Saturday, 7 June 2014

Suspicion

疑惑 (Giwaku, Suspicion) is a 1982 novella by 松本清張 (MATSUMOTO Seichou), first published, according to the Japanese Wikipedia page, as 昇る足音 ("The sound of footsteps on the stairs"). It comes printed with a second novella, which I haven't read yet. It was made into a film (also called 疑惑) in the same year, 1982; and as this was being shown near me earlier this week, I hurried to read the story before seeing the film.

The novella follows the trial of a woman accused of murdering her husband. ONIZUKA Kumako (鬼塚球磨子) had been a bar hostess in Tokyo, with yakuza connections and a criminal record; but she had risen in the world by marrying the rich Hokuriku businessman SHIRAKAWA Fukutarou (白河福太郎). Shortly after her marriage she had had his life insured for a huge sum. When one night the couple drive off the dockside of the local harbour and only Kumako swims out of the wrecked car, the police suspect that it was no accident, particularly after finding a spanner in the car, which Kumako might have put there as a tool to break the glass to get out.

The novella follows the case in a distanced way, either through the eyes of the local crime reporter, whose reports have made the story a sensation even in the national press, or with the general distanced view of public knowledge. We start some time after the actual crime, shortly before the trial, watching the attempts to find legal representation for Kumako, whose reputation from the press coverage makes lawyers unwilling to take her case. Finally she receives a court appointed representative, a specialist in civil law, from whom nobody expects much.

The style is generally very dry and factual. Only rarely does Matsumoto attempt vivid description, more of places than of people (who generally get a few traits, which are then repeated on each appearance). The dryness actually works very well, especially at this length, giving the work something of the feel of a documentary. That does make the ending a bit problematic. There's a too predictable "Oh the irony" ending, whose shape you can make out from about half way. I was really hoping that that wasn't where Matsumoto is heading, but it was. That's perhaps a matter of taste. The detection part of the story is quite solid, and the depiction of a trial being swayed by the judgement of the press is well done.

The film is directed by NOMURA Yoshitarou (野村 芳太郎), who made many films based on Matsumoto's books. I was not very enthusiastic about his version of YOKOMIZU Seishi's Yatsu haka mura in an earlier post; but I think this works quite well. There are two main differences between book and film. Firstly Kumako becomes the main character. Now in the book, Kumako is a very compelling figure; but we never see her at first hand, only through the eyes of public opinion or reports of others. This is clearly part of Matsumoto's deliberate narrative technique; and it neatly supports a major theme of the story, the judgement of public opinion. The idea of making a major character who never appears is possible in film too: KUROSAWA did it in Stray Dog. But of course this is a little harder in a courtroom drama. The change has consequences. In the book, readers will probably be ready enough to think that Kumako is a bad person, as far as they can judge; but the film makes her more complicated. The second major change supports that emphasis on Kumako's character. The lawyer is a man in the book, a woman in the film, a divorced mother, whose child is in the custody of the father and his new wife. The diligent, strict, self supporting lawyer is played as a contrast to Kumako, who is given to tantrums and relies on manipulating men. The film speeds through the earlier parts of Matsumoto's story to get to the introduction of the lawyer, transferring some elements forward (a little implausibly, sometimes) to the point where she can play a role in their discovery.

The deductions in the book come more or less whole through to the screen, but the actual arguments are downplayed and replaced by more dramatic revelations, which also have the effect of making the case less ambiguous than Matsumoto left it. The direction does still have some of the problems common in films by lesser Japanese directors. Like the book, the film generally has something of a documentary style, which it does quite well; but the acting of many minor characters is stagey in a way that jars with the rest of the action.

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