Sherlock Holmes is returning to Japanese TV, this time as a puppet. Koki Mitani, the popular playwright and director, has adapted the detective stories into a 20-episode TV series for NHK. The series is set in a London school.
Although the entire series will be regularly aired on NHK-E from October, viewers will get a sneak peek of the first three episodes, which will air on NHK-G from March 25 to 27 at 7:30 p.m.
NHK negotiated with Mitani for a long time to revive Conan Doyle’s detective story classic as a puppet play.
Mitani, a lifelong fan of the books, had some reservations at the outset, believing that creating a new Holmes show would demand an innovative approach. A Holmes boom was already underway, with the wildly successful new British drama series “Sherlock” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, serving as only one example.
Mitani reached an agreement with NHK to recreate the series, but this time as a high-school drama, in which Holmes and his friend Watson, both aged 15, play the central roles. The first episode starts with Watson, voiced by Wataru Takagi, arriving at a school in London from a school in Australia. At Beaton, he meets Holmes, an eccentric loner voiced by Koichi Yamadera.
The show targets juvenile audiences around 10 to 15 years old, as well as their parents, many of whom grew up watching children’s TV shows with puppets. One notable change in the TV stories is that no murder occurs in any of the episodes. Mitani’s new version also differs in that, after a case is resolved, the perpetrator remains at the school and may show up again during the series, an original twist.
Mitani himself grew up watching many TV puppet shows, and tried his own hand at them in 2009, when he produced yhe TV puppet play “Shin-Sanjushi” (The new three musketeers).
Bunta Inoue designed the characters for that program and will do the same for the new Holmes series. Directing “Shin Sanjushi” seems to have shown Mitani that puppets can embody the director’s vision even more readily than live actors in a traditional dramatic production.
Designing the characters for the new series was a process of trial and error. Inoue based the puppets on Mitani’s ideas, with Holmes having a characteristically large forehead and big ears to represent his intelligence and avid curiouity. Inoue reportedly took great effort in creating the puppets’ rounded noses, partly to reflect Mitani’s vision.
“This Holmes series is not so much a mystery as an exciting and thrilling adventure story,” Mitani said. “There won’t be any murder, but there will be other wrongdoing, like jealousy, extramarital affairs and fraud. I want to write about the dark side of humanity properly, because for some young viewers, the show may offer their first glimpses at it.”
“Holmes is depicted as an eccentric to communicate the message that each and every personality deserves respect,” said executive producer Nobuhisa Kihira of NHK Educational. “We’ll incorporate educational morals into the show as well, including the importance of friendship.”
Each episode is slated to have guest stars voicing characters. Movie stars Satoshi Tsumabuki and Rie Miyazawa, as well as kabuki actor Nakamura Baijaku, will be part of the lineup.
Episodes 4 to 6 will be aired in August in a second round of previews.
“If you can’t enjoy this show, you can’t call yourself a real Sherlock fan,” Mitani said, offering a guarantee of the show’s excellent quality.
A scene from TV puppet play “Sherlock Holmes”