Oh look, another weird-ass detective story, what a surprise! This time I take a look at the 2016 supernatural murder mystery Stranger that aired on TV Asahi on March 27. Even though I’m not a fan of the supernatural, it looked interesting enough to t ake a gander so let’s see how it turned out.
Akira Misugi and his partner Maria arrive in Tokyo on a mission, to meet up with the now 20-year old Kaori, whom Akira looks upon like a daughter. She has come to join their clan, a clan of eternal vampires, but Akira gets sidetracked by a woman trying to kill herself and by the time he gets to Kaori, she’s been murdered by a serial killer who drains the blood from his victims. Akira quickly becomes the prime suspect for the murders and he and Maria must try to solve the crime before he gets tracked down by the authorities.
It’s actually a pretty good movie and the supernatural elements are minimal in their effect on the story. The vampirism of Akira and Maria could have been played off as a weird fetish and not really lost anything significant. It only came into play a couple of times where Akira didn’t cast reflections in mirrors (apparently, they can if they concentrate) and Maria complained about the sun here and there and bit someone once or twice. Otherwise, their vampirism had virtually no effect on the case, which I must admit is too bad. I hate the supernatural but if you’re going to do it, at least do something useful with it.
Cast-wise, we have Katori Shingo as Akira and he’s had bit parts in a couple of good shows like MR. BRAIN and Galileo. Then we turn to the other half of the vampire duo, Nakajo Ayami as Maria, who has been in pretty much nothing because she’s only 19 and just getting started. Those two are honestly the only ones that really stood out of the cast so the only ones I want to mention.
Serial killers are overdone in just about every detective series and you get the typical red herrings here thrown at the camera that look suspicious, but are just weird, creepy people that have nothing to do with the murders. In that, it’s a pretty standard, although certainly well executed story. It’s based on a manga called Poe no Ichizoku by Hagio Moto and although I haven’t read the original manga, it is clear that there isn’t a lot of substance here. Akira is trying to recruit his “adoptive daughter” into the clan, a clan she’s wanted to join since she was a young girl, but the rules of the vampires require that no one be changed until they are 20. So after abandoning her for 13 years, visiting only once a year, they’re scheduled to meet on a certain park bench in Tokyo on her 20th birthday so that she can decide, once and for all, what she wants. Akira has been protective of her for her entire life and arrives too late to save her life, even though he was almost certainly going to take it moments later. But the Kaori storyline really didn’t matter. We kept seeing flashbacks to the past and how Kaori begged Akira to take her but he constantly refused. But that’s all meaningless backstory because she’s dead and none of it actually matters to the murder mystery. It all felt like filler. For the mystery itself, outside of the standard red herrings, the killer came pretty much out of the blue, a young man who kept his mother’s corpse in a freezer and believed he had to collect blood to bring her back to life. He was crazy, he had no idea about vampires, other than trying to frame them for the murders and, like I said, had there not actually been vampires in the story, it wouldn’t have made any difference.
As much as I love mysteries with weird elements, the weird element here was totally extraneous. That doesn’t make it any less of an interesting mystery, it doesn’t make the movie any less skillfully done and it is gorgeous in its cinematography, but because so much of the plot revolves around the background of a murder victim that has no bearing on the actual outcome of the case, I have to say that I’m slightly disappointed. I still recommend seeing it based on the quality of the film itself, but it could have been so much better if the vampires actually made a significant difference to the outcome of the plot.