part 2 quickly loses the momentum of the superb part 1 and just sort of meanders along until the conclusion. Furuhata and the SAZ member explain the plot to each other over and over again. The SAZ member has an unconvincing change of heart midway through. And then some more complications occur merely so that the 45-minute runtime would be filled out. Mukojima and Hanada also make brief cameos for the same reason.
"The Most Dangerous Game" was intended as the final episode of the show and for five years it was. It has quite a nice and sentimental send-off for Furuhata and the final scene is equal parts funny and sad with its metatextual joke ending. I really liked that for the prologue they had Furuhata stand in front of a wall containing pictures of all of the previous guest stars. It's a nice nod to the three seasons that went before.
However, after such a brilliant opener, part 2 feels listless and overlong despite fine work from the regulars and the intensely creepy Hajime Yamazaki who is a far more interesting character than the main guest star Yôsuke Eguchi whom I mostly found to be a bland bad guy. The way he is written is also quite confusing, especially the revelation that he does not like to use violence after we've seen members of his gang murder a person right at the beginning of the last episode.
The Taking of Tokyo 705E
"Furuhata Ninzaburô" seems to do an action-packed suspense episode once a season and every single time knocks it out of the park. Season one had "The Killing Fax", an unusually stylish and entertaining kidnapping story. Season two brought us "Red or Blue", a really intense thriller about a bomber targeting an amusement park. Now, season three brings us a two-parter named "The Most Dangerous Game" and if the first part is anything to go by, it might just be the most exciting episode of all.
The story has the look and feel of a proper action movie with three storylines converging towards an explosive climax. The first storyline involves a group named SAZ who murder a traitor only to realize that a bag full of McGuffins they desperately need was left on the subway. Unable to retrieve it from the lost and found themselves, they orchestrate an elaborate fake hijacking. The second storyline follows a nervous SAZ member who is tasked with impersonating a police inspector and infiltrating the Subway Control Room to make sure everything goes according to plan. But what he didn't count on was the presence of a real police inspector, none other than Furuhata himself there to enter a complaint. Furuhata realizes something is off immediately and the mind games between himself and the nervous fake cop begin. The third storyline follows our favourite bumbling cop Shintaro investigating the murder of the aforementioned traitor. He rushes through the investigation excited for a dinner date with his boss only to learn that he's stuck at the Subway Control Room with none other than Shintaro's rival Saionji. Annoyed, Shintaro makes his way on the train which is supposed to be hijacked towards the Control Room intent on getting his dinner. In his pocket is the identikit of the killer who also happens to be in the control room.
This is a complex story beautifully told by Kôki Mitani who manages to juggle all three storylines with equal care while ensuring the pace constantly builds. Will Furuhata figure out the train hijacking is fake? Will Shintaro arrive in time? Will the fake policeman give himself up? By the end of the episode, the suspense is unbearable. Another person who deserves kudos is Keita Kôno whose work really surprised me here. Usually, he's a rather pedestrian director, but here he displays a kind of cinematic flair I haven't seen from him before. He keeps the story moving at a good clip as the tension rises and rises. Last but not least, is the excellent guest cast. Especially good are Yosuke Saito as the fidgety fake cop and Hajime Yamazaki as SAZ's skeletal-faced hitman, an incredibly creepy presence of few words.
Roll on part two!
Furuhata Ninzaburô vs. Galileo
Calling an episode of Furuhata Ninzaburô "The Bigheaded Murder" is a hell of a claim. Surprisingly, the killer's plan lives up to the hype. And how could it not when the killer is played by Masaharu Fukuyama, Detective Galileo himself! Even though this episode was filmed 8 years before Fukuyama took up that particular lab coat, this is a crossover for the books and a lot of the best moments in this episode come from watching Fukuyama, one of my favourite Japanese actors (so good in "Like Father, Like Son"). He plays his character's bitterness and hurt so well, so truthfully, that he almost makes this murderer sympathetic.
He is helped by a well-written script in which Kôki Mitani creates a character drama far more fascinating than the mystery which surrounds it. Even though the set-up of the wronged man seeking vengeance is definitely old hat, the way Mitani writes the conflict and the way Fukuyama and Naho Toda play it are what makes it gripping television. There are terrific scenes between the two in which he pretends to have forgiven her while she wrestles between her own feelings of guilt and her need to move away from him. The scientist claims she changed after the accident which put him in the wheelchair but as Furuhata suggests, maybe it was he who changed.
Mitani balances this heavy drama with comedy very well and "The Bigheaded Murder" is unexpectedly one of the funnier episodes of the season. Not only do we get some funny scenes of Shintaro and Saionji continuing their rivalry, but there's also a hilarious slapstick subplot in which Shintaro manages to superglue his hand to his chin. As silly as it sounds it really works mainly because of Masahiko Nishimiura's talent at physical comedy. Like all great slapstick comedians, he makes misery utterly hilarious.
The mystery plot is where the episode falters a bit. The central set-up is excellent and promises an interesting investigation but like in quite a few episodes of this season, Furuhata himself is sidelined for a lot of the episode. The investigation is led instead by Saionji who questions all the suspects and, of course, reaches the most logical but wrong conclusion. Furuhata only really comes in at the very end to untangle the mystery. This means there isn't nearly enough interaction between Furuhata and the killer which is a real shame since Masaharu Fukuyama is a first-rate opponent for the wily detective.
"They say that for a marriage to work, a husband and a wife should have different characters." "Who said that?"
