What’s this you say? A Japanese impossible crime TV series based on the works of Keigo Higashino? Yes please!
Galileo (ガリレオ) explores the relationship between rookie detective Kaoru Utsumi – first introduced to English readers in Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint – and University physics professor Manabu Yukawa, as they team up to solve complex cases. What’s not to love!
Each episode features an impossible mystery: young boys astrally project themselves to give alibi’s to accused murderers, people die in locked rooms with the only clue being that fireballs are seen leaping across the room from the building opposite, secret messages float on water then disappear when grabbed at, and much more. Each crime has some route within a scientific hypothesis, and Yukawa, known lovingly by the police force as ‘Galileo’ for being a ‘weird’ scientist, arrives at the solution through some kind of testable method, after furiously scribing an equation wherever he may find himself, which can then be demonstrated in his university laboratory.
The series is exactly what you would expect from a prime time Asian drama. Melodramatic performances, knock-about and groan worthy humour, parodied characters and crazy music choices. But within that is some really sophisticated writing and some high level plotting, clueing and original impossible set ups.
The characters Utsumi and Yukawa are based on two series detectives from contemporary, Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino. However, apart from their job titles, the complex crimes, and the fact Yukawa drinks instant coffee, that’s pretty much where the resemblance to the books ends. But it doesn’t make the series un-enjoyable, and the writers are consistent with what they have created, and after the first two episodes (it seems like they needed to warm the general viewer into the series) the writing and the crimes get much more serious, chilling and eerie. Each episode can be seen as a short morality tale with a theme explored through each paranormal or impossible situation: is it right to sympathise with a serial killer? Is it right to commit suicide if it benefits others? Is it right to allow people to keep false beliefs if it comforts them? And the overarching theme of the whole series: logic against intuition and emotion. It was a tough choice, but to warm you into watching this series, here are my top 5 episodes from the 10 in this first series, in order of appearance:
‘Moeru’ (Burns) – Ep 1
The opening episode of the series begins with a group of young social layabouts causing havoc in a quiet area of town. A man looking at them out of his window lifts his phone, types in a few digits, and the groups leader freezes on the spot, his head bursting into flames. Great visual clues throughout and the witness of a little child to a strange occurrence during a lantern festival bring Yukawa and Utsumi to the incredibly complex solution. But just when you feel like things are tying up too neatly, and the crime seems outlandish, there is a sudden twist which changes your perspective on the entire event, and makes the solution totally believable.
‘Sawagu’ (Poltergeist) – Ep 3
Utsumi gets a call from Yukawa, asking her to help find the missing brother-in-law of one of his students. The man, missing for over a week, was known to enter the house of a recently deceased old woman. The house now seems to be occupied by a cast of suspicious characters. When Utsumi breaks in to investigate the walls are covered with handwritten protective signs against spirits, and a few moments later the entire house shakes violently throwing objects everywhere. Is it the spirit of the old woman, or a message from the missing man? The solution to the poltergeist activity is super simple, but it’s the why it happened at the exact time of the death and disappearance which makes it so clever.
‘Shiru’ (Foresight) – Ep 6
A cracker of an opening scene leads into the only semi-inverted mystery of the series, the premise and setup of which could have been lifted straight from a Higashino story. (Who knows maybe it is, we don’t have a huge amount of translations here!). A newlywed is drinking with his beautiful wife and best friend when he receives a strange call. After looking at the number, he pretends to answer a business call and slips into another room. An affair is revealed and the woman on the phone says that he had promised to marry her. He says it’s impossible, and with that she tells him to look out of his window. Pulling the curtain aside he looks to the flats opposite, and there is the woman, stood on a chair, her head through a noose. She says he has five seconds to decide or she will hang herself and begins to count down. The man in desperation pleads, but she reaches one, and kicks the chair away. Utsumi is called to her flat to see the body and clear the scene, but a few passing strange objects show that things might not be what they seem. This was definitely my favourite episode from the series, the clueing, pace and plot are just perfect.
‘Miru’ (Spiritual Sight) – Ep 8
A famous chef is stabbed to death (over 270 times) in her cooking school kitchen, but at the exact time of her murder she is seen by her sister, standing outside the window of her apartment seemingly warning her of her murder. The apartment is over 30 kilometres away, and impossible to reach in the time frame. This isn’t the strongest mystery in the series, but some lovely clues – including why a button on a cd player would make music go fuzzy – and again the reason why things happened in the way they did, make it convincing and memorable.
