Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Death at an Old Mansion

A few months ago I wrote here about the excellent Japanese mystery novel, The Honjin Murders, published in 1946 by Seishi Yokomizo.  It's a classic honkaku mystery, defined by Japanese crime author Saburo Koga as "a detective story that values entertainment derived from pure logical reasoning", usually, if not always, a mystery of the locked-room or impossible variety.  I've really been into reading these Japanese books for a couple years now, but I didn't find out till recently that there's been a movie adaptation of The Honjin Murders. It's called Death at an Old Mansion and came out in 1975, directed by Yoichi Takabayashi.

In brief, the plot revolves around the deaths of a bride and groom on the night the two wed. Both are found bloodied, stabbed by a sword, inside a locked room. The sword is found outside the room, however, and on a wall inside the room is found the bloodied handprint of a three-fingered person. Amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi, working with the local police inspector, tackles the case, and the investigation proceeds in the small town in rural Japan where the deaths occurred.

The Wikipedia description of the film says it's a horror film, but this is not accurate.  Death at an Old Mansion is a pure mystery, like the book, presenting a puzzle and a collection of suspects and an ingenious, complicated solution. What the movie does do, perhaps earning it the appellation of "horror film", is emphasize the book's macabre aspects quite a bit, while downplaying some of its humor.  The movie is less lighthearted, less playful, than the book, which serves at once as a superb mystery and a commentary on mystery stories.  One note: the brother of the dead groom, a  member of the eccentric family Kindaichi is probing with questions, is in the movie like in the book a detective fiction aficionado, and this makes for lively conversations in the film about the difference between crime in "real life" and in detective stories.   

I'm not sure why this film, at least in the US, is a bit obscure, but I'd say that for those who feel they've seen all the good traditional mystery story films there are to see, who are enjoying the current small resurgence of classic-style whodunnits on film, this is a film that would probably be up your alley.

And it's available to see on You Tube if you look for it, with subtitles, in a lovely print.

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