Furuhata Ninzaburou Season 1 (1994) by Kōki Mitani (Part 2/2)

(*Note, although this is the second in this series of reviews, I only encourage you to read the first review to get the preamble of the review series, all subsequent parts can be read individually.)

Furuhata Ninzaburou is a Japanese television drama clearly inspired by Columbo with its focus on a disarmingly quirky detective and how he solves crimes the solutions to which we already know, but as we established in the first review of this series the series more than an idle copycat. Elements of Japanese culture play heavily into the series, with Furuhata developing a love for children’s romance manga, murders by kabuki, and crimes committed at shogi tournaments. Furuhata Ninzaburou, both television show and character, have the DNA of Columbo, show and character, but Kōki Mitani’s skillful scriptwriting bleeds through with tons of charm, clever clues, and memorable killers to create a show that stands on its own two feet…

The first six episodes of the series’ first season were split down the middle between three great episodes, and three less-than-great episodes, but the average quality was quite high, with even the worst of episodes being functional and having their charms. We will now round out the first season of this show with six more episodes, starting with…

Episode 7 – The Rehearsal Murder has samurai actor Jushiro at a crossroads, as the wealthy benefactor and owner of the movie studio has decided to sell the property for the construction of a shopping mall. Even after collecting the signature of every single person who works at the studio, Jushiro was unable to convince his supervisor to cancel the deal. Desperate, Jushiro concocts a devious plot to tamper with the choreography of a swordfight scene in which his boss guest stars as the villain, so that when he uses a real sword to cut his boss’s throat open, it looks like nothing more than a prop-and-choreography accident during the rehearsal, with dozens of witnesses swearing up and down that the crime was an accident. Now, Furuhata is posed with a new problem: not with proving who committed the murder, but instead with proving that the murder was deliberate and premeditated.

If Episode 6 ended off the first part of the first season on one of the worse episodes so far, Episode 7 opens up the second part with the best episode in the show so far. The specialized question of “how to prove the murder was intentional” is well-utilized here with a killer who does a good job at deflecting all of Furuhata’s suspicions by accepting half-guilt for everything he throws at him. One of the best scenes in the show is in this episode, in which Furuhata nearly dies after thinking he’s baited the actor into revealing he can tell a real sword from a fake one.

Throughout the episode, The Rehearsal Murder teases you with the inscrutable clue of a moving moon prop on the set, and the explanation for how it establishes the killer’s intentions to commit murder is utterly brilliant, if not totally believable. The denouement makes incredible use of the movie studio setting, with footage from an old black and white samurai film being used. This is the best episode of the show I’ve seen so far, and an utterly gobstopping inverted mystery. If you ever choose one Furuhata Ninzaburou episode to watch, let it be this one!

It certainly doesn’t help that I am a fan of old samurai films, so the stylings of this episode appeal to me personally…

Episode 8 – The Limited Express Murder takes place on a train, where Dr. Nakagawa meets with a private inspector who has proof of his infidelity. When the inspector threatens to release the photos to his wife, Dr. Nakagawa murders him with lethal injection and steals the jacket containing the photos. Unfortunately for Dr. Nakagawa, a detective inspector is on the train and refuses to leave him be…

Like the last one, this episode has a scene where Furuhata lays a trap that initially appears to go off without a hitch, but actually backfires in his face, only this time played for comedic effect rather than dramatic. Besides that, the episode is just pretty good, with lots of natural little contradictions building up an image of the culprit’s guilt, and the interplay between Nakagawa and Furuhata is good (as it always is in this series). The trap is a fairly standard variation on the typical inverted mystery trap of “killer reveals information they shouldn’t know”, but since it relies on baiting it out of the killer at the last minute it isn’t fair for the viewer, and isn’t very interesting. Not a bad episode, but overwhelmingly average in every respect and a bad follow-up to the exceptional Rehearsal Murder.

