Sunday, April 26, 2015

Orient Kyuuko Satsujin Jiken (2015)

Agatha Christie's 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express, gets its first Japanese adaptation even though certain details are ill-fittingly transposed and dramatic tone is chucked out the window. The special works best closely following the lead of its 1974 cinematic version but the extended back story, which spans an extra two and a half hours of screentime, is arguably superfluous and does nothing to correct the unintentional injection of humor to an otherwise dark and grisly scenario. Fans of the mystery novel might rejoice at this latest incarnation but the innate weakness of the original story remains intact, along with the show's flippant treatment of its resolution. It's certainly an unusual pick for a two-part television special but its star-studded cast is certain to attract interest, given that the project marks Fuji TV's 55th year of broadcast television.  

In this version, legendary protagonist Hercule Poirot is reimagined as Suguro Takeru (Nomura Mansai)--- a tall, lean and fussy private detective, sporting an upward-turning moustache, eager to get back to Tokyo from Shimonoseki Station after assisting local authorities. Through the help of ministry official, Baku (Takahashi Katsumi), he is able to secure a sleeping berth on a luxury line initially thought to be fully-booked. The famous detective's passage aboard the first class carriage is not without incident, as his sleep is interrupted because of the constant movement of people in the carriage. 

The next day, businessman Todo Osamu (Sato Koichi) is found dead, murdered in an adjacent compartment. Along with Baku and a surgeon (Sasano Takashi) who's willing to lend his medical expertise, Suguro sets out to find the perpetrator whom he believes is still on board the train. He begins his investigation by interrogating all 13 passengers who occupy different stations in life, seemingly unrelated to each other. By piecing together clues found inside the victim's compartment and assessing the demeanor of each suspect, the great detective is able to relate the present case to a tragic incident concerning a prominent family, which in turn leads him to uncover a conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree. 

The story is constructed in such a way as to showcase Suguro's powers of observation even though the same suffers from an inherent weakness in the text by reason of the number of coincidences drawn and the far-fetched leaps in deductive reasoning. Thematically, it serves to demonstrate how individuals can be considered equally guilty of committing a heinous act to dispense their own brand of justice. There's an underlying debate in it---a moral question of whether there are indeed instances when it is acceptable to take the law into one's hands and render judgment against one who has escaped prosecution. 

The special goes through the motions of establishing the narrative of telling a tragic tale, condoning a form of summary execution but it lacks the weight accorded to the ethical dilemma of the scenario presented such as can be seen from the 2010 version starring David Suchet.  The adaptation fumbles by failing to explore the moral scruples that accompany the decision of killing a man in cold blood. Very little is said about the rule of law, divine punishment and perdition, making the revelation of the actual killing such a gruesome sight. It unintentionally makes light of the situation by imbuing characters with a nervous energy, reiterating resolve with gruff indignation, sometimes odiously treating the whole murder scheme like a game or enterprise. 

Writer Mitani Koki tries to remedy the dispassionate and limited portrayal of such a diverse group of characters by allotting the second half of this 2-part special as a means to tell the story from the perspective of the perpetrators. An extended back story is provided perhaps to justify the use and lengthen the exposure of its impressive cast but there's very little value-added to the show's 5-hour long runtime.

For those not in the know, Murder on the Orient Express is a grim and inopportune tale of revenge, originally set overseas, in Eastern Europe. Transplanting this famous mystery to Japanese soil robbed it of the exotic locale and the cultural/ethnic diversity that would have placed religious and socio-political beliefs as compelling factors that contribute to the outcome of the story. Meanwhile, viewer empathy for the array of characters is restricted given the large cast and the cluster of story lines in need of dispatch. Nomura Mansai's performance borders on parody while of the lot, veteran actresses Kusabue Mitsuko and Fuji Sumiko inevitably steal the show as the rest of its stars fade into the background. 



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