My Favorite Tantei Monogatari Episodes: Part 2
As you might have gathered from reading this blog, I love the 1979 TV series Tantei Monogatari. In tribute to the show’s collection of great stories, I have selected a handful that stuck out during my initial viewing to write about. What follows is Part 2 of this overview of curated episodes–Part 1 can found here.
This post will also feature a detailed summary and armchair analysis of the final episode, Downtown Blues.
Episode 17: Kuroneko ni Wana o Hare (Trap the Black Cat)
A world-famous thief named “Black Cat” steals a painting worth 100 million yen while it’s in transport to an exhibition. A rep from the company that owns the painting meets Kudo-chan at his office, and coercers him into handling the delivery of ransom money in order to get the painting back. The delivery is botched as Kudo-chan and his client are attacked by gunmen, and the money is stolen with no painting to show for it. Under fire from his client, Kudo-chan sets out to retrieve both the money and the painting. During his search, he runs into a mysterious Chinese man named Sai who claims to be the real Black Cat. Sai asks for Kudo-chan’s help in getting even with the imposter who demanded (and stole) the ransom money.
The story is typical for Tantei Monogatari, with many twists, turns, and betrayals. But what makes this one stand out are weird moments of whimsy, and an overall off-kilter atmosphere–a characteristic that will go on to live in many of the later episodes of Tantei Monogatari, similar to Cowboy Bebop. While not at all PC in 2023, there is a wacky orientalism in Sai’s portrayal, between his long Chinese robes and the exotic Asian antique shop he manages. He also seems to possess supernatural powers, as he disappears on-camera in one scene (complete with corny 1970s special effects) and can seemingly change his appearance at will. Another deliberately strange sequence involves a goofy use of slow motion in which Kudo-chan tries to shoo away bullets with his hat as him and his client are being shot at during the delivery of the money. While some episodes of the show go over-the-top with the slapstick, this one goes just far enough to stay compelling while maintaining enough intrigue.
Episode 22: Blue Satsujin Jiken (Murder Blues)
Kudo-chan is having the blues. The episode opens with him at lunch, struggling to eat a giant roast chicken–which subsequently goes flying across the room when he tries to cut it. This is followed by all manner of other unlucky (and stupidly amusing) encounters on the street on his way back to the office. Upon his arrival, a man dressed completely in blue named Aoi (meaning “blue”) asks Kudo-chan to take on a job. Aoi is a gangster who has been let out of jail to receive hospital treatment for a developing case of cancer, and asks Kudo-chan to search for the man his wife, Yuki, has been seeing while he was in prison. Being a gangster, he of course vows to kill the man once he is found. Kudo-chan is reluctant to take on the job, but fearing the consequences of turning it down, he agrees. The search leads him to a cop named Terada, and a rival gang member named Tamashima. Terada is the one who put Aoi in the slammer in the first place, and Tamashima seems to have some underground connection to Terada–and both seem to know Yuki.
This episode falls into the final stretch of the show, where the series formula is perfected. The somewhat convoluted story is told in a zippy fashion, and the episode expertly transitions from being a light-hearted comedy to a dramatic tragedy. The outing is frontloaded with puns and slapstick sequences about Kudo-chan’s “blue” day, followed by a selection of other zany scenes as the story progresses. However, as Kudo-chan gets closer to solving the mystery, we are treated to a very tragic depiction of weak people stuck in a dire situation. Part-way through, Kudo-chan doesn’t even have to continue snooping, but his sense of justice forces him to sniff out the conspiracy to the end. While he does find his answers, the episode climax forces the viewer to scrutinize how important one’s sense of justice is when lives are on the line.
The Ending of Tantei Monogatari
Tantei Monogatari is known for having an extremely shocking final episode… which of course makes it my favorite installment of the series. For those who find a way to watch this show and don’t want to miss out on any surprises, I suggest not reading any further.
Titled Downtown Blues, the last outing with Kudo and friends starts like any other, but immediately takes a dark turn. The episode opens with Kudo losing his patience with a grocery store employee that overcharges his purchase. After shopping, he stops by one of his local haunts and meets an old acquaintance–a former waitress named Kumi, who is set to move out to the countryside with her fiancé that evening. Kudo ends up walking Kumi to the station, and meets said fiancé, Takeshi. All seems fine until Kumi is shot in the back while trying to board the train. We eventually learn that Takeshi has been tricked by the local mob, and the hit was supposed to be for him. Kumi survives, while Takeshi suddenly finds himself on the run. Kudo offers to support Takeshi, calling on his friends to provide protection while he makes his way over to get Takeshi out of his mess. This tragically results in two of Kudo’s friends being brutally murdered in cold blood by Takeshi’s gangster pursuers. Of course, Takeshi bites it, too.
Arriving at the scene, Kudo witnesses the cold bodies of both of his friends and Takeshi first-hand. Breaking down into tears, Kudo begins to lament the fact that he ever made friends in Tokyo in the first place. It is in this moment that we get a quick glimpse into Kudo’s past, as he alludes to something similar happening to him before. Kudo then meets Kumi at the hospital, fishing for any clues to track down the people who killed her fiancé and his friends. Upon receiving a hint, Kudo disappears, with Kaori, Nancy, and the two cops wondering where he mysteriously went.
Our viewpoint then shifts to a gangster sending off his benefactor after a meeting. As this gangster makes his way back to his office, he meets Kudo dressed in an unassuming disguise. Kudo begins to brutalize the man, knowing that he was the catalyst for the death of his friends. In an extremely visceral scene, Kudo destroys the gangster’s office, throwing flower vases and furniture at him, screaming about the death of his friends. The gangster pleads ignorance, but it’s only when Kudo threatens him with a large knife that he begins to talk.