Episode 9 – The Psychic Murder has Furuhata at the set of Kuroda, a famous psychic television personality who is being visited by an engineer from a local university in an attempt to disprove all of his psychic tricks as mumbo-jumbo and jiggery-pokery, such as proving that he can move water with static electricity or showing how mind-reading is just asking leading questions with obvious answers. When Kuroda claims to have found the scarf of a missing woman, the engineer accuses him of planting the scarf there, and proves it by showing that the scarf was actually a fabrication he and the police concocted together to trick him. In disbelief, Kuroda has a public panic attack and, desperately trying to prove his abilities, suddenly “discovers” a corpse in the same location as the scarf, shocking everyone… except Furuhata who suspects the truth that Kuroda killed the victim!

In concept, the idea of a psychic pretending to discover his own murder victim sounds interesting, but in practice this paints the killer as colossally idiotic. The killer was only just accused of being at the scene of the crime, planting the scarf so he can pretend to discover it; the exact same (true) accusation can be made of him “discovering” the body, making this discovery not only unconvincing in proving his psychic abilities, but also entirely stupid in painting him as an obvious suspect in the murder. It’s such an idiotic maneuver on the part of the killer that it deflates all tension from the episode — the fact that Furuhata canonically plucks a confession from him in an in-universe half-hour is not surprising in the slightest.

The psychic show is incredibly fun, but unfortunately lasts for nearly 70% of the episode and doesn’t actually contribute to the mystery outside of one line that is dropped at the very end of the segment. The investigation at the end is very short, and the killer is caught on two very basic, generic clues. There is a brilliant idea at play, where Furuhata needs to prove that the killer saw something specifically with his eyes, as opposed to in a psychic image in his head, and the explanation for this is incredibly clever, but the question is underplayed to the point of having none of the impact it could’ve had, wasting what is ostensibly a very good idea for an inverted mystery trick. Also, like in The Kabuki Murder, episode 2 in part 1 of this review series, this episode heavily involves a second crime that goes entirely unresolved.

The killer’s personality is one of the most interesting of the show so far, but this is a story that would benefit from being told from their perspective. As it stands, this episode has a very promising beginning that ends up flopping around limply at the end with wasted potential and half-baked ideas. If nothing else, the psychic show being an extremely entertaining waste of time works in this episode’s favor, but this is the worst inverted mystery in the show so far, and it’s by a massive margin.

Episode 10 – The Politician Murder sees Sokomizo, the secretary to a prominent politician, on urgent clean-up duty after he accidentally knocks a young woman out who refuses to take his boss’s hush money. While trying to help the woman recover, Sokomizo is ordered by his boss to overdose the woman and make it appear like a suicide, much to horror. Naturally, interested in being selected as his boss’s successor, he does so reluctantly — while the politician, in the next room, orders a pizza to the crime scene and makes coffee with the victim’s coffee maker! Sokomizo is therefore horrified when his boss reveals, over the body of his murder victim, that he’ll be giving the position to his son, enraging Sokomizo. Now in so deep that another murder would be the least of his problems, he proceeds to strike his boss over the head in order to make it look like a failed affair that ended in a murder-suicide…

Only, Sokomizo is shocked when he is being badgered by a nosy police lieutenant, who mentions that the politician is not dead, but rather hospitalized with amnesia…

Like Limited Express, this is another one that’s technically sound, but I didn’t love so much. The psychological trick isn’t very interesting and, in my opinion, not properly set-up by the killer’s behavior throughout the story — it also recalls an episode of Columbo, which itself is also pretty middle-of-the-lane. Furuhata’s reasoning throughout the episode is good, though, and I enjoyed the scenes in the hospital with Imaizumi getting his hemorrhoids treated. Not a terrible episode, but not incredibly memorable.

In Episode 11 – Sayonara DJ, famous radio celebrity Otaka has been sending herself fake death threats in anticipation for the murder of her subordinate for stealing her boyfriend! She commits this murder during a very short break in her radio show, using a shortcut known only to staff, so that she could pretend to have been in her dressing room at the time… She dresses the victim up in her cardigan, making it look like the murderer who sent Otaka the death threats mistook the two women, and then returns to her dressing room using the same shortcut..! Only, to her colossal misfortune, Lieutenant Furuhata Ninzaburou was at the station at the time on her request, and he is not to be fooled!

