Sunday, May 6, 2012


Ichiyanagi Kenzou was supposed to have a bright future as a university scholar, but became ill and since then withdrew in the mansion of his family. Suddenly, at the age of 40, he decides to marry the 15 years younger Kubo Katsuko. She is a respectable young woman earning her own money as a girls school teacher, but the marriage is not exactly tolerated from the Ichiyanagis. Even though they still believe in standing and pedigree instead of thinking of the present and future, the ceremony takes place eventually. However at 4 in the morning screams and the shrill plucking of a koto rouse the family and their guests. When they look after the newly wed couple in their annex, they find them gruesomely slaughtered by a katana that is found stuck in the snow around the rear entrance. What is more, the sliding doors were locked from the inside and no footprints of the culprit were found that could hint at the culprit's escape... Kindaichi Kousuke, a detective that became renowned recently, is summoned to call this locked room murder.

Not that I should be reading anything right now, but reading something I'm actually using for a paper is not exactly procrastination, right? Plus, this was easier to read already knowing the movie adaptation from 1975, which is just as awesome in its own way. Anyway, not going to say anything terrific or new about this, but let's see...

While this is considerably shorter than usual for Yokomizo Seishi's standards but not short enough to be called a short story, it definitely helps to make the plot and setting very dense and concentrated on the basic essentials. There certainly is more exposition than dialogue, but it's mostly of the intersting kind. Yokomizo moved to the rural Okayama region during WWII to evade bombings in the capital after he became ill. There he realized, that compared to the urban regions traditional values like 家柄 (pedigree) were still very much intact and he was told a lot of stories by the villagers. Kawana Sari already discussed this aspects Yokomizo integrated in his works in detail in her awesome monograph Murder Most Modern and points out that these novels depict Japan's modernization process between obsolete values, rationalization and scientific progress. Kindaichi Kousuke plays a kind of unique role as a detective figure that certainly tries to solve his cases with rational methods and theories, but always takes the irrationality of the involved persons into account as well, since otherwise Japan cannot overcome these obsolete views that often play a vital role in the crimes and their motives.

This novel definitely already includes all these aspects and show how Yokomizo's works reflect the time they were written in, which also makes them interesting for readers nowadays. Nevertheless this is by far not the only factor which makes this a very important and influential classic of the genre in Japan and simply a splendid classical detective novel overall. Before this work was published, locked room mysteries could not really gain ground in Japan. That is, Western locked room novels were immensely popular among authors and readers of detective novels, but the classical Japanese architecture still existent at the beginning of the last century did not really go well with tricks of that kind. Japanese critics at that time were actually pointing out that Japan simply was way behind the West in scientific and intellectual terms, which made it impossible for Japanese writers to match the skills of Western authors. Even attempts at the genre by Edogawa Ranpo were run down by them as failures.

However, Yokomizo finally managed to write what critics entitled as the first success at creating a locked room scenario that could actually compete with Western works. And ironically he managed to do that with absolutely Japanese items, which was even more applaudable. So this is seen as the first real Japanese locked room mystery and I can certainly understand why it's so highly praised. While the narrator already points out in the beginning which Western works served as inspirations for this setting and trick, it's not like these "borrowings" make the trick any less ingenious or more predictable. The solution is definitely complex but not as overly contrived as some of its Western precursors and the trick itself is not that improbable since it seems people even managed to simulate it (not in its entirety of course...). Actually, the essential reason why the locked room ensued is rather ironic and makes sense in its simplicity.

I guess you could continue babbling about this epitome for a long time, but before it gets witless or even spoils the fun, I'll just leave it at this and again lament the fact that classics like this aren't made available for a larger audience.


  1. That's one creepy cover.

    Not much to add to your review (well, also because I've written more than once already about the subject, so you probably are sorta familiar with anything I could add). Wondering whether this means more Yokomizo from now on though? :3

  2. I have this anthology that includes 本陣, 獄門島 and 4 short stories, but I don't know whether I'll read the rest any time soon. Since I'd rather not read anglophone classics in Japanese, I decided to catch up on those (as might have already been apparent recently) before studying abroad.

    I do want to read more Yokomizo once I'm over there though and while I've seen a dorama version of 悪魔が来りて笛を吹く, from the stories I already know it ranks rather high on my list along with 悪魔の手毬唄, even though I probably haven't forgotten a thing of the latter, but it's just too awesome.

    You seem to have had rather disappointing experiences with some Yokomizo novels that weren't made into popular movies though, so I'm wondering which one I should pick in that field. Any recommendations?

  3. You should definitely stick with the major names/the earlier novels. 獄門島, 悪魔が来たりて笛を吹く、悪魔の手毬歌, 犬神家の一族 are all excellent. Oh, and I was quite a fan of 蝶々殺人事件 (non-Kindaichi novel). Actually, I might have to track down some Yuri Rintarou stories myself too in the near future.

    And ignore the short stories. Please. Ignore them.

    I have to admit though that I have become a bit more careful with my Yokomizo purchases now. I still have the TV series somewhere on my HDD, so I might watch the TV adaptations of the stories that look interesting before I actually purchase the books (No idea what they're about, but 仮面舞踏会, 不死蝶 and 迷路壮の惨劇 at least have interesting titles :P)

  4. The thing is that after watching the Ichikawa movies I don't exactly feel motivated to work through essentially the same stories in book-form. I know they deserve it, but there's just so much other interesting stuff out there... I'll definitely buy all the major titles, but I guess reading them will have to wait until I've forgotten enough details :P I'm almost kind of glad this already happened with 悪魔が来たりて笛を吹く (still remembering though that it was so awesome that everyone including myself wonders why Ichikawa never adapted it), so as I said this will most likely be the first one I'll pick up.