Tag Archives: police procedural

A delirious love story disguised as a police procedural novel

The first novel by Higashino Keigo (1958-) translated into English (in 2011)* is the 2005 Yōgisha X no Kenshin (as The Devotion of Suspect X), which won the Naoki Prize (the Japanese prize for genre fiction) and several Japanese mystery novel prizes. In that it starts with the gruesome slaying by his ex-wife Hanaoka Yasuko and her teen-age daughter (by another man) Misato gruesomely slaying Togashi, there does not seem to be a mystery. There are protracted attempts by Tokyo policemen to prove that Yasuko murdered her ex-husband. I have doubts about labeling the killing “murder,” since Yasuko was defending her daughter, but that issue never comes to trial.

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Indeed, the novel ends before any trial, with some definite surprises revealed along the way.

In that the suspect is Yasuko’s neighbor, mathematician Ishigami, I don’t know why the title has a “suspect x.” The only uncertainty on he part of the police and Ishigami’s former Imperial University friend, physicist Yukawa (who sometimes aids the police, who have dubbed him “Dr. Galileo”) is how many people committed the murder, more specifically if Ishigami was involved before Togashi was strangled. (The police are skeptical that a woman ten centimeters shorter than the “victim” could physically have strangled him).

I’d say that the key word in the title is “devotion,” not “suspect,” and that rather than being a mystery novel, or even a police procedural one, it is a love story. The measure of devotion is astounding, and more troubling than the initial strangulation.

For me, the pace is slow, especially since the police don’t investigate anyone else who was associated with Togashi, a quite nasty character whom I can imagine multiple people wanting to eliminate.


* Since then, Alexander O. Smith has also translated Salvation of a Saint and Midsummer Equation (and another five Hagshino novels not in the “Dr. Galileo” series have appeared in English).   “Suspect X” has also been filmed twice, once in Japanese, once in Korean.


©2018, Stephen O. Murray

Romanian policier with a conflict of law and conscience

I must be missing something, since I don’t have any difficulty considering “police” potentially to be an adjective, as well as a noun or verb, for instance in “police state” or “police misconduct.” In these examples, it specifies a kind of state, a kind of misconduct, right? And in a very unusual climactic duel between a young police officer and his boss (presumably a holdover from those enforcing the laws laid down by Ceausescu) “police state” is one of the constructions the Romanian dictionary supplies in its “police” entry. The key contested concept is “conscience,” to which I’ll return. But I don’t see anything peculiar or dismaying about the title of the much-acclaimed, award-winning 2009 Romanian movie by Corneliu Porumboiu, “Police, Adjective.

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The pace of the movie is, I think, the slowest of any police procedural I’ve ever seen. Plainclothesman Cristi (Dragos Bucur) follows a Vasiliu high-school student who sometimes smokes hashish but does not sell it. The boy smokes with the agemate who informed on him and an unidentified girl outside the school. Christi’s book (Vlad Ivanov, abortionist of “4Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”) tells Cristi that criminals use the term “squealer,” not those in law enforcement, while Cristi objects to referring to the boy he’s tailing as a “dealer.”

Cristi does not trust the informant/squealer and believes the source of hashish is the boy’s older brother whom the boy will not give up. For whatever reasons, the police captain presses Christi to make an arrest at least for possession.

Cristi pushes back that Romanian law will surely change as those elsewhere in Europe (including Prague, where he recently honeymooned) and that it is an affront to his conscience to ruin a kid’s life (even if he only serves half of the seven-year sentence) or place him in the position of regretting squealing on his brother.

This leads to what is surely the longest sequence of reading definitions from a dictionary in any movie. Trust me, this is a dramatic confrontation! Christi’s definition of “something in me that stops me from doing something bad that I’ll afterward regret.” The dictionary has communist residue in a definition of “conscience” as “part of the social system of a particular class, reflecting its condition of existence.” The captain does not insist on that one and fails to register the inclusion of “moral law” in the entry. As in other Romance language, “conscience” in Romanian also includes what is differentiated as “consciousness” in English, which obscures the discussion.

The captain insists that police follow written laws, not their own sense of conscience (moral laws) and will not allow Cristi’s older office-mate (also presumably left over from the bad old days) to arrest the boy.

Earlier, Cristi and his wife have an extended discussion about what a pop song’s lyrics (Mirabela Dauer’s song “I Don’t Leave You Love”) mean and she explains to him that his surveillance report uses a form that was abolished two years earlier by the Romanian Academy (which polices the language as the French Academy does).

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Critical praise has (IMHO) inflated expectations for all three of the Romanian films that have made it onto the art-house circuit (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu “(2005) is the other). All look drab/verité, proceed slowly, and covertly (though unmistakably!) criticize soulless laws and social systems (past and present: abortion has been decriminalized in Romania). The closest American equivalent to the Romanian film-making (generalized on the basis of three!) is Jim Jarmusch, with drab location shoots of long takes of which not much ever happens and sparse dialogue (it’s not even portentous here).


©2010, 2017, Stephen O. Murray



Nomura’s “Harokomi”


Though having been shot in black and white, mostly in cities, there is no way that Nomura Yoshitarô’s “Harikomi” (1958) is a “film noir.” Almost all of it occurs during the day and the protagonist, Takao Yuki (Ohki Minoru, has none of the moral ambiguity of a a noir protagonist. Indeed, especially for a policeman, he is quite innocent and pure of heart.

The last quarter of the movie fits with one of the English titles, “The Chase,” but the other English title, “Stakeout” is not only the usual translation of “harikomi,” but fits for three quarters or more of the movie, during which Tokyo, Yuji Sgt. Shimooka (Miyaguchi Seiji) and Takao Yuki (Ohki Minoru) are sweltering in Saga, watching Sadako (Takamine Hideko) who is married to a tightwad banker and raising his three children by a previous marriage. They are hoping that her former boyfriend, Ishii (Tamura Takahiro) will turn up in his hometown to see the woman he loved, so that he can be arrested when he does. He is wanted for killing and robbing a pawnbroker in Tokyo.

stakeout.jpgThings begin miserably with the policemen unable to find seats on an overnight train. Once in Saga (on Kyushu), the detectives sweat a lot and the landlady’s daughter is very skeptical of supposed salesmen who rarely leave their room (only when Sadako goes out) and pester the local police about these suspicious characters.

Voiceovers by Yuki reveal his changing attitudes about the household drudge (Sadako)  he has been watching and (more rapidly) about her relationship with her ex. He realizes he was wrong in pretty much all his suppositions about them, but cannot do anything with his new insights except to slightly palliate the troubles Sadako might have encountered with her stingy husband.


Like many movies by Naruse, Mizoguchi, and Kinoshita, “Harikomi” shows the lack of options for women (often enough embodied by Ms. Takamine). Far from saving her from a brutal lover, the younger detective realizes that she is having a brief idyll with the man who loved her and whom she loved. If not tubercular, he has a lung ailment, which is also a leitmotif of Japanese movies of the 1940s and 50s.

In addition to rejecting identification of the movie as a noir, I find resemblances to and claimed influence by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic “Rear Window” implausible. There are two able-bodied men watching a singular lack of suspicious activity across a street (not a courtyard). Not only do they not witness a murder, they do not see the murderer there. And they don’t even have a Brownie camera, let alone the professional photographer’s equipment James Stewart has while laid up with a broken leg in “Rear Window.”

And the unmarked flashbacks (to the case and the primary relationships of the two policemen) make it much more difficult to follow than the temporal through line of Hitchcock’s classic. Not to mention that the pace is rather leisurely, enrolling the audience with some of the boredom of the stakeout.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray