An old master returns to an old favorite in the thoroughly enjoyable Japanese whodunit “Murder of the Inugami Clan.” Based on a popular novel, whose sleuth also inspired an ’80s tube series, this effort reps Nipponese vet Kon Ichikawa’s second filming of this detective yarn. His classy new presentation combined with a fine ensemble cast — including the central thesp from the helmer’s 1976 version — create a well-preserved relic from an era before bloody realism was the norm. Despite skewing toward older auds, December local release should deliver solid B.O. International fests will line up and a niche market awaits on worldwide ancillary.
In 1976, book publisher Kadokawa Herald enlisted esteemed helmer Ichikawa to direct its first cinematic effort. Socko film became Japan’s ichi ban B.O. achiever, acquiring a “Gone With the Wind”-like halo. Three decades on, the 90-year-old director was recruited again by the conglom, not only as a nod to his mastery but as part of a 30-year anniversary celebration of the book publisher’s film production arm.
Black-and-white pre-titles sequence, set in the idyllic, post-war rural town of Nasu, finds the Inugami family gathered round the deathbed of pharmaceutical exec and ruthless patriarch Sahei Inugami (Tatsuya Nakadai).
Group includes Inugami’s three grown daughters, by three women he never married. Two of them are accompanied by their husbands and sons; only eldest daughter Matsuko (Sumiko Fuji) sits alone. Also present is Tamayo (Nanako Matsushima), a much younger woman who was brought into the family fold by the dying patriarch more recently.
When Inugami dies before identifying his heirs, family lawyer Furadate (Atsuo Nakamura) says the will cannot be read until all the family members are present. Matsuko is therefore forced to send for her son, who has been in a convalescent hospital in Fukuoka since the end of WWII.
Visuals switch to color and script introduces film’s part-Tora-san, part-Columbo, detective hero, Kosuke Kindaichi (Koji Ishizaka recreating his role from Ichikawa’s original film).
Kindaichi has been summoned by the lawyer’s assistant, who believes one ruthless Inugami family member has already viewed the will and foul play will soon ensue. The assistant’s fears are quickly realized when he is fatally poisoned before he can tell the detective his source.
When Matsuko’s son, Sukekiyo (Kikunosuke Onoe), arrives, his face is obscured by a skintight, white latex mask which arouses the suspicions of the other family members until Sukekiyo rolls up his mask uncovering a horribly burned visage.
The will names the attractive Tamayo as the sole heir to the Inugami family fortune on the solitary condition that she marry one of the patriarch’s three grandsons. If she doesn’t, she will forfeit the inheritance.
From here, the yarn follows a classic whodunit formula, with detective Kindaichi trying to solve the initial killing, amidst red herrings and false leads, while the body count grows.
Ichikawa has fun with the material–script is reportedly faithful to the original book–and keeps things moving at a brisk pace. Storytelling style and special effects — including a distinctly rubbery decapitated head — may be old fashioned, but mystery remains unpredictable and auds will be kept guessing throughout.
Acting is first rate, though stern pic of patriarch Sahei looks like it was taken for a comedy. Lensing is pro, but cannot hide the fact that lensing was mostly doneon a soundstage. Remaining tech credits are solid.