Friday, June 29, 2012

鍵のかかった部屋 「防犯探偵・榎本シリーズ ドラマ版」

Kagi no kakatta heya is the TV drama adaptation of Kishi Yuusuke's series of locked room mysteries featuring young attorney Aoto Junko and security consultant (professional thief??) Enomoto Kei. The stories were collected under the name of the third book/second short story collection in the series and Aoto's boss Serizawa was added to the main cast. Each episode is about a case where Enomoto has to explain a locked room scenario so that Aoto and Serizawa can prove someone's innocence in a murder case or find the culprit in what at first seemed like a suicide. So yes, a whole series that deals solely with locked rooms! How awesome is that? Pretty much, but due to time restraints and the relatively continuous theme and structure of the episodes, I'll just illustrate my Top 3 and give a final opinion of the whole series.

#2 鍵のかかった部屋 (The Locked Room)

After five years in custody, ex-thief Aida visits the house of his older sister and witnesses what seems to be the suicide of his hikikomori-nephew via charcoal briquettes. His room was locked from the inside and due to the apparent suicide method the door and the windows were also sealed with tape. His father has to drill a hole into the door and let Aida pick the lock via the thumbturn so that they can enter the room. They find paper streamers dangling from the ceiling and Aida's nephew dead in his own bed. Aida is not convinced that his nephew would commit suicide though, so Team Enomoto has to find a way this suicide could in fact have been a locked room murder.
As in most of this series' episodes, the whodunnit is pretty obvious and the howdunnit is the focus of the mystery. The method behind the locked room is a fairly scientific one and Japanese (re)viewers compared it to the Galileo series by Higashino Keigo, but I think in this case the trick was hinted at quite sufficiently during the episode. Even if you did not have the necessary knowledge to explain every bit perfectly, you could come up with the basic idea if you paid attention to the details and think about why the characters were thought up this way. Furthermore I always like it when an author tries to think of a method to make a modern apartment room into a locked room while not relying on tricks that are too difficult and complicated that the more or less common reaser would be able to come up with.

#5 鍵のかかっていない部屋 「原作:歪んだ箱」 
(The Unlocked Room [original title: The Distorted Box]

High school teacher Sugizaki and his fiance plan on moving into their own house, but an earthquake deforms the building and renders it defect, or it rather was a structural failure to begin with. After discussions concerning the breach of contract, the contractor is found dead in the defect building. Considering his head injury and that the room was completely locked, it seems like an accident when he slipped and fell down, but the strange part is that due to the deformation of the walls, the door can only be closed once from the inside and is then stuck in the frame and cannot be opened without considerable force and help. So why should the contractor have trapped himself willingly? Furthermore the door could only be closed by hammering against it from the inside and there was no way doing that from outside of the room by just pulling the door. So even if it was murder, how did the murderer escape the room or close the door from the outside?
The setting of a defect building is very unique and the trick itself is my favorite in the whole series since it is a rather complex and fascinating one, but it's still not overly mechanical in a way that no reader/viewer would come up with it. I actually did think of most of the method myself and just forgot a minor detail during the episode that would have enabled me to put the pieces together to 100%. I loved this case!

#7 狐火の家 (House of the Will-o'-the-Wisp)

In a small rural village known for its legend of the will-o'-the-wisp, an inexplicable locked room murder took place (probability of accident or suicide zero this time). Nishino finds his daughter Manami dead after she has apparently been thrown against a wall of the family's traditional Japanese house, with clear marks of physical struggle against an opponent left on her body. The old building has a untypically modern lock installed at the front door and all windows, except an open one with no footprints in the mud below, were closed as well. Plus a flower picking woman at an apple tree plantation would have seen anybody entering the house at the time the murder must have happened. This situation results in Nishino being convicted for the murder of his own daughter, but Nishino's friend Endou suspects Nishino's son Takeru as the murderer. Takeru is the reason for the unusual habit of locking a house in that kind of rural region, since he once stabbed a fellow pupil and has not been seen since. But even if he did come back to steal the Nishino's family treasure in form of gold ingots and killed his sister in the process, how was he able to get into the house and escape from an open window without leaving footprints?
The solution to this case differs from the other ones in a certain way, but it reminded me the most of classical Carr-ish skills and not because of the will-o'-the-whisp but because of the plotting and structuring of the murder and the excellent misdirection. Saying more could spoil the solution and maybe you should even refrain from watching the opening sequence this time, as every time there are little details shown that sometimes hint at the solution a tad too directly... even though I was never spoiled myself.

Initially I wanted to say something about the finale of the show as well, but time is scarce, so I'll just say that I really liked how they handled Enomoto's character in the end and did not try to change what was apparent from the beginning in a last minute plan. In general I think it's really remarkable and experimental to produce and broadcast a show with such a distinct focus on locked room mysteries in a time slot popular for its romance dramas and I was quite surprised and happy to see Kagi no kakatta heya getting between 15 and 18% viewing rate with a peak at 21%. To classical detective shows this can only in Japan I guess... not counting any kind of Sherlocks.

The budget also seemed to be surprisingly high and everything looks very posh. The soundtrack differs significantly from for example Nazotoki wa Dinner no ato de in that it's something where not every track seems to be composed for that exact kind of scene in that exact show. Overall the OST is kind of Electro- and House-driven at times, which I don't mind at all, and it certainly underlines the entertainment value of the show. When it comes to the relevant scenes, the music is still very fitting by all means. Examples: 1, 2, 3.

Kishi Yuusuke stated in an interview that Carr and Ayukawa Tetsuya made him fall in love with the locked room genre and it certainly shows. There are also new takes on well-known devices and themes like suicides/accidents in locked rooms sealed with tape (including poisonous insects) or the dog that doesn't bark or murder during a stage performance. Some of these turn out rather ridiculous, cheap or at least highly improbable, but overall I really liked 6 or 7 out of the 10 cases and still found the rest at least entertaining, so all in all this is highly recommended for any locked room enthusiast, especially since it's still hot and subbed!


  1. I talked about the series on my own blog, so I don't have that much to add... I still think that my favorite trick of the whole series is the one from The Glass Hammer. I am not a big fan of the way the story is set-up, but the trick is so memorable! The episodes you selected are among the best of the series though, I concur.

    The music is pretty good indeed, reminiscent of the Liar Game soundtrack (which I love, so...).

  2. I read about the structure of the Glass Hammer novel on your blog and can imagine that the second half could be rather boring, but the drama version was pretty entertaining as all the episodes. The trick is very memorable, but somehow it did not fascinate me as much as some of the other murder methods in the series. It certainly isn't ridiculous or improbable like a few other examples though.

    Still haven't watched Liar Game, but I have to admit I like a lot of the stuff Yasutaka Nakata composes... it's kind of a guilty pleasure ;)