Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2009 June 01 • Monday

The sixty-third Soundtrack of the Week is Yugo Kanno's score for Yougisha X no Kenshin (The Devotion of Suspect X), a big-screen movie spin off of the Japanese television program Galileo.

Galileo, originally broadcast in Japan in 2007, is about a brilliant physics professor who assists a Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department homicide cop with her investigations. Yukawa, the professor, has no interest in solving crimes but Utsumi, the police officer, manages to hook him with some weird feature of the case which appears to defy scientific explanation.

Galileo is similar to a previous Japanese television drama called Trick, in which a scientist and a magician worked together to reveal how seemingly supernatural occurences were effected by human hands. It might also owe something to the Japanese TV show Kaiki Daisakusen (Operation Mystery, from the '60s but recently remade in Japan) as well as The Avengers, The X Files, Conan Doyle's immortal Sherlock Holmes stories and Jacques Futrelle's "Thinking Machine" stories.

The first episode, "Burns", begins with some teenage motorcycle punks making a lot of noise and annoying a man who lives nearby. The man looks at them from his window and dials a number on his cell phone. Immediately after that, one of the teenagers dies when his head bursts into flames.

The chance to find a scientific explanation for this apparent case of spontaneous human combustion intrigues Yukawa and draws him into the investigation.

In the second episode, "Floats", Yukawa decides to help when he learns that a murder suspect's alibi depends on a young boy who claims that, while in bed with a high fever, his spirit left his body, causing him to see the suspect and verify the alibi.

Yukawa doubts the boy experienced astral projection but the boy was too sick to leave the house and had no line of sight to the river from his window. If the suspect is innocent, this supernatural eye-witness is his only hope.

The third episode, "Rattles", turns things around as Yukawa asks Utsumi for help. The sister of one his colleagues is concerned about her husband who disappeared a week ago. Yukawa feels Utsumi owes him a favor for his help on the last two cases. Utsumi agrees to look into the disappearance.

The path leads to the family of a recently deceased old woman. Searching their house at night, Utsumi is terrified by what appears to be a poltergeist: the whole house shakes, doors slam and objects smash to the floor. None of the neighboring houses is affected. Yukawa joins the investigation at this point, determined to find a rational explanation for this noisy ghost.

While most of the Galileo episodes are melancholy, this third episode is the saddest. Yukawa and Utsumi are brought closer together, sharing a meal at the end,and Yukawa's students wonder if the two are romantically linked.

Episode four, "Rots", begins with the strange murder of a young woman in a swimming pool. When her body is found, the cause of death is determined to be heart attack, and only Utsumi suspects homicide, due to a strange purple mark over the victim's heart.

The trail leads to a brilliant student at Yukawa's university, one who is interested in using his intellect to create weapons for the military. The story is similar to the Kojak episode "Death Is Not a Passing Grade", in which a student attempts to prove that he is intellectually superior to his teacher. (In the Kojak episode, it was criminology student James Woods who thought he could outsmart Professor Kojak.)

While Yukawa is investigating, Utsumi becomes the killer's next target. This is the most exciting episode of the series and may have been inspired by the popular Death Note manga and movies, which also deal with murders that appear to be mere heart attacks. (In the Death Note stories, though, the cause of death is in fact supernatural.)

"Strangles", the fifth episode, deals with a classic locked-room mystery. A man is strangled to death in a hotel room. No weapon is found at the scene, and custodians in the hall report that nobody entered or left the room all day. The only clue is a strange story told by the dead man's daughter, that she saw a ball of fire fly across her father's workshop the night before.

The sixth episode, "Dreams", is the most convoluted story of the series, involving a childhood friend of Utsumi's who is now making a living pretending to be a spiritual medium. Voices and words that magically appear lead him to a young woman's bedroom. The woman's mother shoots at him, thinking he intends to assault her daughter.

Yukawa doesn't think there's anything remarkable about the case until Utsumi shows him her friend's school journal in which, decades ago, he sketched the events that just occurred.

In episode seven, "Predicts", a man has a vision of his mistress committing suicide. The vision then comes true a week later as he watches from his apartment window.

In every episode Yukawa has an epiphany, a "Eureka!" moment, and must scribble equations at that exact moment, whether he scratches them on the sidewalk with a small rock or uses his finger on a fogged-up car window. In this episode he memorably uses a magic marker to write on a glass display case containing a robot.

"Sees", the eighth episode, begins with a cooking teacher's brutal murder in her kitchen studio. At the same time, she appears outside her sister's living room window. Is it a case of teleportation? Yukawa believes he can prove that it's not. This scene shows him consulting The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal.

In an interesting development, the murdered woman is a friend of the medical examiner, a vivacious woman who appears in every episode and is on the same intellectual wavelength as Yukawa. It also turns out that the victim complained about a stalker to the police, who did nothing about it. These details make the story more somber and more interesting.

The ninth episode, "Bursts" Part 1, begins with the inexplicable explosion of a small boat on a lake, then continues with the appearance of a death mask on Yukawa's university campus, radioactive corpses of victims who worked in atomic energy programs, and mass dumping of industrial waste.

It turns out that Yukawa's old teacher is in the middle of it all, and possibly responsible for the murders. The first part ends with their confrontation.

In Part 2 of "Bursts" Yukawa theorizes that his teacher committed the murders. His old professor listens and gives Yukawa's presentation a D, telling him he needs to start over from the basics.

The trail leads to an experimental nuclear program called Red Mercury and a Christmas Eve time bomb which will destroy half of Tokyo. This is probably inspired by a similar device used in Negotiator Mashita Masayoshi, a feature-film spin-off of the extremely popular Japanese television program Odoru Daisosasen, a.k.a. Bayside Shakedown. (In the Negotiator movie, Ravel's "Bolero" plays while the bomb counts down; in this episode of Galileo, it's Beethoven's "Ode to Joy".)

