Saturday, July 12, 2014

Japan Cuts ’14 & NYAFF ’14: All-Round Appraiser Q

Riko Rinda is sort of the Japanese Lovejoy, except she is far more reputable and much cuter. She can appraise anything, but she specializes in fine art and jewelry. Much to her surprise, she will be called upon to evaluate a masterpiece that should need no appraisal in Shinsuke Sato’s All-Round Appraiser Q: The Eyes of Mona Lisa (trailer here), which screens as a co-presentation of the 2014 Japan Cuts and New York Asian Film Festival.

Rinda, a.k.a. All-Round Appraiser Q, is good at her job. Struggling journalist Yuto Ogasawara is not. They both happened to be working the same gourmet reception. Rinda’s client is concerned the slicker than slick outfit renting his restaurant is too good to be true. Ogasawara’s boss thought a cooking demonstration would be the only assignment he couldn’t possibly make of hash of. He was wrong. Rinda duly foils the criminal goings on, but Ogasawara misses the photo. However, he suspects Rinda might be an even bigger story, especially when she is offered a chance to serve as a special Japanese curator on the Mona Lisa’s world tour.

After sleuthing out the real La Joconde to pass her audition, Rinda is whisked off for training with her snooty colleague, Misa Ryusenji. Yet, Rinda eventually develops some fake-spotting chemistry with her. They appear to have the makings of a real team, until Rinda falls sway to a sinister force. At this point, the eager Ogasawara takes up the case in earnest.

Yeah yeah, Dan Brown, right? In point of fact, Manbu Uda’s adaptation of Keisuke Matsuoka’s source novel rather cleverly incorporates the painting’s strange history, including handyman Vincenzo Peruggia’s unlikely theft in 1911 and the recent discover of the initials in her eyes. However, Appraiser Q is considerably more fun than a month of Da Vinci Code clones.

In large measure, this is due to the character of Rinda. While she is as brilliant and nearly as eccentric as Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, she is also warm and empathetic. Frankly, it is nice to see an endearing underdog find her niche, especially when seen shortly after the emotional angst of Yoshihiro Nakamura’s The Snow White Murder Case. Haruka Ayase’s performance is scrupulously demure, yet she lights up the screen.

Tori Matsuzaka’s Ogasawara trails after her as best he can, largely keeping the shtick in check. Asian film connoisseurs will not be shocked to hear awkward looking westerner Pierre Deladonchamps is embarrassingly clunky as Rinda’s French instructor, but Eriko Hatsune delivers some subtle surprises as Ryusenji.

Appraiser Q has several nice twists and loads of genre appropriate atmosphere. The “Monna Lisa” misspelling is a tad unfortunate, but these things happen. Ayase and company put on a great show, which is the thing to focus on. It makes you hope it is the start of a franchise. Highly recommended for those who enjoy old fashioned romantic mysteries, All-Round Appraiser Q screens tomorrow (7/13) at the Japan Society, as a joint selection of this year’s NYAFF and Japan Cuts: the New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Film.