Rampo (The Mystery of Rampo)

The Japanese novelist, Edogawa Rampo, is one of my favorite writers, so I was naturally curious when I heard about a 1994 Japanese film that features him as the hero of a fictional story.

The film is set in Japan in the 1920’s. When the film begins, Rampo (Naoto Takenaka) has had one of his novels banned by the government as being too disturbing for the public. In this work, a woman kills her husband by locking him in a trunk and suffocating him. Shortly afterwards, Rampo learns of a recent murder case that resembles the one in his novel. A shop owner has been found dead in a trunk. The police suspect that his wife, Shizuka (Michiko Hada), was the one who locked him in, but they are forced to release her due to lack of evidence. Out of curiosity, Rampo goes to visit her shop. She seems to take an immediate liking to him. She gives Rampo a music box, while refusing to take any payment for it. Rampo becomes obsessed with her, tentatively beginning a romantic relationship with her. When Rampo becomes convinced that Shizuka really did murder her husband, this only deepens his attraction to her.

Inspired by this, Rampo begins writing a new novel. Kogoro Akechi (Masahiro Motoki), Rampo’s detective hero and alter ego, is told to investigate Shizuko (Michiko Hada again), a wealthy widow who is rumored to have murdered her husband. She is now the mistress of the fabulously rich Duke Okawara (Mikijiro Hira), a sometime transvestite who likes to watch bondage films. (Yes, Rampo’s novels are like that.) Akechi manages to insinuate himself into Okagawa’s household, where he becomes romantically involved with Shizuko. At this point, as often happens in a Rampo story, the border between fantasy and reality starts to get blurred.

Rampo (also known as The Mystery of Rampo) is an erotic and strangely moving film. It does a very good job of capturing the dark, brooding flavor of Rampo’s writings. More than a little of the film’s power comes from Michiko Hada’s brilliant performance as Shizuko. She manages to convey an icy strength underneath her character’s seeming vulnerability.

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