This last episode of the series contains a conversation between Yukawa and Utsumi which is perhaps the most beautifully photographed scene I have ever seen in a television program.

Like most Japanese dramas, the soundtrack consists of about a dozen cues created specifically for the show. These disparate pieces of music are like characters themselves; once you know and expect them, you greet them with joy. The theme music is a catchy surf instrumental that's reprised everytime Yukawa has his "Eureka!" moment and dives into his equations. The same tune is also rendered as a poignant nylon-string guitar number.

The cues for the supernatural atmospheres are also very effective and there's a 5/4 jazz thing used to lighten the tone.

Unfortunately, much of the music on the soundtrack CD for the television show has been re-worked and extended, becoming in some places a fusion jazz jam. Thus some of the cue titles carry the ominous label of "(jazz ver.)" or "(mid funk ver.)". Perhaps the CD producers felt that the very short pieces heard in the show would have created too short a CD. Whatever the reason, I was disappointed not to hear the music on the CD as I heard it on the show.

The movie is a different story in many ways, though. While I would expect a bigger, more exciting "super-episode" of the show, the filmmakers went in the opposite direction.

The Devotion of Suspect X, the Galileo movie, begins with exactly what viewers of the television program remember. Using a superconductor (with explosive results) Yukawa demonstrates to Utsumi how a tiny projectile could have destroyed a large ship at sea, thus proving how a mysterious recent accident could have been mass murder.

This scene, basically a mini-episode of Galileo, ends with Utsumi's remark, "I bet you're clueless when it comes to questions science can't answer."

"Such as?" Yukawa asks.

"Such as … love," Utsumi replies.

"Yes, that is irrationality at its best," says Yukawa. "Why don't we insert it into an equation? ax2 + bx = c = 'love'. Can't be solved."

Yukawa continues in this way, inserting "love" into other equations, such as calculating the length of the hypotenuse of a triangle, until Utsumi says, "Forget I asked. It was a waste of time."

"Precisely," says Yukawa.

At first this seems like nothing more than the kind of banter you'd expect from these characters. The tag line for The Devotion of Suspect X, though, is "Love is a trick question" and the title of the movie imitates Yukawa's impossible "love" equations, with devotion on one side and an algebraic X on the other. Utsumi's point will be well taken by the end of the story.

The story is about a single mother who runs a take-out lunch place popular with people who work nearby. One of her regular customers is her neighbor Tetsuya Ishigami, a high-school math teacher. The woman's abusive ex-husband shows up unexpectedly one night and assaults her and her daughter. They kill him in self-defense but Ishigami next door has heard the whole thing. He comes over and insists that the police won't believe it was self-defense, and the scene does resemble that of a murder.

Utsumi and other police officers get involved at this point, and immediately target the woman as their prime suspect. With Ishigami's help, however, she has an unassailable defense, including an apparently unbreakable alibi. While the police still believe she did it, they can't find any proof at all.

It turns out that Ishigami is a mathematics genius and one of Yukawa's former university classmates. When they first met, Ishigami was trying to find a "beautiful" proof of the Four-Color Theorem, to replace the less attractive proof that exists. (Nobody has yet come up with a proof for this without relying on computers.) Yukawa doesn't want to assist Utsumi with the case, but he's eager to see his old friend again.

The movie has already departed significantly from the show. There is no supernatural angle and while Yukawa is interested in the case, he finds himself torn between the demands of two people he has feelings for. (His triangle hypotenuse "love" equation doesn't seem so silly anymore.) One shocking change of direction occurs when Yukawa is having dinner with Utsumi and has a "Eureka!" moment that is not accompanied by the familiar theme music and is not followed by his frantic scribbling. This time he keeps it to himself.

Another difference is that there isn't much for Utsumi to do. In her first scene she demonstrates that her instincts can be of greater value than Yukawa's logic. (The same point was made at the end of the last episode of the series.) The movie is much darker in tone than the series; bleak, in fact. A scene showing how Utsumi is pushed aside and belittled by her sexist male colleagues in the police force reinforces the movie's main theme, isolation.

Ishigami has constructed a very sophisticated puzzle and Yukawa will try to solve it, even if he decides to keep the answer to himself. Knowing the answer won't do any good if Yukawa can't also prove it. And both Yukawa and Ishigami may neglect the "x" factor, the irrational, the emotional.

Kanno's music reflects the nuances of the story and the characters' feelings very well. The various moods of loneliness, despair, death, love, anger and hope all seem to be given voice by Kanno's musical coloring. Many cues from the television series are reprised, though the theme music is not on the CD. (In the film, as I recall, it plays only during the end credits.)

The main title is my favorite piece here, beginning in the depths of depression and gradually ascending to lyrical and lofty heights, with especially good use of piano.

The same day the movie opened in Japan, a "special episode" of Galileo was broadcast on television. As dramatic a step forward as the movie is, the special episode charges in the opposite direction.

There are two parallel stories, one involving Yukawa as a university student (thus allowing the casting of a popular teen heart-throb as the young Yukawa) and the other showing the first time the adult Yukawa assists the police. (Utsumi does not appear as this takes place before she and Yukawa meet.) Sadly, this involves a beach volleyball scene in which Yukawa's athletic ability makes him the idol of throngs of bikini-clad sunbathers.

In a nod to The Devotion of Suspect X, the young Yukawa and Ishigami's paths cross in the flashback story. Both cases are indifferently presented and only the adult story is interesting, another locked-room murder. While the feature film risked taking fans somewhere they hadn't expected to go, the TV movie panders to people who might not know or care about the original series.