"Even the most careless person can commit the perfect crime," says Furuhata in his opening. Apparently not as Sakura Odajima, the world's worst housewife, fails miserably. Her incompetence is brought to hilarious levels. She can't feed the cat, she leaves trails of coffee cups in her wake, she doesn't screw the top on the sauce bottle... I kept waiting for Furuhata to pull a knob and have the whole door fall on his head. Such a character is hardly ideal murderer material and "The Sad Perfect Murder" doesn't cut it as a thriller at all. And yet Kôki Mitani still manages to make the episode fairly engaging for two reasons - the first being the killer's incompetence which leads to some genuinely amusing situations.
The second is the fact that the killer, the supposed villain of the piece, is an abused spouse which makes her far more sympathetic than most "Furuhata Ninzaburô" killers. So far we've had the yakuza, blackmailers, and movie producers as victims and yet a tyrannically neat Go player somehow manages to be more odious and unlikeable than any of them. Credit where credit's due, a lot of the praise should go to Fumiyo Kohinata who is unnervingly convincing as the abusive husband who "has his wife's best intentions at heart". He's the sort of person you don't want worrying about you.
The killer herself is well played by Misako Tanaka, a likeable actress but the character as written is fairly one-dimensional and uninteresting. The best scene in the whole episode comes at the very end after Furuhata has confronted her, when she excuses herself, goes to her room, and watches her own TV show where away from her husband she can be careless and free. It's a touching, emotional moment and I wish there was more than one in this episode. She is, however, not cunning or arrogant and is thus not a particularly good opponent to Furuhata. There's little tension or suspense in this episode, most of which revolves around Furuhata going around the killer's apartment and commenting about her poor housekeeping skills.
Where does this land us then? Firmly in the OK category. "The Sad Perfect Murder" is a perfectly watchable episode with some interesting ideas but an execution that's too lax to thrill.
Saionji takes control
After watching three seasons of "Furuhata Ninzaburô", I have come to realize that clever, devious killers are far more interesting to watch than blundering incompetents. I have moaned previously about episodes such as "The Laughing Corpse" or "Furuhata Goes to the Dentist" in which the killer's plan is so full of holes and mistakes that Furuhata barely has to do any work to crack the case. It appears I'm not the only person who made this criticism as the entirety of "Death in the Clouds" seems to be a clever writer's repost.
The episode begins and ends with Furuhata reading letters from the viewers complaining about weak plots and the fact that Furuhata and his friends tend to stumble over corpses wherever they go. The plot then proceeds to revolve around Furuhata and his friends stumbling over a corpse on an aeroplane as the world's most incompetent killer tangles himself up in knots by pretending to be the plane's co-pilot. You can absolutely feel Mitani's seething sarcasm bleed through every glorious moment of this satire.
"Death in the Clouds" is very similar to such episodes as "The Contradictory Corpse" and "The Wrong Man" in which the killer has to continually overcome obstacles put in his path by his own lies and misfortune. This kind of episode is probably my favourite and "Death in the Clouds" is every bit as entertaining as either of those masterpieces. Where it differs, however, is that Mitani's approach to comedy here is far broader and consequently the "thriller aspects" suffer. There's never a feeling that the killer might get away. It's quite obvious from the very beginning that his plan is completely idiotic and is bound to be revealed sooner than later. Where the suspense comes in, however, is when and how. Is he going to be discovered by one of the stewards? Is the little boy who saw him leaving the crime scene going to rat on him? Yûichi Satô directs the suspense scenes surprisingly well and the ways the killer finds of getting out of these impossible situations are quite entertaining in and of themselves.
Another unusual aspect of "Death in the Clouds" is that, for the first time, Furuhata himself does no sleuthing. Apparently, Masakazu Tamura was busy at the time working on a different show so Furuhata spends the entire episode asleep in first class. Instead, it is his trusty junior Saionji who leads the investigation and Masanori Ishii more than rises to the challenge of filling Tamura's boots. Shintaro, meanwhile, convinces himself there's a gremlin on the wing of the plane and spends the entire episode worrying about that instead of solving the murder (I told you the humour in this episode is broader than usual!). Assisting Saionji are the two stewards, one of whom is none other than the twin brother of Hamada, the annoying waiter from some of the previous episodes. Thankfully, he's not annoying here and actor Tomohito Yashima puts in a more subdued and engaging performance.
In conclusion, "Death in the Clouds" is somewhat hoakier and more comedic than "The Contradictory Corpse" and "The Wrong Man", but if you accept its plot holes and broader comedic stylings at face value you'll find it is every bit as entertaining. I laughed all the way through especially at the not-so-subtle jabs at overly critical viewers.
"The Perfect Pitch Murder" proves to be less than pitch perfect
Furuhata Ninzaburô may not know much about music but he definitely has perfect pitch when it comes to killers because he cottons onto the murderous conductor immediately without any real reason. They don't even do the obligatory "why did you suspect me" dialogue at the end of the episode because I suppose Kôki Mitani ultimately had no idea. This is the kind of episode "The Perfect Pitch Murder" is all the way. Unpolished, illogical, and with a rather flimsy mystery. It's another story in which the killer confesses without there really being any real evidence against them. Furuhata must be a mean poker player though because his bluffs are insane.
The title is a bit of a lie. The killer's perfect pitch has nothing to do with the actual murder. It is, however, how he figures out who his mistress' lover was and that little moment is the most inspired in the whole episode. It's a terrific sequence, exciting and original, well-conceived by Mitani and unusually well directed by Yûichi Satô whose direction otherwise is bland and not in the least innovative. The actual murder is a lot banaler which would be fine if the mystery surrounding it was better. Unfortunately, the conductor ultimately proves to be no match for Furuhata. Nothing like John Cassavetes' variation on the same role in "Columbo's" "Etude in Black".
