“The After Dinner Mysteries” is the big screen version of the highly popular 2011 Fuji television series, based on the novel “Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de” by author Higashigawa Tokuya and following up on a hit drama special. Director Hijikata Masato returns, as do headlining stars Kitagawa Keiko and Arashi’s Sakurai Sho, reprising their roles as a crime solving heiress and butler duo. Notching things up from the series, the film version boasts a bigger budget and more sumptuous production values, having been partly shot in Singapore and using an actual luxury cruise liner.
Kitagawa Keiko plays Reiko, a super-rich heiress who works as a detective, hiding her wealthy background from her colleagues, solving crimes with the help of her sarcastic genius butler Kageyama (Sakurai Sho). Taking a break from sleuthing, she decides to take a cruise on her family’s opulent cruise liner The Princess Reiko, looking forward to a bit of rest, relaxation and spa treatments, despite the presence of her annoying boss Kazamatsuri (Shiina Kippei). Her peace is soon shattered after one of the guests turns up dead, a rich man with many enemies, a murder which seems to be linked to the mysterious criminal known as the Phantom Soros. With only a few days before the boat arrives in Singapore and more bodies being found, Reiko and Kageyama land themselves in danger as they try to work their way through a long list of suspects.
While fans of the source material and series may get more out of it, “The After Dinner Mysteries” is very much a newcomer-friendly and standalone affair, kicking off with a handy introduction to the main characters and their backgrounds. The film settles quickly into its rhythm of combining nonsensical over the top comedy with detective work, and though this might sound like a bit of a stretch, it actually works very well. Though Hijikata Masato does at times overdo the cartoonish touches, the film is generally very funny, with plenty of creative slapstick and wackiness scattered liberally. The characters are all likeable, if bizarre, and Kitagawa Keiko and Sakurai Sho are great in the lead roles, their bickering, bantering dynamic giving the film a real spark. The entire cast seems to be having fun, and coupled with some bright and breezy direction from Hijikata, this makes for an amiable feel that ensures the film engages throughout despite what might have otherwise been a rather long two hour running time.
Crucially, even though the film is often surreal, playing out like a knowingly ridiculous pastiche of pulp detective fiction or perhaps an Agatha Christie murder mystery on an acid trip, it never loses sight of or cheapens its central plot. There’s certainly a great deal going on, with multiple secret identities, hidden motivations, shock revelations and links to the past all helping to muddy the waters. Hijikata blends it all together well and in a manner which makes the viewer feel involved and encouraged to try and work out the answer before the credits roll. Though the film is too daft to be tense, it’s oddly gripping in its own way, and makes good use of its many pawns and players, and its lengthy, exposition-heavy final act explanations are satisfying and reasonably clever.
Without being familiar with the series, “The After Dinner Mysteries” certainly seems to have made a successful leap to the big screen, and works as an enjoyably light-hearted detective yarn in its own right. Essential viewing for fans of the series, a charismatic cast and amusing off the wall humour make it similarly worth catching for anyone looking for a multi-layered mystery that doesn’t take itself seriously in the least.
Masato Hijikata (director) / Tokuya Higashigawa (based on the novel by)
CAST: Shô Sakurai … Kageyama
Keiko Kitagawa … Reiko Hosho