Tensai Tantei Mitarai ~ Nankai Jiken File ‘Kasa wo Oru Onna’

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Detective dramas are a staple of the J-drama landscape these days, and half the time it comes with the “genius (insert profession) + sidekick” solving cases, which has probably been done to death everywhere. After all, how many genius sleuths can there be running around? Still, it’s always interesting to check out the sort of cases these dramas come up with, and I never refuse the opportunity to watch a hot detective in action.

Mitarai Kiyoshi (Tamaki Hiroshi) is a brilliant eccentric neuroscientist who is also a famous sleuth. He is good friends with the author Ishioka Kazumi (Domoto Koichi). One day, Ishioka tells Mitarai about a mystery he heard on the radio – a listener had called in about a mysterious woman in white who was walking around in the pouring rain with a small plastic bag and a red umbrella. She then allowed the umbrella to be crushed by a passing car before going on her way with the broken umbrella. Mitarai puts the pieces together and deduces that a murder must have occurred in the vicinity where the woman was spotted…

Mitarai – Tantei Mitarai Kiyoshi no Jiken Kiroku is an ongoing seinen manga by Shimada Soji and was inspired by the author’s 1981 debut novel Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken (The Tokyo Zodiac Murders). It centres on Mitarai Kiyoshi, a neurology scholar and genius detective, as he goes around solving mind-boggling cases with his assistant Ishioka Kazumi. Such a detective pairing is not uncommon – Sherlock and Watson, to name but one famous example – and there are usually a few nice police officers who look kindly upon extra help from outside the force, no matter how eccentric the person giving it is.

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I went into this for Tamaki Hiroshi, since his being a genius detective tickled me, even if it’s kinda unbelievable how many geniuses go around solving cases. The case itself is fairly interesting, but not too difficult to figure out even if your Japanese is rudimentary or if you’re watching sans subtitles. What started as an unexpected murder gradually turned into something fairly calculated as the woman in white (Konishi Manami) grew conscious of just how conspicuous she must have seemed, walking in the rain in a white dress and bright red umbrella. Why she couldn’t have ditched the umbrella first thing instead of taking the trouble to have it run over by a car baffles me, because it was this extra step that got her noticed by the radio listener. Also, she was pretty careless to have just left both bodies (she thought she’d killed another woman) lying where they were, especially since she had the presence of mind to change clothes with the other woman before going on her way. But I guess properly disposing of them would make her a cold-blooded murderer, and that was not the SP’s intention since she was not eventually portrayed as such.

The backstory was nicely done and rather sad, and I liked that there were a few interlinked story threads that at first glance seemed unrelated. Unlike most cop procedurals, there was nothing climatic about the whole search for the woman in white, because ultimately, Mitarai wasn’t out to arrest her or exact justice. He just wanted to know the truth to satisfy his own curiosity and by the time he met her in person, most of the details had already been ironed out. So this was more of an exercise in brainwork and piecing together the disparate clues. It was kind of fun how Mitarai did all the thinking and figuring out, but sent the two police officers and Ishioka to do the actual legwork of finding crucial evidence (in a rubbish landfill) – I guess that’s the lot of ordinary folk!

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Tamaki Hiroshi was pretty decent as the genius Mitarai, who was eccentric to the point of being almost rude, and his behaviour is happily tolerated by his buddy and sidekick Ishioka, and also the police inspector Takahashi. I suppose it’s too much to ask of dramaland to give us a genius person who is congenial and who doesn’t have a truckload of quirks that scream “I am genius”. I’m happy for Tamaki to take on roles that aren’t remotely loserish or dorky because he’s done too many of those, so this was a treat since Mitarai’s personality vaguely reminded me of Chiaki (both certainly don’t mince their words!). And it was fun trying to work through the clues with Tamaki/Mitarai, even if after a while it wasn’t too difficult to figure out the whole picture. The man also wore the same set of clothes throughout the SP… c’mon, what’s up with that? Geniuses surely have more than one set of clothes! It’s a bit unfortunate however that the SP chose to employ the type of special effects – swirling equations and whatnot to show Mitarai in deep thought and figuring out the clues – that reminded me of what I’d seen in the Galileo series (which also had a genius eccentric physicist, Yukawa Manabu, helping the police solve cases). Whatever happened to just thinking things through the old-fashioned way?

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Haven’t seen Domoto Koichi act before, but thought he did fine. Apparently he and Tamaki were previously in the same drama (Remote, 2002), but did not share any scenes together. They had quite a nice dynamic as friends and it was kinda funny that Ishioka was also Mitarai’s housekeeper/chef of sorts. Katsumura Masanobu was the obliging police inspector Takahashi who was clearly in awe of Mitarai’s intelligence and used to his odd ways. I found the bit where Mitarai was whispering questions to Takahashi for him to relay to the officer at the scene of crime hilarious, it was so awkward and clearly brought about by Mitarai’s lack of EQ during previous investigations. I’d first seen Katsumura back when he was part of the hilarious ensemble cast of the original Hero drama, and was pleasantly surprised to see him here too. I also liked Konishi Manami’s turn as the woman in white and especially appreciated that she didn’t turn hysterical when Mitarai came to confirm things with her. There was a quiet dignity in Konishi’s portrayal, making it believable that all she wanted was the truth to be known so that her mother wouldn’t have died in vain. It was really all very tragic how things turned out the way they did.

For a two-hour SP, it was quite enjoyable and had a pretty solid cast, so I’m kind of hoping that there will be more Mitarai cases in the future. In the meantime, there will be a new film called Seiro no Umi Tantei Mitarai no Jikenbo, which will see Mitarai investigate a new case with another character called Miyuki, played by Hirose Arisu. Apparently Domoto Koichi will not return for the film, which is a pity since they were fun together and genius detective without his loyal friend/sidekick is kinda weird. Hopefully the film will turn out to be decent.

junny@11.50pm

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