This is through no fault of guest star Masachika Ichimura, by the way, who gives a charismatic, high-strung performance. It's simply that the character he was given is a rather flat and uninteresting villain. In fact, Ichimura's performance is one of the reasons why "The Perfect Pitch Murder" is a watchable if not memorable episode.
There are admittedly other reasons as well. Even if the central mystery is weak the script has some clever gags and good dialogue. I liked Shintaro's interest in music although I think it would have been a better twist if he were actually a really good clarinettist. His being bad is an awfully obvious joke. I also liked the subplot about Furuhata's earworm. This actually gets a funny payoff in the episode's climax even though I didn't get it and had to Google the song. Still, it made me laugh. I was less impressed by another guest appearance from Hamada, the all-knowing waiter. His cameo from "Furuhata Goes to the Dentist" is repeated almost verbatim but is significantly unfunnier here. Instead, he is just as annoying as he was in "The Terror of Dr Kuroiwa" though thankfully he has far less screen time. A good joke should not be repeated so often.
Shintaro leads the dance
"Furuhata Ninzaburô" does a fair share of airtight alibi mysteries. Here is one of the weakest. In fact, in its many plot holes and blunders, it reminds me a lot of "The Laughing Corpse" which is still easily my least favourite episode of the show. The main trick with the killer switching places with her assistant is not a bad idea, however, there is absolutely no way for her to ensure that the patient doesn't realize the switch nor that the assistant doesn't recognise that the patient she was treating is the detective questioning her. It really shouldn't work but it does. In fact, it works so well that Kôki Mitani has to scramble to find a way for Furuhata to break the killer's alibi. Consequently, the final gotcha is one of the show's weakest. There is no reason for the killer to confess besides the fact that the episode had run out of time.
The other trick, involving the killer dressing up as a man is better in theory but actually, Furuhata figures it out in a matter of minutes which begs the question of why it was included in the episode. This is yet another story in which Furuhata seems to divine the solution out of thin air. Why does he suspect his friendly dentist? How does he figure out the switch? Who knows. Maybe he has latent psychic abilities.
What makes "Furuhata Goes to the Dentist" a more bearable watch than "The Laughing Corpse" is the performance of Mao Daichi one of the show's most likeable guest stars. For the first time since "Message from the Dead", I really wanted her to get away with the crime. I shudder to think what a brilliant guest star she could have been if she had starred in one of the better-written episodes. That would have certainly been a classic.
Another enjoyable aspect of the episode is the fact that Shintaro gets to lead the investigation. With Furuhata on leave due to a toothache, Shintaro is the most senior detective and quickly gets himself tied up in knots. But, of course, he is much too proud and stupid to listen to his smarter junior partner Saionji. Once again, I must point out that Masanori Ishii is a welcome addition to the cast. Saionji is a very funny, likeable character and his rivalry with Shintaro is one of the highpoints of the third season. Another returning character is Hamada, the goofy waiter from "The Terror of Dr Kuroiwa". While I found him annoying in that episode, I thought his brief appearance in "Furuhata Goes to the Dentist" was very clever. He solves the murder in a matter of seconds in front of the baffled Saionji.
A quick final note on the fact that this is the first aired episode directed by Yûichi Satô. Much like Keita Kôno's, his work here is rather bland and uninspired. But since the script is not very good, there's still hope he'll do better next time.
Furuhata Ninzaburô: The Reunion (1999)
"Even if I'll die tomorrow, who says I can't change my life today"
"I've often wished that I had been there before the murder was committed so that I could prevent it," says Furuhata and that is exactly the chance he'll get in "The Reunion", a most unusual and beautiful episode boasting one of Kôki Mitani's best scripts and a tour de force performance from Masakazu Tamura.
Eschewing the usual format of opening the episode with a murder being committed, "The Reunion" is "Furuhata Ninzaburô's" first real mystery. We know that Furuhata's old friend Anzai is planning something it's just we don't know what and we don't know against whom. As we don't find out until the episode's rousing finale, "The Reunion" turns into a clever game of suspense and misdirection as Mitani hints at various possibilities. Is Anzai planning on killing his much younger wife or her lover? Is he training his dog to kill them like Nicol Williamson in "How to Dial a Murder"? Is he going to cut the brakes on the lover's car as he is mysteriously called back to Tokyo? Various similar cliches are set up constantly keeping us on our toes and despite being familiar with all of them I was not able to figure out Anzai's plan before Furuhata. I have often mourned the fact that Kôki Mitani so rarely shows his great talent at writing compelling mysteries. This is the episode I was waiting for.
Furuhata begins suspecting something is afoot right away but has to play his cards closer to his chest than usual for fear he is wrong. For the first time ever he doubts himself wondering if he's been a detective for too long and is merely "seeing murder wherever he goes". He also doesn't wish to offend his old friend which makes him change his usual working methods. Instead of annoying the killer until he confesses, he has to piece together the solution from inferences, hunches, and observations alone. This is a difficult case for him to crack.
Besides being a top-notch mystery and a subtle homage to Agatha Christie's "Wasp's Nest", "The Reunion" is also a touching human drama. The final confrontation between Furuhata and his old friend is a masterclass in writing and acting. Masakazu Tamura gets to deliver an absolutely beautiful speech pleading to his friend not to go through with his plan. "I have seen many corpses in my life and I can never forget the regret on their faces".
Also touching are the small remembrances of childhood days shared by Furuhata and Anzai. We get to learn what the great detective was like as a child, the lore behind forehead slapping, and a melancholically funny chat about school nicknames. As a nice contrast to that we get the continuation of Shintaro and Saionji's rivalrly or rather Shintaro's feeling of inadequacy compared to his junior partner. The scenes between them provide the necessary comic relief in what is otherwise a tense and sad story.