This is a very good one, with an extremely well-utilized setting. The denouement, similarly to Rehearsal Murder, uses the radio station in very clever ways to accentuate Furuhata’s arguments. The trap that nails the killer’s guilt is another variation of “revealing unknowable information”, but not only is this one entirely fair to the audience, it does a good job at using innocuous information not clearly related to the murder to hide the trap (though the “Challenge to the Viewer” foreshadows it so heavy-handedly, I’d be shocked if anyone gets to the denouement without figuring it out…) as well as a fun pop culture reference. The killer is extremely charming and her banter with Furuhata is some of the best in the whole show — my favorite scene is when she forces him to answer listeners’ questions on the radio show as punishment for suspecting her. Not an out-and-out classic, as it isn’t extraordinarily inspired, but it’s clever and great fun.

A man is acquitted for the murder of legendary senior detective Kogure’s daughter. Enraged with the verdict, and knowing fully well the defendant is guilty, the police officer takes the law into his own hands, shooting the perp dead in the middle of the street! However, although Furuhata suspects the detective, he has a perfect alibi: he saw a man carrying an attache suitcase into a suspected drug deal at around the same time the murder was being committed, with multiple witnesses attesting to this and corroborating Kogure’s story. Worse yet, the witnesses all came despite Kogure asking them not to, proving that it was impossible for them to lie on his behalf. Furuhata must unravel this tricky alibi to establish the guilt of his superior in Episode 12 – The Stakeout Murder.

This one is very good, being the second semi-inverted mystery in the series with the first being Shogi Tournament Murder in part 1, since we don’t see the trick the killer uses to establish his alibi. However, it isn’t very hard to guess what kind of gimmick was utilized, there being maybe one or two different possibilities. The killer’s guilt is established by two clues, and while both are extraordinarily clever, only one is entirely fair to the audience, a mistake that flows organically from the killer’s murder plot and solidly establishes his guilt. The other clue is a huge coincidence and extraordinarily lucky for Furuhata, too, on top of being impossible to figure out until the last minute, but the way it ties around into establishing the killer’s guilt is novel.

However, I’m a bit disappointed that most of the investigation simply had Furuhata badgering Kogure about his stake-out. Maybe in a longer story, I would’ve loved to the relationship between Kogure and his daughter expanded upon more, since in this episode it’s just a data-point that serves to provide a motive. Otherwise, the killer’s only real charm is that we see him try fast food for the first time, and he treats it like it’s high cuisine. I also didn’t feel like the episode paid off on the inherent drama of Furuhata investigating a murder committed by his own superior officer — a renowned, respected man in his profession. This is the season 1 finale and has a naturally dramatic premise, so in a way it feels like a waste to have the episode be so… normal.

Nonetheless, still a very good, not extraordinary, episode that rounds season 1 out very nicely.

Furuhata Ninzaburou‘s first season’s last six episodes round out to being as consistently good as the first six.

What I’ve started to notice about Furuhata Ninzaburou, as opposed to Columbo, is that the former has a greater tendency for high-concept plots that go a long way to inspiring a strong variety of crimes, situations, and traps. Columbo‘s plots are more complicated, but nearly every episode of Columbo involves murders committed in the high-society, with business owners being a very frequent character to call on for murders, and the murders being, conceptually, the kind of murder you’d expect to see in the real world. Men bludgeoned to death in their offices, or shot in their bedrooms — all very conceptually sterile.

Furuhata Ninzaburou, on the other hand, feels a lot more comfortable running with stranger, less realistic premises. Murders committed on psychic television, and a samurai movie rehearsal being exploited to make the crime look like an accident, and an impossible crime involving cheating at a shogi tournament, and a detective author acting out a complexly-staged fake hostage situation all feel uniquely Furuhata Ninzaburou; the kind of thing Columbo would never touch.

Looking back, I began to realize that most the episodes I found the most underwhelming are the ones that felt too much like Columbo episodes and not enough like Furuhata Ninzaburou episodes, with a few exceptions. Limited Express Murder and Politician Murder both felt like the kinds of crimes I’d expect to see in Columbo, and in a way they also stood out to me as being distinctly unlike this particular series, too. Many of the episodes we’ll see in Season 2 will further show that Furuhata Ninzaburou had a firmer grasp on gimmick and premise than its ancestor Columbo.

