Thursday, November 08, 2007

Calling all sociologists …

… especially if your area is East Asian studies. After a long, drama-packed, psychologically compelling buildup, a murder has finally been committed in Akimitsu Takagi’s The Informer. The first named police officer on the scene is a chief detective, followed only afterward by the homicide inspector who takes charge of the investigation.

Here is where the sociology comes in. The motif of a superior officer given unexpected priority repeats a pattern I’ve noticed in my admittedly limited experience of Japanese crime stories. In Akira Kurosawa’s movie Stray Dog, the senior officer, played by Takashi Shimura, guides the junior, played by Toshiro Mifune, investigating with him, interrogating with him, and keeping him in line. If my memory serves me well, a senior officer also plays an especially prominent role in at least one of Seicho Matsumoto’s novels as well.

These instances all seemed a contrast to what I'm accustomed to, in which a police novel has one lead investigator. In the case of The Informer, the contrast with American and British police procedurals seemed especially marked. In murder mysteries from the U.K. or America, if any police are named as appearing on the scene before the lead homicide investigator, they are likelier to be of lower rank, a patrolman or a constable, rather than higher.

Your job, readers, is to help me figure out if this means anything and, if so, what? Does it reflect differences between Japanese and Western police procedures? Differences in the way Japanese storytellers think about authority? Is it even typical of Japanese stories at all, or is it just a quirk of the few that I know?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Linkmeister said...

It's a very hierarchical society, from what I've read. That may explain why there's a distinction between executives, managers, and salarymen. I lived there for nearly two years, but I can't base my opinion on that, since I had little conversational contact with the locals (other than, "here's my 17,000¥ rent, Mama-san" every month).

November 09, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Aha, I never knew you had lived in Japan.

Yes, the hierarchy of the society would have something to do with any guess I could make, but that could explain the author's choices in any number of ways. It could also predispose me to see features in the stories that may not really be there. I'm hoping I can get some opinions on this from someone who knows more than I do.

All the works I cited were from the 1950s and 1960s. It would be interesting to compare them to newer Japanese crime fiction.

November 09, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Long ago when the world was young (1972-1974, USN).

November 09, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Questions of respect and authority keep cropping up in the murder investigation. An investigating prosecutor assumes he will command more respect than a mere police officer, but that same prosecutor, young for the job, is easily intimidated by an older company director whom he interrogates: "Not only did he feel he was too young to act arrogantly towards a man of Kurosaka's age ... "

November 09, 2007  

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