A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi

Many of you have wondered if 5B4 is dead. The answer is no, I needed a two month break. Not because I am too busy publishing (I always keep myself very busy) but because I was having trouble finding things to write about. I am not a professional writer nor critic so finding something to say which I haven’t already in the past 400+ posts can be a bit of a task. That said, I just attended the Kassel Photobook festival with a small satchel of items which has me excited to spread the word on a few books I discovered. Watabe Yukichi’s A Criminal Investigation from the publisher Xavier Barral is my first choice of favorites so far.

Sitting closely to the tradition of a photo novel, A Criminal Investigation follows a police detective in 1958 Tokyo as he investigates a gruesome crime – the discovery dismembered body near Sembaku Lake in Ibaraki Prefecture. Accompanying the detective was the photographer Watabe Yukichi who seems to have documented the progress of the case as thoroughly as the investigators did to the crime.

Yukichi was a freelance photojournalist who was granted special permission to document the “dismembered-corpse case” as it was referred. Shooting in black and white 35mm, the results play out like a film noir, complete with the detective looking more and more like a Japanese Humphrey Bogart as the story develops. In fact, as one becomes drawn into the filmic quality of every detail of the pictures and sequence, it is easy to overlook that this was an actual criminal investigation was of something so sinister.

As a photographer, Yukichi worked this situation with apparent vigor. Each and every picture is interesting in its own right – I can’t find a superfluous image in the edit. Bookwise, A Criminal Investigation has a near perfect form and tone for such an essay with Japanese folded pages and a deep gravure-like printing. Its unique page twisting design causes interesting breaks in the flow of images like small chapters or vignettes as the case turns its various corners. A minimal amount of text contributes the facts of the case and the conclusion which took several more years to solve. I won’t spoil the ending.

A Criminal Investigation was co-published by Le Bal in Paris which currently has an exhibition of this work along with Yutaka Takanashi and Keizo Kitajima. Copies are available in the Le Bal bookshop.