Kudo forces the gangster to set up a meeting with his bosses at a local café. Flash forward, and these senior goons go to meet their subordinate at the shop, only to find his body cold. All that’s left with the body is a note from Kudo indicating his location. With the gangsters lured out, we are presented with the first scenes of Kudo killing people on-screen. Armed with just a knife, these killings are quite harsh–at least for 1970s TV. Kudo continues to surgically dispose of each goon up the chain of command until he reaches the top–a politician. Meanwhile, detectives Hattori and Matsumoto investigate the string of murders carried out by Kudo, but cannot pin a culprit, commenting that the murders are “the work of a professional.” Kudo continues on his rampage of revenge, meeting the politician at a local disco. The politician, drunk and dancing, fails to notice Kudo’s presence–that is, until he is cleanly stabbed, and falls lifeless to the dance floor.
As the episode approaches its end, we are reunited with Kudo in his typical attire at a local bar playing billiards. While quietly sipping a drink at the pool table, Dandy notices Kudo. Still visibly shaken, Kudo does not immediately acknowledge Dandy’s gestures, but eventually starts speaking to him. Dandy moves to setup a soiree with Kudo and the gang that night, while Kudo quietly offers his thanks. Dandy leaves the bar, and Kudo finishes his game, and his drink.
As Kudo leaves the bar, it becomes apparent that the supermarket employee he reprimanded at the start of the episode is also there. As Kudo steps outside of the establishment, he is immediately pressed against the wall by this man, and stabbed in the stomach. As we hear the assailant run away, Kudo asks him to wait: “Hey you… stop. You forgot this.” He pulls the knife from his stomach, wipes off the blood, and throws it off screen. “I won’t tell anyone… go ahead, and take this back home. Take care,” he utters before dramatically falling to the ground, seemingly dead. All the while, a portion of Down Town Boogie Woogie Band’s ballad Mi mo Kokoro mo quietly begins to play. This is followed by a smash cut to Omotesando Street in Harajuku on a rainy day. We notice Kudo walking through a crowd with an umbrella, which he proceeds to throw to the side. The camera pulls out to fully reveal the bustling boulevard, with Kudo disappearing into the crowd. Down Town Boogie Woogie Band’s number climaxes with a screaming guitar.
That’s the last we see of Kudo, and that’s also the last scene of Tantei Monogatari.
What It Means (?)
I think this episode eloquently puts a fine point on all of the main themes of Tantei Monogatari. From the very start, the show has an extremely anti-authoritarian message, with Kudo acting as an underdog leader for the downtrodden–those who must survive defying the power structures in which they have no choice but to live under. One thing we see often in Tantei Monogatari is corruption among high society or the world of politics, and how these corrupt actors must borrow the talents of those in low society to make their way even higher up the ladder. While Kudo typically doesn’t escalate these issues when wrapped up in them, clearly the deaths of his friends in this final episode forced him to get involved.
Many times in Tantei Monogatari when characters die, they “had it coming,” for better or for worse. And many times, the sacrifices are among people of the same social standing. The fact that otherwise innocent people were murdered by these mobsters due to high-level political corruption illustrates a fragile societal balance breaking down, and Kudo’s actions paint him as an enforcer to restore this balance as best as he can… but perhaps he goes too far, and lets his emotions get the best of him.
If we scale down, Kudo’s actions towards the man at the grocery store were also extreme, and him being stabbed by this man represents an extremely petty version of Kudo’s own revenge story. However, despite this, Kudo seems to survive. Or does he? When Kudo is stabbed, he’s dressed almost completely in white, but in the final scene, he is dressed completely in black. And throughout the many shot changes in the final scene, it’s clear that the color of his umbrella changes from shot to shot. These subtle touches seem to indicate that something is different about Kudo after his stabbing.
This bit of flare was apparently put forward by Matsuda himself, who had preferred for Kudo to straight-out die at the end of the series. This ending was of course not green-lit by the producers, who wanted to keep the series open for a sequel. As such, this Easter egg was likely thrown in by Matsuda to have viewers question what’s really going on.
Of course, Matsuda never actually revealed the reasoning for the mysterious nature of this final scene. Given he died at the young age of 40 in 1989, we will never know what this bit of trickery was supposed to mean. But if you want my amateur analysis, I would like to think this final scene is suggesting that Kudo is a larger-than-life being, there to maintain balance in the corrupt society him and his friends occupy. Him marching down Omotesando Street, away from the famed Meiji Shrine, also suggests some supernatural nature to his being.
Another curious part of this ending is that Kudo could have easily dodged his assailant outside of the bar. There are many instances in the series where he swiftly dodges gunfire at pointblank-range–but in this scene, it’s almost as if he waits to be stabbed. I think this suggests that Kudo realizes he overstepped boundaries in his rampage, and is accepting of his fate within this violent cycle. However, by letting the assailant off, Kudo is offering the man some solace. And perhaps as a result of this humility, a greater power allows Kudo to walk another day as one of the many Lonely Men working to enforce balance in the Bad City of Tokyo.
That’s what I like to think, anyway.
Perhaps next time I watch Tantei Monogatari, another set of episodes may stand out. But for now, I hope this overview gave you a better idea of what this show is all about. And if you have the means and language ability, I hope these posts have inspired you to seek out the show. It’s a good one!