Shinzanmono is a Japanese TV Series that just ended its run last Sunday night, June 20th. Broadcast on Japan’s TBS Network, this show was definitely prime time as it aired on Sunday nights at 9:00 PM. The 10 episodes of the series can most simply be described as a detective story. The crime was a murder, and it took place in the Ningyo-cho neigborhood of Nihonbashi, Tokyo. Of course the series was shot in the very neighborhood being portrayed.
I think shinzanmono means something along the lines of ‘new neighborhood people or person’, which is what Detective Kaga Kyoichiro is in Ningyo-cho. Kaga was just transferred to the Nihonbashi precinct, is placed in charge of the case. With virtually all of the residents of the neighborhood’s main shopping street, harboring one secret or another, they will all emerge as suspects, Detective Kaga must use his keen sense of deductive reasoning to uncover the truth about these people as well as solve the case..
Much of that is from the synopsis provided on the d-addicts.com website. But it really doesn’t do the series justice. Calling it a detective show is truly an over-simplification. Unlike American detective shows where the detective solves a new crime each week, this series focuses on just the one case. We, much like Detective Kaga, are in the dark. Though we witnessed the murder in the opening episode, and have seen snippets of it, in flashbacks, in every episode that followed, we still have no idea. This is a literal, “Who done it?”
Detective Kaga is portrayed by Hiroshi Abe. He brings a quiet calm to the role, and from his simple white shirt without a tie, and black suit…he appears to be completely style-less. In that regard, he is similar to the beloved American detective, Lieutenant Columbo, who was played in that classic series by Peter Falk. But unlike Columbo, who actively worked at being shambling, forgetful, and messy to deceive the suspects, Kaga is none of the above. At worst, he is heading in the direction of being unkempt but hasn’t arrived at that station yet.
He is direct yet quite polite and courteous, sharp as a tack when it comes to smarts because he is sharp-eyed and listens to everything that is being said, and extraordinarily giving in the sense of calming and reassuring both victims and suspects to gain their confidence.
Though the series broadcast run has concluded, I’ve seen just the first five episodes as I must wait for the subtitles to become available. But from what I have seen, I can decidedly recommend the series. So let’s give you a leg up by introducing some of the characters to get you started.
First, who and what was the victim Mineko Mitsui all about? She’s a 40 something divorced woman, living alone in a small flat, who is also estranged from her 20 something year old son. From what we can see in the flashbacks, she’s attempting to get her life back on track, and has moved into this neighborhood because she has discovered that this is where her son lives. She’s made quite a few friends in Ningyo-cho, and apparently was well liked. Mieko Harada had the role.
The beautiful Meisa Kuroki has the part of Ami Aoyama. She’s a part-time freelance writer/reporter/stringer for some local magazines and newspapers. She also works as a part-time waitress to supplement her meager earnings from writing.
We come to discover that she is the girl friend of the murdered woman’s son. While appearing in each episode, she is also the narrator at the beginning of each episode.
Anne (just a single professional name on stage) plays the role of Nao Kawakama in Episode One. She’s a headstrong girl who can’t get along with her Mom who runs an upscale cookie shop in the neighborhood. Nao wants to go to Paris and study hair design with a thought of opening a salon. She also lies to the police under questioning about an insurance salesman who is a suspect. In the images above, that’s her in a white blouse (a press kit photo), and on the right an image from the series.
In Episode Two, we meet Yui Natsukawa who plays the restaurant owner Yoriko. Her husband is cheating on her with various bar girls. Detective Kaga is on the trail and he questions one of the girls, Asami, played by Mao Miyaji about this suspect. We will meet Asami again in the 4th Episode.
In Three we get to know more about Maki Yanagisawa played by the lovely Yuki Shibamoto (above). Maki had met and befriended the murdered woman. Maki also was fighting with her Mother and went missing soon after the police arrived to question her. In this episode. Gravure Idol Yuko Ogura (below) also had a small role as a mens shop manager. She sells Detective Kaga some ties and undershorts. Again, in the images above, that’s Yuki’s press kit image on the left, and on the right we have her in character from the series.
Four introduces a curmudgeon of a watch repairman played by veteran Japanese actor Yoshio Harada (below right). His surliness stems from his unhappiness and disillusionment because his daughter ran off and married (against his wishes) a young man whom he considered to be biker-trash.
The daughter (above center and left) is played by Haru and she and her father will not reconcile until she delivers a newborn son. Her husband is now working at a watch manufacturing plant. As for the watch repairman, he’s a suspect because he regularly walked his dog at the same park that the murdered woman Mineko frequented. And both of them were seen in this park at the same time on the day she was murdered.
In Five, we meet Miyuki who is employed at the favorite bake shop of Detective Kaga, Ami Aoyama, as well as the murdered woman. Miyuki is played by Mahiro Konno. Her character is pregnant and was befriended by Mineko, who watched over the pregnant girl, as any parent might; only she wasn’t Miyuki mother. We also find out that Ami Aoyama met and talked with Miyuki about Mineko in this chapter.
That’s as far as I can go up to now. It’s very interesting to watch as each Episode introduces a new character, and as we get to know them, we find that Detective Kaga will help them as people who are in need of a helping hand, and yet as he helps them, we must consider that each of them is possibly the murderer.
This excellent production has charm, wit, humor, superior writing, and lots of style. The characters are fresh, and while their family problems are universal and not new, we can enjoy how Kaga works his magic and uncovers their secrets one by one.
Through five weeks, I still have no idea who killed Mineko. And neither does Detective Kaga, and therein lies the charm and magic of this wonderful series. You just have to return the following week, because solving the case has become as important to us as it is to Kaga. Okay, make that almost as important.
The closing musical theme played at the end of each episode is called Machimonogatari and is sung by the popular recording artist Tatsuro Yamashita. (Edited on 12/25)] I did have a link to it in the title, but the video was removed from the net, so I have de-linked it. You will have to search for it on your own.