NHK’s new twist on Sherlock Holmes
By Charlotte Goff
FEW could doubt that Sherlock Holmes is the world’s most famous fictional detective. Generations of readers have fallen for this master of deductive reasoning, prompting speculation as well as the fan-fiction about parts of his background not recorded by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In an imaginative twist on the classic detective stories, NHK has embarked on a new and unconventional Sherlock Holmes series – in which puppets and voice actors are the stars. From October 2014, viewers can expect plots full of the suspense that have hooked readers of the franchise for more than a century, distilled into a fresh and exciting form. Set in a 19th century boarding school, scriptwriter Koki Mitani brands the show a “racy school mystery.”
The forthcoming series’ action centers on fifteen-year-old Sherlock, whose extraordinary observational talents see him labelled a nerd and cast aside by his peers. This societal rejection leads Sherlock into the path of newcomer to the school, John H. Watson. Watson is fascinated by the very attributes Sherlock possesses that enforce his rejection. The two become friends after Sherlock turns his mind to clearing Watson of accusations leveled against him in the opening episode. Later, the pair work together to take on the challenges hurled increasingly in their direction. The school setting is a first among Sherlock Holmes TV dramatizations. It offers a setting to which the show’s target audience – Japanese high school students – can relate. More than a simple detective drama, the new series is a coming-of-age tale and a platform from which to learn about growing up, logical thinking, justice, and having the courage to defend it.
Scriptwriter Koki Mitani is known throughout Japan for his work as a director and writer (Daikuko; Kiyosu Kaigi). He has worked in both the comedy and detective genres, fusing the two in his take of these canonical British mysteries. Mitani films each scene in one shot, using his past experiences in writing and acting for the stage for the production of his new series. Bunta Inoue, who designed the show’s puppets, has enjoyed success designing such mixed media as wall paintings for temples and shrines, and the rope of the ceremonial apron of Rikishi Kaito Baruto. His puppetry design has already attracted considerable acclaim with his work on The New Three Musketeers earning him a Houso Bunka award.
Bringing Inoue’s puppets to life are the puppeteers and voice actors. Koichi Yamadera stars as the voice of Sherlock. The actor and voice actor, known for previous work in Ninja Scroll and Cowboy Bebop, admitted that he had the “hardest time with this role in my life as a voice actor.” Yamadera, aged 52, said that he had never contemplated playing a fifteen-year-old and had to grapple with the conflicting tasks of portraying teenage youth and at the same time a sense of a character old beyond his years. Keiko Takeuchi (“Mrs. Hudson”) spoke of the unique challenges that voice acting entails, as she has been used to acting on stage or TV shows that do not require exaggerated acting like this.
To the actors’ voices are joined those of bilingual singer Nano and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Nano and the orchestra sing the series’ theme tune, with music within the show being written by violinist and composer Kana Hiramatsu.
Special preview episodes broadcast on NHK General TV in March 2014 saw Sherlock tackle the cases of broken plaster casts, for which Watson is falsely accused, a boy whose hospitalisation leaves the warmhearted school matron under suspicion, and a masked gentlemen seeking escape from blackmail. As for what other scintillating storylines NHK has in store in its 20-episode series, that for now is a mystery all of its own. But luckily, excited fans don’t need Holmes’ deductive prowess to solve this one, and just have to tune in for the first six episodes in August and all twenty beginning from October 2014. tj