I’ve started to feel like it’s actually a bit insufficient to call Furuhata Ninzaburou “the Japanese answer to Columbo“. It’s a phrase that diminishes how much work Furuhata Ninzaburou does to stand on its own two legs and be its own show with no regard for whatever may have inspired it.

Season 1 rounds out beautifully, and I cannot wait to review season 2. To end this review, a ranking of the twelve episodes of Season 1…

  1. Rehearsal (Season 1, Episode 7)
  2. Faxed Ransom (Season 1, Episode 4)
  3. Shogi Tournament (Season 1, Episode 5)
  4. Sayonara DJ (Season 1, Episode 11)
  5. Shoujo Manga (Season 1, Episode 1)
  6. Stakeout (Season 1, Episode 12)
  7. Politician (Season 1, Episode 10)
  8. Limited Express (Season 1, Episode 8)
  9. Piano Lesson (Season 1, Episode 6)
  10. Psychic (Season 1, Episode 9)
  11. Kabuki (Season 1, Episode 2)
  12. Psychological (Season 1, Episode 3)

This ranking is actually a bit misleading because I think it implies some episodes are worse than they really are. The Stakeout Murder, for example, is sitting in the middle of the list, which would imply that it’s roughly average/mediocre, but it’s actually very good. To qualify, I think 12, 11, and 10 are bad, 9, 8, 7 are underwhelming, and 6 upwards are a spectrum of very good to great. Let it go to show just how consistent the quality is in this show, then, if half of its episodes are at least significantly above average in quality.

Furuhata Ninzaburou Season 1 (1994) by Kōki Mitani (Part 1/2)

Genre cross-contamination between Japan and the West is nothing unheard of. For every The Lion King there’s a Kimba the White Lion, and for every Fistful of Dollars where’s a Yojinbo. Maybe Japanese artists have also taken inspiration from western counterparts. Arisu Arisugawa is a protégé of Ellery Queen, from the masked-superhero trend of Marvel and DC Comics came manga like My Hero Academia. And Columbo… got Furuhata Ninzaburou.

Started in 1994 and led by creator Kōki Mitani, Furuhata Ninzaburou is a Japanese crime drama not only referred to as the Japanese version of popular inverted mystery television series Columbo, but is apparently also explicitly inspired by the show in question. It follows Third Division Homicide Inspector Furuhata Ninzaburou, a disarmingly quirky and aloof detective, as he finds himself (sometimes on purpose, something by sheer chance) sniffing out criminal plots, honing in on a suspect, harassing them and whittling away at their alibi — and their senses! — until he finally has the proof to arrest his mark! As in Columbo and other inverted mysteries, every episode opens with showing us the killer conducting their murder plot and establishing their alibi. Where ordinarily a mystery is told from the perspective of our protagonist, the detective, and we attempt to follow along with their reasoning and intuit who the killer is, in an inverted mystery like Columbo or Furuhata Ninzaburou, the “mystery” is derived from the fact that we know who the killer is, and we have to wonder how the detective will solve this seemingly airtight crime and break apart clever alibis.

In addition, a common element of the Furuhata Ninzaburou series is two segments in each episode where the protagonist breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. Before the opening credits, Furuhata tells the viewer a bizarre non-sequitur that always ends up either being a hint for the solution to the episode or simply some thematically relevant ramblings. Later, right before the denouement, Furuhata Ninzaburou addresses the viewer and asks them if they can see how he solved the murder in something like an Ellery Queen-esque Challenge to the Reader.