The one downside to the episode is Keita Kôno's direction. I wish he'd played up the suspense and the mystery a bit more giving the episode a more urgent pace. However, that is but a sour drop in the sea that is "The Reunion", a taut, claustrophobic story with superb performances and a clever, twisty script which proves once again Kôki Mitani's mastery of the genre.
Furuhata Ninzaburô or Kindaichi Kosuke
The plot of "The Murder in a Small Village" is absolutely old hat. You might have seen it in such films as "The Lady Vanishes" or "So Long at the Fair" or even such TV shows as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" or "Monk". No surprises there. However, it is the execution here that is faultless and that is what makes this one of the best episodes of "Furuhata Ninzaburô".
This script is one of Kôki Mitani's best. Starting with the set-up which sees Furuhata bedridden with a fever, he cleverly integrates the characters from "Furuhata Ninzaburô" into a plot which is reminiscent of a Kindaichi Kosuke mystery. The foggy village setting, the creepy atmosphere, and the family-like bond between the villagers all feel like they're straight out of "Gokkumon-to" or "The Honjin Murders". Unexpectedly, Furuhata fits right in despite being far from his home ground of Tokyo. His perceptive logic, sharp reasoning, and puzzle-box thinking make him a perfect detective for what is essentially a honkaku mystery.
Another smart move on Mitani's part is making Saoinji the only person Shintaro can rely on. The two have had a bitter rivalry throughout the season and it is a wonderful change of pace to have a plot which forces them to work together for a change. Still, Mitani gets a lot of comedic mileage out of their oneupmanship in the episode's opening scenes which see them compete in shogi and ping-pong. As expected, Masahiko Nishimura and Masanori Ishii rise to the challenge and are a delight to watch.
Another superb aspect of the production is the casting. The villagers are played by a band of actors who can be best described as Felliniesque. It's such a memorable parade of toothless, cockeyed, gaunt faces which are a constant reminder that Furuhata is playing away from home. The killer's right-hand man, a kind of spokesperson for the villagers, is played by Hachiro Oka, giving a wonderfully grotesque performance.
Meanwhile, the killer himself is an unexpectedly sympathetic figure, especially in the poetic final scene between Furuhata and him. He is played by Tatsuo Matsumura who lends The Master grace and gravitas, two qualities never before seen in a "Furuhata Ninzaburô" villain. His presence alone suggests a quiet stoicism and inspires the kind of respect his villagers have for him.
The episode was directed by Keita Kôno who in his unassuming way has managed to craft a creepier and more mysterious episode than "Terror of Dr Kuroiwa". He is not a stylish or particularly inventive director but his nuts-and-bolts approach works well in conjunction with the beautiful village location. The night shots especially have an eery quality to them reminiscent of the best episodes of the wonderful TV show "Trick".
The murderer calls
After a somewhat goofy start with "Dr Kuroiwa's Terror", I'm happy to see season three returning to the tone and format that "Furuhata Ninzaburô" is best known for. "This Man Is Too Busy" is an unremarkable but completely enjoyable example of precisely that. It's a "Furuhata Ninzaburô" episode through and through with all the necessary elements working together to create a fun thriller experience.
This is also the only "regular" episode directed by Masayuki Suzuki and his ambitions seem to have shrunk accordingly. His direction is suitably pacy and certainly slicker than Keita Kôno's but it lacks the cinematic stylishness of the specials he previously directed. Rather than the direction, it is the music that shines this time around. Composed by "Furuhata Ninzaburô's" regular composer Yûsuke Honma it lends the production the bombastic intensity it needs. Seasons one and two used pretty much the same music but beginning with the SMAP special, Honma composed additional musical cues which feature a bigger, orchestral arrangement with some catchy and distinctive brass stings. The new musical cues work very well in the context of this episode which focuses on a very tightly wound and impatient man.
The guest star is Hiroyuki Sanada and he is also very much a classical "Furuhata Ninzaburô" villain. Arrogant and irascible, he is easy prey for the wily inspector Furuhata. Shintaro and Saionji get a little less to do in this episode which very much focuses on the back-and-forth between Furuhata and the killer, but the little gag in the episode's finale which sees them posing as lovers is easily one of the funniest scenes the show has ever had. Masanori Ishii has by now become an integral part of the series and his interactions with Masahiko Nishimura are priceless.
The mystery in "This Man Is Too Busy" is, on the other hand, one of the weaker ones and Furuhata solves it without breaking a sweat. Kôki Mitani has proven he can write a very good puzzle if he puts his mind to it but his work on season three so far has been rather disappointing in this area. The big gotcha moment in "This Man Is Too Busy" could have been great but there is very little build-up to it so that once it's revealed it feels more like a cheat than it should. A shame really since it is such a clever and grandiose way to catch a killer.
Back to basics
After an exhausting run of four back-to-back specials, it's a relief to go back to basics with "The Young Master's Murder", a pretty straightforward episode of "Furuhata Ninzaburô" which nevertheless is one of its more interesting entries. I'm always thrilled when the show covers traditions and worlds exclusive to Japan. Any detective show can have a pathologist killer but only a Japanese one can centre its plot around rakugo - an ancient form of storytelling. Thankfully, Kôki Mitani seems quite knowledgable on the subject and gives us a fascinating overview of its many traditions. I just wish we got to hear more of the rakugo tales as they seem quite entertaining.
Performing the tales is Samegoro Ichikawa, a pretty famous kabuki actor who makes for a good killer. He has the arrogance and the irascibility and Furuhata winds him up fairly easily. Returning to the old "Furuhata Ninzaburô" format means that we get lots of scenes between Ichikawa and Masakazu Tamura and they are as ever a real treat. I particularly liked the final scene in which the confrontation between the two is mediated by the younger man's teacher played with grace and humour by Yasuyasu Umeno.
