A few months back, I wrote around 3,000 words about why the 1979 TV series Tantei Monogatari is just so darn great. But being an episodic show, the real strength of the series lies in its wide variety of stories, and one review simply does not do it justice. To rectify this, I selected a few episodes that stuck with me on my first viewing of show, and wrote up my impressions on each.
Episode 2: Surf City Blues
While Tantei Monogatari quickly becomes adept at comedy, the intentionally screwball first episode unfortunately falls a bit flat. That said, the second episode, Surf City Blues, switches gears immediately to something more hardboiled, expertly showing off the series’ dramatic chops early on. In this installment, Kudo-chan is tasked with finding a woman’s runaway step daughter, and must convince the girl to meet her bedridden father before he dies. The woman’s family is extremely rich, with her marrying in upon the death of the father’s former wife.
This is the first Tantei Monogatari episode where the writing really stretches its muscles. With Surf City Blues, the series establishes its trademark balance of light-hearted antics mixed with high drama, numerous twists and turns, and tragic endings. With the looser TV standards of the day, the episode depicts brutal killings and explicit drug use, setting the stakes of the series’ hardboiled setting. Visually, we are treated to several great locations, ranging from classy beach clubs on the Zushi coast, dirty brothels in a very ghetto Shibuya, and dark, shady discos. Director Murakawa Toru applies his rough, guerilla-style of handheld filming mixed with expertly composed stationary shots to give the proceedings both grime and polish as needed.
Episode 5: Yogisha de Kita Aitsu (The Man Who Arrived on the Night Train)
Kudo-chan meets a man from the countryside who tasks him with finding his runaway sister. The missing sibling seems to be working in Tokyo, and is potentially involved in unsavory business. Despite a run-of-the-mill premise, the episode takes a strong societal stance and establishes what will become the ongoing worldview for the series by pitting a liberal city-slicker like Kudo-chan up against his client, a conservative Fukui native named Tamura. For example, when confronted with the prospect that his sister may be working in a hostess club, Tamura makes degrading assumptions about those who engage in such work. Kudo-chan counters, lecturing Tamura on how the world isn’t so black and white, and that people often have to make difficult choices in order to get by.
The episode has one the best sequences in the series, in which Kudo-chan takes Tamura out for a night on the town. Tamura asserts that he does not drink or smoke at the start of the episode, but when meeting Kudo-chan for dinner, the detective turns the country boy on to Tokyo nightlife, inclusive of fine wine, raucous discos, and “Turkish Baths.” The best scene features the two of them singing a duet at an old-school karaoke bar, with Kudo-chan on the guitar and Tamura on the mic. It’s my platonic ideal of a fine night out in 1970s Tokyo.
Episode 12: Yuukai (Abduction)
This is an excellent mid-season outing that starts to play with the Tantei Monogatari formula. At this point, the actors engage in a lot of fun adlib, the stories become more twisty, and the directorial style loosens up. As the episode starts, Kudo-chan is led to believe that he’s looking for some CEO’s runaway daughter. Upon finding this girl, he eventually learns that her and her boyfriend are actually part of a local gang, and were using the job as a pretext to run away with funds embezzled from their group, ultimately getting Kudo-chan wrapped up in mafia dealings and internal conflicts. It feels like the Cowboy Bebop pilot Asteroid Blues took some cues from this episode, so naturally I love it. This tale has a happier ending, though.
The episode is heavy on comedy, chock full of hilarious character interactions and slapstick antics. One side-splitting scene of chaos features the alleged runaway daughter drunkenly chasing Kudo-chan around his office in nothing but her underwear, complete with goofy yelling and items being callously knocked down for what feels like a full minute. But like any good Tantei Monogatari episode, the comedy is mixed with an appropriate amount of serious business–this time in the form of a hardboiled mafia plot–keeping the proceedings engaging. Director Kato Akira, Nikkatsu Roman Porno extraordinaire, brings new dynamism to the show’s many scenes that feature 1970s nightlife. Early in the story, Kudo-chan finds his way into a strange underground club hosting kinky live strip shows, with a creepy atmosphere being emanated via stark tinted lighting and psychedelic music. Props to idol Yuki Horn for bringing a lot of life to her mafia-girl guest character, as well as gaijin actors Osman Yusuf and Willie Dorsey for their goofy, over-the-top contributions during Kudo-chan’s investigation.
Episode 14: Fukushuu no Melody (Melody of Revenge)
Writer Nasu Michiko and director Murakawa Toru collaborate again for the first time since Surf City Blues, delivering another deliciously tragic tale, while dishing out more of the series’ signature social commentary at the same time. Opening on a dark and stormy night in Shibuya accompanied by spooky jazz music, Kudo-chan meets a woman named Akiko. She tasks our PI with the difficult task of finding the “real” culprit in a rape and murder case her husband–a high-powered lawyer–was fingered for. To make matters worse, her husband has committed suicide, unable to deal with the implications of the accusation. The investigation leads Kudo-chan to the cop who oversaw the case, Nishida, finding out that he may have a more sinister role to play in the mystery.
Up until this point, Tantei Monogatari has continuously painted the police force as incompetent and corrupt–but this the first time the show paints law enforcement as purely evil. Nishida is grossly depicted as a dirty cop: the show takes its time to lavishly showcase of his large, luxurious Tokyo apartment, and the script assigns him with a classist tirade about how society “needs” people like him to keep everyone in line. While primarily a procedural, certain scenes are soaked in mood–specifically the opening in Shibuya, and the proceeding emotional moment in Kudo-chan’s office where a grieving Akiko gives him the job. The episode expertly depicts Akiko’s emotional breakdown into darkness, showing her feeling utterly powerless in the face of those like Nishida who govern society, and twist matters to match their sick predilections. The final scene expertly showcases Murakawa’s use of irony, with Akiko exacting her brutal revenge against Nishida in the beautiful mountains of Nagano against a brilliant sunset, with Kudo-chan powerless to stop her, watching from afar.
The party isn’t over! Part 2 will cover the second half of this curated playlist of top Tantei Monogatari stories, and will also have a detailed look at the shocking final episode. Stay tuned!