Furuhata Ninzaburou ran for four seasons, with seasons 1 and 3 being 12 episodes, season 2 having 10, all 50 minutes long. The fourth and final season was made up of only three 2-hour episodes written to be a dramatic swansong for the titular detective character. The show was evidently incredibly popular in Japan and, according to Ho-Ling of the Casebook of Ho-Ling blog, a major influence not only on Japanese crime dramas, but also on Japanese pop culture as a whole. Similar to my other extended review series of episodic mystery franchises, like my Detective Conan series, I will be attempting to discuss the entire franchise by tackling it chronologically, chunk-by-chunk season-by-season, while also reviewing individual episodes. At the end of each post, I’ll leave a paragraph writing up my thoughts on what I’ve seen so far, and then post a ranking of each episode. However, as each season of Furuhata Ninzaburou is generally four times as long as the average Detective Conan volume, in order to keep the reviews from running on for too long I’ve decided to review the seasons by halves — this post will be talking about episodes 1 to 6 of season 1, for example, while the next will review episodes 7 to 12.

These review series always have such long preambles, so just the same as with Detective Conan rest assured that every subsequent post will be significantly shorter and more accessible. Thank you for bearing with me.

Episode 1 – The Shoujo Manga Murder has Furuhata, car out of gas in the middle of nowhere, interrupting a young woman in the middle of a murder plot in order to use her phone. Three days ago, Chinami Koishikawa, an author of romance comics for young girls, went to a private cabin on a liaison with her business partner and illegitimate lover, locked him into a vault in the basement, left him for three days to starve, and then returned three days later. Naturally, when questioned by Furuhata, the woman claims that she had only been here a month ago at the most recent, and that she believes the man’s death was an accident… but Furuhata is quick to point out that the victim has been bludgeoned, a fact unknown to our killer! Furuhata also has to grapple with an apparent dying message… in which the victim grabbed a piece of paper, opened a pen, held both in his hand, and then wrote nothing at all…

This episode is actually criminally good for a pilot, because it really set the standard a bit too high! Although it’s not the chronologically first episode in the series I think it was a fantastic choice to lead with this episode. Opening with Furuhata operating in a strictly unofficial capacity and putting him in an isolated setting to interact casually with the suspect and form a bond with her all show off the more charming side of Furuhata’s character that transcend the DNA of Columbo I think is missing in the series’ actual first episode (the second episode released, chronologically). Until about the end of the episode, there isn’t much of a whiff of investigation or detection, but instead a protracted scene of Furuhata endearingly getting teary-eyed over a children’s love story, and yet these interactions still drop salient clues and hints that dovetail together for the denouement.

Although the crime is very simple, especially when compared to some of the weirdly complex schemes cooked up by Columbo villains, there are multiple very clever clues that build up a picture of suspicion come the end of the episode anyway. The dying message in particular is brilliant in all of the ways a dying message tends to be — brilliant, while also being stupid and ridiculous. I do feel like given the nature of the dying message, there is a more obvious explanation that isn’t really addressed, and as far as being “the ultimate piece of evidence that allows Furuhata to definitively prove the killer’s guilt” it’s probably the least likely one I’ve seen so far to hold up in a court of law. Those are minor smudges though on a very cleverly-realized inverted mystery that showed me immediately that Furuhata Ninzaburou wasn’t a mere copycat of Columbo — it’s its own show, inspired as it is but nonetheless able to stand on its own two feet.

Episode 2 – The Kabuki Murder opens with a security guard hassling kabuki actor Nakamura Ukon over the homicide he witnessed a few days ago. Ukon had paid the security guard to keep quiet, but after his morals catch up with him the security guard threatens to go to the police and expose Ukon’s crime. In his panic, Ukon knocks the security guard over, causing him to hit the back of his head and die. Trying to cover up the murder, Ukon uses a stage elevator to bring the body to the theater, messes with the time on the victim’s watch to give him an alibi, and then tries to make it look like the victim died by falling from the catwalk…

Just like in the previous episode, the killer’s plot is a lot simpler than those in the Columbo episodes I’ve seen. I like the build-up in this one well enough, though I feel like Furuhata is a much less charming character than in the previous episode. There’s one scene that recalls a Columbo episode where Furuhata lies about the kind of evidence they’re looking for in order to bait the killer into attempting to destroy evidence that doesn’t exist. The final detail that cinches the killer’s guilt is also clever enough, relying on a very understandable misunderstanding.