This episode also marks the return of director Keita Kôno. After the cinematic direction of Masayaku Suzuki, it is hard not to view Kôno's more conservative approach as a step backwards but there are a few surprisingly well-executed scenes in this episode. Especially shocking is the brutal murder scene which would not feel out of place in a Giallo film!
The rivalry between Shintaro and Saionji continues and I must admit the little guy is really growing on me. He is Shintaro's better in every regard and the scene in which they compete to come up with the funniest punchline to a rakugo tale is a real delight even if it's obvious padding.
The story itself is quite interesting and, keeping in style with the theme of tradition, an excellent example of the shin-honkaku school of mystery writing. In other words, here we have what is essentially a logical puzzle. A mystery in which evidence is less important than the reasoning which gets you to the solution. Had "The Young Master's Murder" been presented as a straightforward howdunnit (i.e. If we didn't see how it was done) it would have been a perfect example of this particular style of Japanese detective fiction.
Furuhata Ninzaburô: The (Horror) Movie
Right from the "Silence of the Lambs" inspired opening sequence, we can tell that this is not your run-of-the-mill "Furuhata Ninzaburô". The episode was directed by Masayuki Suzuki and it has a kind of cinematic, expansive stylishness not usually seen on Japanese television. Look at those hauntingly gloomy shots in the pouring rain, the black-and-white flashbacks, and the smooth camera motions that make this special episode far more dynamic and atmospheric than any previous episode has ever been. In fact, with its 108-minute runtime, "The Terror of Dr Kuroiwa" is easily the closest we'll ever get to a "Furuhata Ninzaburô" movie and considering how good the cinematography is I'd happily watch it on the big screen.
This is a great way to kick off a new season after a three-year break. Furuhata's retirement is a good excuse for Kôki Mitani to reintroduce the three regulars (Furuhata, Shintaro and Mukojima) as well as introduce us to Saionji, a dedicated, smart, and very short police detective and the newest addition to the team. Saionji works unexpectedly well in the context of the programme offering not only a capable and intelligent collaborator for Furuhata but also a worthy rival to Shintaro. Season two saw the introduction of a similar character in Haga but he appeared far too briefly to truly make a mark. Let's hope Saionji gets more room to develop as a character.
While the filmmaking is markedly more atmospheric and cinematic, the writing seems to have unfortunately become goofier. There are a lot of gags in "The Terror of Dr Kuroiwa" which feel oddly out of place. The entire opening sequence which sees the retired Furuhata keeping police dogs, while undeniably funny, seems like it would belong more comfortably in an outright sitcom rather than a dramedy such as this. There are other similar over-the-top gags peppered throughout this episode especially the addition of a goofy, fourth-wall-breaking waiter who is most definitely overused.
But fear not, Mitani is still a good thriller writer and "The Terror of Dr Kuroiwa" has some truly innovative changes to the "Furuhata Ninzaburô" format. The first 30-minutes are especially interesting as they are played as a straightforward whodunnit. Unusually for this show, we don't get to see who the killer is until Furuhata himself figures it out. Although the title of the episode spoils some of the fun, it is quite intriguing to see in greater detail how Furuhata thinks and how he starts suspecting the killer. There is also a terrific mystery surrounding the killer's methods and motive. It's not terribly original (it's borrowed chiefly from Agatha Christie and William DeAndria) but it does provide more mystery than is typical in an episode of "Furuhata Ninzaburô".
The guest star is Ken Ogata who has a superbly creepy look and authoritative presence here. He's a formidable bad guy and it's a shame that he and Furuhata share so few scenes together. The final third of the episode in which they finally get to go head-to-head absolutely sizzles.
As is standard for these extended episodes of "Furuhata Ninzaburô", the middle drags somewhat. Mitani pads it out with lots of superfluous humour and a subplot involving Dr Kuroiwa's frightened accomplice but I do have to confess that my attention did start to wander especially during the endlessly talky restaurant scenes. In conclusion, "The Terror of Dr Kuroiwa" is beautifully filmed and features a top-notch guest star but it is nowhere near the best of "Furuhata Ninzaburô". Mitani seems not to have quite gotten his groove back after the extended break and the episode frequently wavers between awkward humour and downright horror. Shame, because the premise is very unusual and intriguing.
It is a startlingly brilliant and original idea to have the guest stars in "Furuhata Ninzaburô" play themselves. A few of the previous killers were expies of the actors portraying them (see "Magician's Choice", for example) but "Furuhata Ninzaburô vs. SMAP" is the first time the killer himself is a real person. On top of that, we get five for the price of one. The killers here are, as the title says, SMAP - an extremely popular Japanese boy band whose members also made their names as popular dorama stars (Kimura Takuya had even previously appeared as the chilling killer on one of the best "Furuhata Ninzaburô" episodes "Red or Blue"). The experience shows and these guys are not just pretty faces. They are more than capable of wrestling with Kôki Mitani's emotional writing and going toe to toe with Masakazu Tamura. It is a shame that this gimmick was not attempted more often as it is the one thing that could truly set "Furuhata Ninzaburô" apart from its spiritual ancestor "Columbo".