‘Utsuru’ + ‘Hazeru’ (Transcription and Explosion) Ep 9-10
Utsumi is forced to do a police talk at a local secondary school during their school festival. Afterward she is looking around the school art exhibition when she encounters an unbelievably life-like (or should I say death-like) sculpture. A plaster cast face suspended in a gilt frame titled ‘Death Mask of a Zombie’. There is a commotion in the crowd looking at the work, and a woman claims that the cast is the face of her son, registered missing for the last month. The boy who made the piece is called forward and says he made the piece from a metal cast he found near the local nature pond, which he grabs from the shelf. The metal cast has the shape of the man’s face perfectly moulded, including evidence of a bullet wound in the centre of his head. This brilliant start sets up a twisty plot which pits Yukawa’s intellect against an evil relation from his past life.
You can watch the whole series online here on Viki, a site much like Netflix but for asian drama. If you are happy with adverts every 15 minutes you can watch it for free, or if you pay a small fee you can watch without. Unfortunately one episode (Ep 4 – Kusaru) seems to be missing and I’m not sure why, but hopefully they’ll resolve it.
And let me implore you to read Higashino’s books. They are very much worth your time, and are subtle, social and enigmatic reads. Detective Utsumi is also one of my favourite detectives I have read, and how she is set off against the other members of her team is brilliant. You can read more about that here in my review of the impossible crime novel Salvation of a Saint.
15 thoughts on “Galileo: Intuition vs Logic in a Japanese Impossible Crime Series”
Sounds great! You might also enjoy The Perfect Insider which can be found here, under much the same conditions (advert every 15 minutes, etc). Japanese impossible crime fiction TV dramas seem to be very much a thing, and dammit if I’m not more than a little jealous at the richness of what seems to be coming out of that country in this vein.
I’ve recently acquired Devotion of Suspect X, too, and will get to it…before too long. In the next month, I reckon. Perhaps.
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Thanks for the recommendation JJ thats so great! Yes the quality and quantity is so high, and I’m thankful that at least there are subtitles with TV shows, even if many novels aren’t getting translated.
I really want to watch The Locked Room as well, which is another Japanese impossible series, but can’t find a legal place to watch it currently. I think I’ll have to order a DVD. Ho-Ling spoke highly of that series.
Look forward to your thoughts on Suspect X.
The character of Utsumi was created especially for this drama by the way, but Higashino arranged so he could use her first in one of his short stories. The film based on The Devotion of Suspect X is fantastic by the way, as it let’s go of the more lighthearted mystery-of-the-week formula and tone for one that fits the original story better. The drama, based on the short stories, can be a bit silly (it’s definitely a light-hearted, easy to watch production), but it definitely has a polished feel to it. The theme song is absolutely amazing for example, composed and played by the actor of Galileo himself by the way (who is a musician).
I’m not sure if Galileo was the first, but it was definitely the drama that inspired the ‘overly dramatic the-mystery-is-solved scene’ nowadays immensely popular in Japanese mystery drama (for example in The Perfect Insider, as mentioned by JJ).
Episode 4 is not available anywhere in on-demand format, not even in Japan. The episode co-stars Shingo Katori as the criminal-of-the-week. Katori was a member of recently disbanded boy band SMAP, an institution in Japan (all members were active as musicians/TV hosts/actors/radio personalities/etc. for almost forty years). Johnny & Associates, the agency of SMAP and most of the truly influential boy bands in Japan, is notorious for the almost insane hold they have over the image copyright of its artists. It happens often that TV dramas can don’t reruns of episodes that guest star Johnny’s artists. Even the official websites for TV drama that have Johnny’s artists as the main lead often can’t feature actual photographs of those artists.
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Thanks Ho-Ling! I was hoping you could shed some more light on this series and you have outdone yourself as usual!
Really really interesting to hear that Utsumi was created for the series. So do you mean that another screen writer came up with Utsumi then Higashino asked to use her? I’m not to be honest how much Higashino is involved in the writing himself? I’m also glad to hear that Galileo has cut a way for the type of mystery show it’s creating, even if it is of the more ‘light hearted’ type, as it most certainly is.