What’s weird about this episode though is… everything else. The victim died because he was being bribed by the killer into staying quiet about another murder, but outside of the opening segment this second murder isn’t addressed and Furuhata doesn’t even make a pass at trying to give Ukon a motive for the crime. Ukon getting caught at all is also very unbelievably, since even though the final misunderstanding is believable, everything leading up to him being at that point at all relies on unnaturally poor decision-making on his part. They try to explain it away with an artistic motive, but his explanation doesn’t even hold water on an irrational level — the killer said that, as a method actor, he wanted to experience what the character in his upcoming play felt after killing a geisha, and that this opportunity doesn’t come along often. This explanation doesn’t pass snuff for me, because… the killer is the geisha, he did not murder a geisha. Even by this weird, deliberately irrational motive, it isn’t consistent with the internal logic of the character, making this whole episode feel like they needed the killer to be as unreasonable as possible to even let him be caught. A few decent ideas here, but very poor all-told.

Episode 3 – The Psychological Murder has psychiatric therapist Eri Sasayama on a date with her former patient and illegitimate lover, who cooked her dinner for her birthday, when he reveals that he is soon to be engaged to another woman. Enraged, Eri concocts a plan that involves locking him out of the house, thereby forcing him to “break in”, while also taking advantage of a quirk of his of loving to surprise people to make him put a pair of stockings over his head and pretend to be a burglar. Doing this, Eri is able to hit him fatally with a baseball bat, thereby allowing her to pass off her murder plot as a mere case of self-defense!

On the one hand this is probably the most complex and interesting plot any killer has concocted of these first six episodes, and Furuhata is very enjoyable in this episode, with a number of funny scenes (most notably, him smoking through a pair of stockings). On the other hand, though, a clever murder plan means very little to an inverted mystery, as that is merely the set-up. The solution is the method by which the detective reaches the true conclusion, and in this episode it’s painstakingly obvious. Not only is it horribly obvious here, though, but the episode spends nearly the entirety of its investigation beleaguering the obvious contradiction Furuhata is building to. While there is a second, more important contradiction, it’s hidden away from the viewer and is very unlikely, but the clues building up to it are also very clearly telegraphed so that the viewer should definitely already know roughly where it’s going. Not a very good episode at all, charming moments notwithstanding.

Episode 4 – The Faxed Ransom Murder follows the faked ransom of the wife of mystery writer Dai Banzuin. After murdering his wife, Banzuin uses a word processor to automatically fax ransom notes to his office from a supposed kidnapper claiming to have his wife and asking for millions of yen. Banzuin proceeds to perfectly act out the instructions he wrote out for himself ahead of time to create an alibi for himself when the “ransomer” finally murders his wife…

In all honesty, I was afraid that the first episode was a fluke. It was brilliant, but two episodes immediately following it were poorly-constructed, obvious, and not very good. I’ll admit I was tempted to stop watching the show for a bit, but I’m glad I didn’t because this one is stunning!

In both Furuhata and Columbo it’s standard for the killer’s murder plot/alibi construction to be entirely completed in the first portion of the episode, before the detectives discover the murder and begin investigation. However, this episode is essentially one 50 minute-long alibi construction in which the suspicion of murder isn’t meant to even occur to anyone, with the crime disguised instead as a kidnapping. Bending format this much creates a new problem where Furuhata not only has to bring guilt home to the perpetrator, but he has to prove that a death even occurred at all! I was afraid that the episode was going to go the obvious route to the solution, with the fax machine at the killer’s house printing out copies of the faked ransom notes, but no, all of the reasoning is very clever as well as fair, and the eventual trap that Furuhata lays for the killer is brilliant.

My favorite episode of the six, and it’s no contest.