"Furuhata Ninzaburô vs. SMAP" is also the show's longest episode by far with an intimidating 136-minute runtime. I absolutely love the first 56 minutes of this episode which play out like a mini-movie all of its own. As SMAP struggle to execute their perfect plan, overcoming various obstacles and having to race against the clock, I felt like I was watching a small-screen version of a "Mission: Impossible" movie. The episode is directed by Masayuki Suzuki who brings the same dynamic intensity as Mamoru Hoshi but also gives the show a kind of cinematic slickness that it never had before. His camera movements are beautifully orchestrated, grandiose and flowing and his feeling for suspense is impeccable. When you combine all of this you get the finest first act "Furuhata Ninzaburô" has ever had.
Unfortunately, once the murder is committed the episode still has 80 minutes to go and this is where trouble sets in. All of the previous "Furuhata Ninzaburô" episodes with extended runtimes struggled with padding and this episode is no outlier. The second act drags to a laughable extent with long stretches of dramatic inertness and languorous pacing. After an exciting opener, "Furuhata Ninzaburô vs. SMAP" pretty much crawls to its finale.
The reasons for this are many. Most obviously, there isn't much Furuhata can do that would fill out an 80-minute runtime so the episode turns into an endless talkathon in which Furuhata talks the SMAP boys into circles without much of a result. It is baffling to me as to why Kôki Mitani didn't pad out the episode in the most obvious way - by having SMAP perform! Have them do five or six numbers throughout the episode and maybe show them do a sketch or two. It would be far less egregious than the useless dialogue scenes we do get. We only see the SMAP boys perform once in the whole episode and even that scene is intercut with the discovery of the body. That must have been a bit of a disappointment for the fans...
Another problem with the extended runtime is that for all the talking, the SMAP boys are not written as either arrogant or villainous enough to be compelling antagonists. Keeping to their family-friendly brand, Kôki Mitani has written them as a band of inseparable friends who are driven to murder in order to help one of their family members. As you don't really want to see them get caught, there is little interest in following Furuhata's investigation in such excruciating detail.
The episode is also light on humour. I liked the scenes between Shintaro and his new subordinate where he tries to act like his boss but ends up looking like a fool. However, most of the comic relief relies on Shintaro being starstruck by SMAP, a gag that grows old very soon.
And yet, if you have the nerves of steel to sit through the 80-minute talkathon, there is genuinely a lot of good work in "Furuhata Ninzaburô vs. SMAP". The five guest stars give good performances (especially Takuya Kimura and Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) and I think it's admirable that Kôki Mitani writes them as real, fleshed-out characters rather than simple caricatures of their popular images. Another excellent performance comes from Keiko Toda as SMAP's tough manager. The episode eventually does pick up steam again and the final 25 minutes are a real treat. Mitani has the investigation come to a head in an unexpectedly emotional and touchingly played finale - one of the best on the show so far despite the fact that Furuhata seems to divine the solution out of thin air yet again.
There is a really brilliant, tight and exciting episode somewhere in the sprawling and unwieldy "Furuhata Ninzaburô vs. SMAP" if only the editor were more ruthless. Had it run for around 90-minutes, I'm sure I'd be giving it a 10-star rating. The first 56 minutes certainly deserve it. However, as it stands, I have to deduct points for the second act which is so slow and talky it will test the most patient of men.
Where are you, Furuhata-san?
Detective Haga hosts "The Disappearance of Furuhata Ninzaburô", a tongue-in-cheek retrospective celebrating the previous 24 episodes of the show. Besides featuring clips from all the episodes, "The Disappearance of Furuhata Ninzaburô" also boasts a series of talking head interviews with all the killers who had the misfortune of running into Furuhata. It's quite sweet that they all came back to do their little cameos. Although brief, the interviews are quite entertaining and occasionally revealing. It's fun hearing about the killers' perceptions of Furuhata, what happened to them after their arrests, and whether they still hold a grudge (the killers from "The Contradictory Corpse" and "The Wrong Man" certainly do!). Kôki Mitani's dialogue is as witty as ever and I appreciated the little nods to the running gags from their respective episodes: the psychiatrist from "The Laughing Corpse" is still overanalysing everything, the shogi player from "The Dirty Prince" is as arrogant as ever, the actor from "Rehearsal for Murder" can only think about which films he would cast Furuhata in, the strict headmistress from "The Woman Who Doesn't Smile" still dislikes closed doors, and "The Quiz King" is still obsessed with trivia.
The clips themselves are introduced by Furuhata's associates: the ubiquitous Shintaro, the sentimental Mukojima, and the stoic Haga. Also there are Furuhata's boss Inspector Kanimaru and Shintaro's best friend the scientist Kuwabara. The clips are short and mostly compiled in thematic sequences. For instance, one covers Furuhata's childishness, his love of food, and his tendency to be starstruck by his suspects. The funniest sequence by far, however, is the compilation of all the scenes in which Furuhata slaps Shintaro on his big, shiny forehead. I also found the compilation showing all the methods of murder quite fascinating. Besides these compilations, several of the most notable scenes are shown and then commented on by the people involved such as the final scene in "Red or Blue" in which Furuhata uncharacteristically slaps the killer.
Unlike a typical clip show, however, "The Disappearance of Furuhata Ninzaburô" has a plot centring around, as the title indicates, the mysterious disappearance of the wily inspector (a clever way of explaining Masakazu Tamura's abscene). Where is he? Numerous theories are presented throughout the episode. His boss believes he suddenly decided to go on holiday, Haga wonders if one of the killers he caught may have gotten their revenge, Shintaro meanwhile is convinced Furuhata was involved with some kind of a crime syndicate which was actually committing the murders Furuhata claimed to solve. "Where ever he goes, murders follow," says Shintaro echoing the criticisms of many detective show viewers. Little satirical gags such as this abound.
