All-Round Appraiser Q: The Eyes of Mona Lisa

Still in catch up mode, but hopefully this little burst of writing creativity will mean I reach some point soon where the to-watch/write list isn’t quite so frightening.  This one is the final review from my little (and much loved) trip to Asia late last year.  It won’t take a seasoned observer to realise the clumsy title means this is one from Japan.  Shall we see how it panned out?

All-Round Appraiser Q: The Eye of Mona Lisa” is centered around the character of Riko Rinda (Haruka Ayase), a talented if somewhat emotionally distant Art Appraiser.  She doesn’t just appraise art objects though, in fact, as the film opens she is using her extraordinary skills for detail, memory and deduction to foil a heist during a cooking exhibition.  This brings her to the attention of both struggling Journalist Yuto Ogasawara (Tôri Matsuzaka) who senses a story about this pretty and talented lady, but also of the people who are organising a very special art exhibition.  It seems the Mona Lisa is being exhibited in Japan, and the French are looking for an expert or two to help protect the masterpiece from unwanted attention.  Riko passes an initial test of her skills with flying colours, and is paired with another art expert Misa Ryusenji (Eriko Hatsune).  Misa waivers somewhat between being a complete b!tch and being very supportive towards Riko, and seems to have a close relationship with Louvre representative (Pierre Deladonchamps).  Riko is driven to complete collapse by the pressure of working in a foreign language and the intense tests of fraud detection she is put through.  Ogasawara continues to stay close, but finds another story to do with the history of the painting, and eventually teams up with Riko to uncover one of the strangest art thefts ever!

What a strange movie.  I can’t deny it is really rather well filmed by Shinsuke Sato, who not only make the film look good, but adds some unexpected tension in the scenes of people trying to divine the fake paintings.  It’s just a shame so much of the film is taken up with these moments.  Once could have been somewhat interesting and tense… doing it three times makes the early pace rather plodding.  Yet somehow he manages to overcome this limitation (one assumes this is a key part of the original popular novel by Keisuke Matsuoka the film is based upon), and the final act of the film is rather more exciting (if cursed with a really really dumb action on behalf of the master thief – seriously, if you want to destroy a painting, just set light to it.  Don’t walk off leaving it a few feet above a bonfire).  In fact, all the story work around the painting is quite interesting, playing on a couple of fairly well known urban myths, one of which plays out in the conclusion to give the final heist a more complicated reason for occurring than might initially be apparent.

Whilst most of the film does take place in Japan, the film does rather nice work over in France (and this plays up to the francophile obsession of many Japanese), and to be fair, Deladonchamps is several classes about the normal Western actor we get in Asian films.  Haruka is as beautiful as ever, and her normal distant persona actually works quite well for this character, even if it is a stretch imagining her as a genius at anything.  Matsuzaka on the other hand is given a pretty weak and ineffectual role, and doesn’t really get the chance to impress.  He probably isn’t helped by the lack of any romantic subplot, which is refreshing, but does limit the interaction between our two leads.  Best on show is Hatsune, who actually gets the chance to give a more varied performance due to the nature of her character.  Plus, she’s simply the best actor on show anyway.

The films major flaw (other than the plodding pacing of the first two thirds of the film, which is a matter of taste anyway) is that it never really gets being the character of Riko.  We do have an amusing flashback to her schooldays (though if I was complaining about the cast of “Mourning Grave” not looking like schoolkids, it’s an even bigger stretch to accept the 29 year old Ayase as one, especially with her rather impressive assets straining against her shirt).  But the truth is, she remains a complete cipher for most of the film.  Heck, this film itself makes some capitol from this, but even with an investigative journalist on the rosta, we seriously learn nothing about the motivation and more recent history of the titular character.  Even to the point we never learn why she calls herself Appraiser Q, even though the question is asked.  But then again, this is from a series of novels, I wonder if we are talking franchise here?

So we have a well made (if a bit slow and initially repetitive) detective story, with a mostly good cast and a genuinely interesting mystery that unravels in a different direction than one initially thought.  But still, I have a hard time giving this one any more than Mildly Recommended.  Not for the first time, I can’t help feeling that this is one that would have been better served as a TV drama.  Sure, the technical side of things would not have been so top notch, and the French financial investment would not have been there.  And they certainly would not have gotten to actually film in the Louvre.  But it would have given the story much more time to work in a proper relationship (not necessarily romantic) between our lead pairing, maybe given us a lot more about Riko herself, and basically allow everything to work towards this particular story.  It’s all ok, but eventually unremarkable.

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