Episode 5 – The Shogi Tournament Murder has Furuhata and his subordinate Imaizumi at a hotel which, thanks to being in a “shogi town”, hosts a prestigious shogi tournament. Three-time loser Yonezawa 8-dan is now one more loss away from being finally disqualified from the tournament, so he concocts a plan to cheat. Either player may, on their turn, ask for the game to be suspended for the night, but in order to prevent cheating by allowing them the whole night to consider their next move they’re forced to write their next move on a paper sealed inside of an envelope. Yonezawa has conceived of some way to bypass this safeguard by sliding an empty piece of paper into the envelope and later somehow writing his move down. But when the coordinator of the tournament finds out and threatens to expel him, Yonezawa hits him with an ashtray and attempts to make it look like he fell in his bathtub…

Another very good one. In addition to the impossibility of the killer writing his move into a sealed envelope, the episode eventually turns on the “psychological impossibility” of “why would a skilled shogi player on the cusp of winning make a losing move that even the most ill-informed of layman tournament-viewers can see is senseless and idiotic”. What I love so much about the Detective Conan inverted mysteries is that they have an element of howdunit — you only see half of the killer’s plot, but the important parts (the actual alibi) are left ambiguous so that the reader is still left a clever impossible alibi problem to resolve. I enjoy it when inverted mysteries leave that little gap there, and while the answers to the impossibilities here aren’t ground-breaking they still contribute brilliantly to Furuhata’s reasoning establishing guilt.

There’s a clue here that I did pick up, but many English-viewers probably won’t since it requires knowledge of the Japanese language. It’s very clever though, and somewhat recalls a clue used in a Columbo involving fingerprints on a painting… The setting of both a hotel and a shogi tournament are utilized perfectly, and this is another homerun for the series.

Episode 6 – The Piano Lessons Murder takes place months after the passing of world-renowned pianist Shiobara Ichiro, and Kawai Ken is set to play at his memorial service. Although Kawai’s favorite pupil, Iguchi Kaoru has been disgraced by his estate, and so she electrocutes him to death, inciting a heart attack and hoping to steal his place at the memorial service.

There’s not a lot to say about this one except that it’s basically a reworking/minor improvement over The Kabuki Murder, involving a nearly identical mistake that leads to the culprit’s guilt and a similarly artistic motive for the killer’s unreasonable actions. However, the killer’s mistake is enhanced by something like a minor inversion of the psychological impossibility of The Shogi Murder Tournament, and the motive is more compelling, consistent, and moving than the one in Kabuki. The killer in this one is my favorite killer character so far, but all-told it’s still only a minor improvement over the plot of an episode we just saw a couple hours ago. I guess just skip that one and watch this one instead?

Three brilliant episodes and three mediocre-at-worst episodes makes the first six episodes of this series average out to pretty darn good! Furuhata Ninzaburou as a character obviously has DNA of Columbo in him, with his disarming awkwardness, politeness-to-the-point-of-annoyance, and there are more than a few instances where I absolutely felt like the writers had to restrain themselves from writing “just one more thing!”. But he’s also got his own little quirks and habits that build up during the series, like his love for children’s comics or his culinary ineptitude. He isn’t an idle ripoff of Columbo, that’s for sure!

Something that seemed interesting to me when comparing this show to Columbo is that in Furuhata the killers’ plans are overall simpler. Just watch the first episode of Columbo, and you’ll see the lengths the killer goes to establish their alibi. Four of these six episodes have remarkably simple plots by comparison, with killers often just… committing the murder in a fit of rage and then lying. What’s more is, in five of these six episodes, the killer tries to make it appear as if the deaths aren’t murders — in three of them, the deaths were meant to look like accidents, one of them natural causes, and one of them self-defense. Despite this trend, I never actually felt like this was to the detriment of the show or its mysteries — the complexity of the killer’s plot don’t seem to actually matter so much!

The show is great so far, with three fantastic episodes lined-up, and even the “bad” ones had great ideas in them. With plenty of cleverness in cluing, variety of situation and skill in presentation, Furuhata Ninzaburou is already a great example of the television crime drama, inverted mystery, and a very pleasant show for anyone interested in more Columbo!

  1. Faxed Ransom (Season 1, Episode 4)
  2. Shogi Tournament (Season 1, Episode 5)
  3. Shoujo Manga (Season 1, Episode 1)
  4. Piano Lesson (Season 1, Episode 6)
  5. Kabuki (Season 1, Episode 2)
  6. Psychological (Season 1, Episode 3)