When looked at as a retrospective or a celebration of the show thus far, "The Disappearance of Furuhata Ninzaburô" is a fun if somewhat elongated special - a neat bonus feature for the BluRay collection. As an integral part of the show itself, however, it doesn't really work. For one, it is far too self-referential and knowing. More disappointingly, however, it is a fairly slight version of what could have indeed been a fascinating episode. Had Mitani gotten rid of the clip show aspect and focused solely on the killer interviews, this could have been a unique and genuinely fascinating exploration of what happens after the credits of a detective show roll. Lives are ruined, sentences passed, and yet the viewers don't really tend to see or think about that. It's a shame then that Mitani went down a more comedic route and wrote something that plays more like a sketch than drama.
"Furuhata Ninzaburô" on autopilot
Just like the second season opener, the second season finale "Goodbye for a While" boasts an extended runtime of 70 minutes. And just like with the opener, the additional 15 minutes prove to be more of a curse than a blessing. Oh, "Goodbye for a While" is nowhere near as talky and slow as "The Man Who Talks Too Much" but it sure takes its sweet time to get going.
The first half of this episode is a fairly meandering affair as we follow the preparations for the recital. The world of Japanese flamenco dancing flower arrangers is not one I was familiar with so this was the aspect of the episode I found to be most engaging. Sadly, I learned little about this bemusing discipline since the episode dedicated more time to Shintaro's bad makeup than explaining who its characters were.
But once the episode does get going, "Goodbye for a While" proves to be an entertaining if unexceptional "Furuhata Ninzaburô". It has a few tricks up its sleeve. For one, I enjoyed the relationship between Furuhata and the killer, the charming flower arranger well played by Tomoko Yamaguchi. They have a more jovial and amicable chemistry than usual and there is far less adversity between them. Consequently, however, there is little suspense in this episode which proves to be a more laidback affair. I also enjoyed the fact that Furuhata isn't quite sure she is the killer. The scene in which he finally figures it out, through the help of some truly bad puns, is one of the episode's best. Another wonderful scene is the tense funeral which the killer attends with the support of Furuhata and Shintaro. The little flamenco dance they all do is absolutely hilarious.
For most of its runtime, however, "Goodbye for a While" feels like "Furuhata Ninzaburô" on autopilot. The method of the murder is taken from "Murder Express", the alibi from "Sayonara DJ", and Furuhata's presence in the audience is very similar to him witnessing the murder in "Magician's Choice". There's a little slapstick thrown in for good measure (Shintaro dancing the flamenco is genuinely funny though) and there is a little bit of mystery around how the killer found the victim in the dark. It's all very familiar stuff and unlike the two episodes that directly preceded it, "Goodbye for a While" offers no surprises.
An additional minus is a rather disappointing finale. Again, Furuhata solves the mystery a little too easily, especially the matter of the mysterious red light requested by the killer shortly before the murder. How he figured that one out is a much more confounding mystery all on its own. Maybe Furuhata is psychic... Now that would be a twist!
The best part of traveling is meeting people...
"...unless the person sitting next to you is a detective and you happen to be a criminal." And this is exactly what happens in "What Happened in New York", a most unusual episode of "Furuhata Ninzaburô", a show which pretty much specializes in the unusual, the subversive, and the form-busting. Only a show that does would go to New York only to film the entire episode inside a dingy old bus. That's the first subversion here. The entire story takes place on a bus, mostly in the same seats and between the same two people - wily inspector Furuhata and his fellow passenger and co-patriot Noriko. The second subversion is that the murder investigation is already over. In fact, the murder had happened years ago and Furuhata, trapped on a long and boring bus trip, has only Noriko's recollection to go off.
This set-up is not entirely unheard of in mystery fiction. Sherlock Holmes solved the mystery of "The Five Orange Pips" from his armchair, Hercule Poirot bet five pounds and his reputation that he could solve "The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim" without leaving his flat and Nero Wolfe made a career from his famous brownstone. And yet, on television, such a premise is a curiosity. In that world, "Furuhata Ninzaburô" is a genuine pioneer - a show that's not afraid of being uncinematic, only of being predictable. What the setting gives the show, however, is a sense of claustrophobia and the endless boredom of a long trip. Such a setting thus becomes a perfect place for a killer to confess their sins and a bored detective to accept and play a real-life game of "Clue".
Honami Suzuki plays the killer/challenger and she is probably the best guest star the show's had since Akina Nakamori. Her performance, cool yet unaffected, is worthy of some of the finest noir femme fatales. With her sunglasses worn at night and stylish costume, film noir was clearly an influence (as befits the American setting) and yet Kôki Mitani writes her as a very Japanese character - soulful, sentimental and tortured by guilt. The monologue she delivers in the final minutes of the episode is the best text Mitani's written for the show yet and Suzuki plays it to perfection.
Keita Kôno directs the episode in his usual workmanlike manner but in this case, his unassuming direction is a perfect fit. His work never distracts from the dialogue which is front and centre. There are no flashbacks, no photos, no recreations. The entire story is told through dialogue. The only distraction comes in the form of a vaguely racist comedic subplot involving Shintaro and a female passenger on the bus. It doesn't quite work, especially not in conjunction with such a serious, emotional mystery and, for the first time in the show, the gags started getting a little obnoxious. Still, even this side story gets a nice twist, a subversion of the obvious and the conclusion is quite entertaining.
Furuhata Ninzaburô: The Wrong Man (1996)
A series of unfortunate events
There's no such thing as a perfect murder but the killer in "The Wrong Man" probably comes as close to it as is humanly possible. Not only does he flawlessly set up a locked-room puzzle, but the crime is not even discovered by the end of the episode! It would have been interesting to see how Furuhata would have solved the murder that opens "The Wrong Man" but writer Kôki Mitani, a cold-hearted troll indeed, had other plans.
