Meitantei Who?

The one real drawback to being a native English speaker is that everybody else knows your language’s literature but you don’t know theirs. This is particularly sad when it comes to Japanese lit. I mean, here are a book-loving, book-writing people if there ever was one, and the genres they love to write are the genres I love to read. But how many Japanese sf books have I read (that weren’t manga)? And what about mysteries? I tell you, it’s enough to make a fan cry.

Inspired by the eensy-weensy bit of information connected to Detective Conan/Case Closed, I’m going to make a bit of a list here of Japanese “famous detectives” (meitantei). At least then I can’t lose the info, and I won’t have to make another directory in my webpage either.

Edogawa Rampo is generally regarded as the father of the Japanese detective story. (You constantly see things telling you his name is a pun on Edgar Allan Poe…but this is apparently a Japanese urban legend, and he took the pseudonym for other reasons.) One of his famous sleuths is the private detective Akechi Kogoro (parodied in Detective Conan as Mouri Kogorou/Richard Moore). Akechi and his friend, the novelist Kobayashi Monzo, appeared in many works for adults before the war. During WWII, Edogawa started a series of stories for kids in which Akechi is assisted by the Shonen Tantei-dan (Boy Detective-gang) in fighting “The Twenty-Faced Monster”, a thief with a talent for disguise. They were the only boy’s magazine stories which weren’t chock full o’ propaganda, and were wildly popular. These Irregulars soon had their own series of movies as well. (They are obviously the inspiration for the Boy’s Detective Club/Junior Detective League in Detective Conan.) Just this year, a new Akechi film has come out from famous director Teruo Ishii. Moju vs. Issunboshi sounds like a really creepy tale of parallel Victorian Japanese monster criminals and damsels in distress.

Edogawa himself appears as a character in a bizarre movie adaptation, The Mystery of Rampo, of what must have been one bizarre story — a story about a writer who sees one of his characters in the real world. Is he crazy, dreaming, all-powerful, or is reality getting a little less real? However, there’s apparently an even more bizarre movie adaptation of another story, Black Lizard, because Yukio Mishima (yeah, the coup/suicide guy) was behind it. And in it, as a nekkid bishonen murder victim, part of the murderer’s extensive collection of human corpses turned into dolls. (*Rapidly backing away from Mishima* “Uh huh. Um. Well. Yes, I’m sure people will find this original. Gotta go back to the US now….”) Oh, and Akechi of course is the detective character in this thing.

Akechi also appears as a teacher in the CLAMP manga Man of Many Faces, as well as its sequel CLAMP School Detectives. (Both manga are obviously spiritual descendants of the Shonen Tantei-dan stories.) Akechi also appears in the Lupin III pilot film, as a guy in a tan trenchcoat with shaggy gray hair. This was perfectly fair, as in The Gold Mask, Edogawa actually pitted Akechi against the original Arsene Lupin!

Kindaichi Kousuke was created by Yokomizo Seishi back in the forties. Kousuke dropped out of college (thus rejecting any chance of a corporate career) and went to San Francisco, where he happened to solve some cases. When he returned to Japan, he opened a detective agency. His shaggy hair and wrinkled kimono don’t inspire much trust in his clients, but like Columbo, he likes being underestimated. It’s useful, because he tends to investigate incredibly tangled family situations and motives. His friend Inspector Todoroki is very fond of saying “I’ve got it!” Best of all, one of his adventures, The Inugami Clan, has actually been translated into English! There’s also untranslated manga of his novels Gokumontou,
Honjin Satsujin Jiken, Yatsuhaka Mura, Akuma no Temari Uta, Akuma ga Kitarite Fue o Fuku, Akuma no Chouji, and Inugami-Ke no Ichizoku (The Inugami Clan), all drawn by mystery mangaka JET. Fumiko Nagao also did her own version of The Inugami Clan.

I look forward to meeting Kousuke, because I am very fond of the manga written about his grandson Hajime. The Kindaichi Case Files, written by Kanari Yozaburo and drawn by Sato Fumiya, start with The Opera House Murders and go on for many volumes. The stories generally stand alone; all you have to know is that Hajime is a brilliant slacker who isn’t doing very well in school and refuses to admit that he’s got a thing for his female best friend, Miyuki. But he can solve crimes as brilliantly as his dead grandfather did, especially when they’re tangled webs of Gothic motives and gruesome murders. I love ‘em.

Matsumoto Seicho (whose real name was Matsumoto Kiyoharu) was apparently a very famous mystery writer; he even has a memorial museum in Kitakyushu. Here’s a partial bibliography of publications in English. Also translated were Points and Lines, Inspector Imanishi Investigates, and The Voice and Other Stories. French readers apparently also got to read Tokyo Express and The Black Vase, and called him “the Japanese Simenon”. But he doesn’t seem to be associated with any one sleuth. Apparently, he preferred to let an ordinary person involved with the mystery be the hero. He also seems to have had a very lean style.

Then there’s Akimitsu Takagi. His first novel, The Tattoo Murder Case, is postwar noir. But The Informer and Honeymoon to Nowhere both are Law and Order-type police procedurals that follow both State Prosecutor Saburo Kirishima and his detective colleagues.

Uchida Yasuo is another very popular Japanese mystery writer. He has written over 100 novels just since 1980 — over 86 of them in a single series! Most of them are set in picturesque places. (I guess business travel’s deductible in Japan, too….) His private eye, Asami Mitsuhiko, is very modern; he still lives with his parents! Detective Conan‘s Mitsuhiko/Mitch may be a tribute to Asami.

More than ten of Uchida’s novels have been serialized as manga, and still more are currently running. Thanks to manga, I know that Mitsuhiko wears a goofy Gilligan hat. Among the manga adaptations are: Tama Kohan Satsujin Jiken and Asami Mitsuhiko Satsujin Jiken, both drawn by Tsugumi Tsukishima. Biwako Shuukou Satsujin Ka, drawn by Miyuki Tokitomo. Finale no Nai Satsujin, drawn by Akino Matsuri. Fuusou no Shiro and Togakushi Densetsu Satsujin Jiken (The Togakushi Legend Murders), drawn by Fumiko Nagao. “Hagiwara Sakutarou” no Bourei by Yuu Satomi. Hakata Satsujin Jiken by Ryouko Shitou. Ueno Yanaka Satsujin Jiken by Yuu Eguchi.

For More Information:

“Mysteries in the Land of the Rising Sun”, a brief history of the genre in Japan, Nippon Noir, on the coming of the hard boiled detective, and Reading Japanese Pulp, an excellent and beautiful site. Also, a page about Japanese popular literature, including detective fiction, and a list of Japanese mysteries translated into English. Japanese Business Novels are mostly thrillers and mysteries, so they count.

Japanese movies based on Edogawa Rampo stories, a review of a Shonen Tantei-dan TV movie, a review of a recent Edogawa story adaptation by a famous Japanese director, a Shonen Tantei-dan art exhibit, and Edogawa Rampo’s World.

My Sojourn with Suzuki includes some information about Voice without a Shadow, the 1958 adaptation of a Matsumoto novel. There’s also another noir movie called Harigomi (The Stakeout) which was based on his work.

Detective Academy Q (Tantei Gakuen Q), an anime about a private high school training kids to be detectives! Looks like good clean fun. If Case Closed gets good ratings, it’ll probably be licensed and brought over here.

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