Would absolutely love to watch the Suspect X movie, and great to hear that it takes a more serious route. I have only seen it on Kiss Asian so far, but Im pretty sure they don’t have proper licensing for their shows, so will have to find it elsewhere! That’s amazing about episode 4 as well, I have heard of/ listened to SMAP before. The image copyright sound almost like a madness. I wonder why they are so tight? Is it to preserve money or to make sure they know how the band is being seen?
Ah, I recall starting on this series… I generally shy away from inverted mysteries, and as such stopped after the first episode as it functioned as a how-dun-it rather than a who-dun-it. But since then I’ve enjoyed all three of the Higashino novels, and they all operated largely within a how-dun-it mould.
P.S. ‘Perfect Insider’ is worth watching!
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Thanks JFW. Its worth carrying on I reckon as it does have whodunit elements for much of the rest of the series. Gkad you are enjoying the books. Which of the Higashino’s have you read?
Going to start on The Perfect Insider tonight, super excited!
I’ve read ‘Salvation of a Saint’, ‘Devotion of Suspect X’ and ‘Malice’; I’m waiting for my local library to bring in ‘Name of the Game is Kidnapping’. I’ve not read ‘Midsummer’s Equation’, but I’ve seen the movie adaption – I might read it soon as I can only remember the culprit, but not the methods.
Of the three novels I read, I liked ‘Devotion of Suspect X’ best, even though it’s an inverted mystery; then again, the other two novels were largely inverted mysteries too. If the subsequent episodes for the Galileo TV series have a stronger who-dun-it element, I would be definitely interested!
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I’m looking forward to the new one as well. I’m not a huge fan of inverted either and I felt pleased with the series.
Its mainly impossible problem focused, but there are many fair play elements, worth a try I reckon. Most of them even if they have inverted elements aren’t as blatant as the first one where we obviously see the killer straight away. I can see why that might have out you off.
Did you manage to watch ‘Perfect Insider’? 🙂 How did you find it?
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Unfortunately not yet, currently packing to move house and things always take longer than you think! Hopefully this week, will send you my thoughts as soon as.
Finally started The Perfect Insider, really enjoying it so far. It’s like Ellery Queen and Carr bashed together, a real love letter to the form. Will keep you updated.
Dang it man thank you for introducing me to this. 😀 Looks good, shall be watching. I’ve been reluctant to seek this drama out because I heard that some of the short stories were ridiculous. but now that they’re here…
You might also like Kagi no Kattata Heya (The Locked Room Murders), or was that what you meant up there by “The Locked Room”? I found subs for it long ago, but haven’t had much luck since. Shame.
Also, I think episode 4 is up now? Of Galileo, anyway.
No problem, its definitely light hearted, but some great stuff in this series and worth a watch! And Higashino is a great writer generally, not that I have read any of his shirt stories.
Yes Kagi no Kakatta Heya was the one I was talking about, hope to find it somewhere soon!
All right then. I’ve seen the series, and while I’ll probably get around to doing a more in-depth review sometime, I’ll give some brief thoughts.
All in all, I don’t rate it as highly as you. Maybe I was expecting more from a Higashino series, but it fell flat a lot for me. Once I started watching it more as a cheesy J-drama I enjoyed it more, so eh. 😛 If you want a brief summary…
1. Decent, but the reveal was botched, it was too obvious that there was a final twist involved.
2. Least favorite, honestly, but again, I was expecting something different.
3. Interesting, with actual pathos.
4/5. Another least favorite, if just because the cluing felt very weak.
5. Guilty pleasure this one. The idea behind the “dream” is ridiculous and hinges on Utsumi not remembering something she really should have, but it does have what I wanted from this series: That reversal and manipulation of what we thought we knew.
6. Best premise, really, if an easy mystery. Your description is somewhat off though: Yukawa and Utsumi almost switch places in this episode.
7. Probably the most fair, even if the mystery is simple. Still, very clever visual trick they use, I fell for it hard.
8 and 9. Thrilling, most certainly. But the last bit grows dumber the more I think about it. Yet, I had fun, and the initial hook was great.
More than I expected. XD Feel free to ignore if this is too long. Still, I liked the series, in the end. Next up, The Perfect Insider.