Instead of being a murder mystery, "The Wrong Man" plays out as a pitch-black farce in which a brilliant murderer gets caught up in an astounding streak of bad luck. The more he tries to dig himself out of the hole, the deeper the hole gets. The entire episode reminded me of that brilliant Rodney Dangerfield joke: "I put on a shirt, a button fell off. Grabbed my briefcase, the handle came off. I'm afraid to go to the bathroom."
This is an astoundingly tight piece of screenwriting. Throughout the 45-minute runtime, Kôki Mitani delivers twists upon twists. Continually, whenever I thought I had a handle on the situation, something completely different would end up happening. What is especially impressive is that Mitani is able to subvert every expectation with such good humour and devious relish. Besides being a delightfully suspenseful thriller, "The Wrong Man" is also absolutely hilarious. Look at the extended sequence in which the hapless killer (pretending to be the man he killed) tries to find a piece of paper in someone else's apartment or the wonderful scene in which Furuhata utterly ruins Shintaro's bowling night or the killer's frustration when he realizes why his victim was going to a hotel! This is one of the funniest episodes of "Furuhata Ninzaburô" so far.
Speaking of previous episodes, "The Wrong Man" has a very similar premise to "Message from the Dead" but is played in a completely different tone. Whereas "Message from the Dead" was wistful and gothic, "The Wrong Man" is a comedy of errors in which Furuhata intentionally drives the killer to distraction. In that, the episode is reminiscent of "The Contradictory Corpse" in which Furuhata employed similar cruel methods of torturing the truth out of his suspect. Masakazu Tamura is always at his best when he can play coy and here he is clearly having a blast.
The guest star Morio Kazama is great as well. He is especially good at portraying the killer's frustration with his perfect plan getting so spectacularly unravelled. The smug self-confidence he has at the beginning of the episode will be left in tatters by the clever end. I love his reaction in the bowling scene when he finally gets a small victory over Furuhata. As insignificant as that little bit of oneupmanship is in the grand scheme of things, it is still the first thing that's gone right for him that night. Or has it? Kôki Mitani takes that away from his as well with another clever twist...
"The Wrong Man" is one of the most unusual and most finely tuned episodes of "Furuhata Ninzaburô" so far. It's a wonderfully effective blend of Kôki Mitani's particular brand of humour and Furuhata Ninzaburô's signature style of detective drama. Never have the two felt so inextricably entwined before. Here we also finally see that Keita Kôno is able to be stylish with some very evocative use of dutch angles, deep shadows, and the snowy setting of the episode's ill-fated prologue. Unlike for the killer, the stars truly aligned for "The Wrong Man".
Pulling a pigeon out of a hat just won't cut it anymore
What are the ingredients of a good "Furuhata Ninzaburô" episode? A good killer is an obvious answer as is good humour and good direction. However, I would also add a good mystery to the list of requirements. Considering the open format of the show, such a thing is easy to overlook and yet if some of the weaker episodes have taught us, it's no fun if the killer is too easy to catch. "The Laughing Corpse" was a prime offender in this category - the killer was in the bag before the 20-minute mark. A similar problem befell this season's "Reward for Hypocrisy". "Master of the Game" was an interesting example as well. It featured a complex plot which was then disappointingly unravelled by Furuhata in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, some of the show's finest episodes such as "Furuhata Ninzaburô vs. The Quiz King" put the wily inspector's deductive skills to the test.
Now comes, "Magician's Choice", an episode which shows Kôki Mitani at his most devious. Furuhata really struggles to solve this one even going as far as conducting an experiment with Shintaro as his unwilling guinea pig. Once the murder is solved, however, the climax is even more satisfying. What makes "Magician's Choice" particularly interesting is that both Furuhata and we, the audience, see the murder be committed and yet there are so many questions. Just like "Furuhata Ninzaburô vs. The Quiz King", this episode feels like a proper whodunnit. But Mitani is even better than I thought. Just when you think everything has been revealed and the killer has been safely apprehended, he delivers another twist - even cleverer and more effective than the first. I won't spoil it but it is the kind of twist that makes you slap your forehead and consider yourself an idiot for not seeing it immediately.
But what of the other ingredients? Well, the killer is definitely first class. He is a cocky magician played wonderfully by Shingo Yamashiro, a controversial performer himself. Besides some very entertaining interplay between him and Masakazu Tamura, I really enjoyed the scenes in which he performs his tricks. There is a real air of showmanship and attention hunger in Yamashiro's performance as well as a great presence befitting a highly respected magician.
The humour? Well, "Magician's Choice" is a somewhat more serious episode. Sure, Shintaro does make a fool of himself and Mukojima makes an appearance but there is a more contemplative atmosphere here which makes the episode all the tenser. I did greatly enjoy the scene in which Furuhata assists Yamashiro with his big trick. It's fun seeing the great detective stumped if at least momentarily. Less enjoyable is the opening scene involving Furuhata and a badly trained cat. It's a clunky opener whose whole raison d'être is to provide Furuhata with a reason for attending a magic show and it even does that poorly. So, the humour is the one ingredient in this otherwise wonderful episode that has gone a little stale.
Thankfully, the direction is solid. Hidetomo Matsuda adds a bevvy of clever little touches which liven up the episode without becoming overbearing. Some of the include Furuhata pulling out an endless string from the victim's sleeve and Yamashiro not-so-subtly groping women as he walks through a crowd. The big murder scene is also superbly done through a series of moody close-ups - shocked reactions, Furuhata's analytical stare, the killer's nervous darting eyes, and the poisoned bottle of juice. Had it been edited at a more furious pace it would have resembled the work of the much missed Mamoru Hoshi.