The Inugami Family

Year: 1976
 Kon Ichikawa
Rating: 7.5

AKA - The Inugami's

This is a traditional murder mystery with a household of suspects, police who are on the wrong path, an eccentric private eye, false leads, a few twists and turns, dark family secrets and an Agatha Christie type of ending with all the suspects gathered together at the end as the private eye reveals the truth and the killer. The difference in this one from so many we have seen is that it takes place in Japan - and though this clearly seems influenced by Western who-done-its it is also very steeped in Japanese culture.

The film is based on a novel by Seishi Yokomizo, a prolific writer of mysteries and considered the father of the modern day Japanese mysteries that followed. His private eye is Kosuke Kindaichi and he was Yokomizo's character in nearly 80 books. The title of this book is The Inugami Clan and I read it a few weeks ago. It is quite good and as far as I can tell it is the only one of his books translated into English though another one is due in August. This is directed by the great Kon Ichikawa, who directed a few serious classics years before this one - The Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain and An Actor's Revenge. By this time he seems to be directing more commercial fare - and he was to direct four more Kindaichi films - The Devil's Island, Queen Bee, The House of Hanging and The Devil's Ballad. Not sure if any of these are available with English subs.

Kindaichi (Koji Ishizaka who appears in all the films) is asked to come to a small town where an attorney is worried that something bad is going to happy. Kindaichi is closer to a Colombo type than a Hercule Poirot - disheveled, always wearing a traditional cheap Yukata, a big floppy hat and constantly scratching his head bringing down an avalanche of dandruff. But before he can meet the fellow, the man turns up dead, It all revolves around the very wealthy Inugami family who live in this large intricate mansion. The founder of the family has just died and his will is about to be read to the family - which consists of three grown-up daughters from three different mistresses, their husbands and their three sons. Also, a young woman (Yôko Shimada - in the TV series Shogun with Richard Chamberlain) who was the granddaughter of his mentor who he has taken in.

Nearly all of them are snakes that you would never want to turn your back on - in particular the eldest one played by Mieko Takamine, who is so good in this - as is really everyone - terrific acting. The will is read and it turns out to be a convoluted invitation to murder - everyone has good reasons to kill others. And soon enough the murders begin in some inventive and at times (in the retelling) bloody ways. Very nicely done and I expect if you haven't read the book, it will keep you guessing till near the end. The film follows the book very closely. I read that this was actually Ichikawa's biggest hit and his remake of it in 2006 was his last film. It would be great if some of the other Kindaichi films came out with subs.