Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mysterious Eyes

true heart of mystery eyes 
「Mysterious Eyes」 (Garnet Crow)

You were looking for it before you realized it yourself
And passed by a different kind of love
Longing for something without any form
True Heart of Mystery Eyes
"Mysterious Eyes" (Garnet Crow)

TheJapanese silver screen often features mystery films, but most Japanese mystery films are usually spin-offs of TV series (which in turn may be based on novels/comics). It's seldom to see a novel-to-film adaptation that skips the TV series stage, so I was fairly surprised by the subject of today's post!

Rinda Rika is the 'All-Round Appraiser Q', a specialist in appraising everything and anything. From the price of jewels to the authenticity of documents, she can appraise anything thanks to her amazing powers of observation and knowledge about pretty much anything. These powers also helped her uncover a jewel heist-in-progress. The owner is very thankful and reveals he is the Japanese agent who is arranging an upcoming visit to Japan from none other than the Mona Lisa. He sends Rika to Paris and the Louvre to take a test for determining the local curator be in charge of the Mona Lisa during its stay abroad. Rika passes together with Ryuusenji Misa, a specialist in art and they undergo even extra training in recognizing the real deal and fake paintings back in Japan, where people are eagerly awaiting the smile to arrive. But there is some secret hidden within the eyes of the Mona Lisa which proves even difficult to Rika in the 2014 film Bannnou Kanteishi Q: Mona Lisa no Hitomi, or the official English title: All-Round Appraiser Q: The Eyes of Mona Lisa.

All-Round Appraiser Q (Bannou Kanteishi Q) is a fairly popular novel series by Matsuoka Keisuke and while The Eyes of Mona Lisa is the first time the series made the jump to live-action, it's actually based on the ninth book (of twelve) in the series. Why an adaptation of a late entry in the series? Well, The Eyes of Mona Lisa was co-produced in both Japan and France, so they needed a France-related story, I guess. The film does feature some elements of the other volumes; a lot of the backstory as portrayed in the film, as well as Rika's first meeting with the journalist Ogasawa Yuto, is taken from the first volume.

As a detective series, All-Round Appraiser Q is not a particularly fair one. Like Sherlock Holmes' infamous Sherlock Scans, most of the deductive developments in the plot are made only possible because of the All-Round Appraiser's incredible powers of observation coupled with even more incredible and detailed knowledge about the most random things and events. There is no way a normal human being (the viewer) is supposed to solve this on their own and the series is more focused on making Rika look absolutely awesome with all her deductions.

Which can work fairly well. The Eyes of Mona Lisa for example has a great opening scene that shows off Rika's observational and deductive powers. It's not fair at all, but it does a good job at letting the viewer know how Rika's mind works and how she makes her deductions. Sherlock showed us that even super-complex-deductions-that-the-normal-viewer-can't-do-themselves can be fun if presented well and it works for The Eyes of Mona Lisa too most of the time.
 The middle part of the film is a bit slower, with less mystery-solving and a lot more normal art appraising, but is helped by a rival-figure in the form of fellow curator Misa. I guess that the dynamics are the same as in 'normal' rivalry in detective fiction and appraising is a lot like detecting, but because you don't see any reasoning of why and why they think picture X is fake and picture Y is real, the middle part can feel bit a boring. The finale brings everything together though and even though there are some hiccups in the plot, overall, I think The Eyes of Mona Lisa works as a light mystery film with an emphasis on the characters. Which is probably true to the original novels.

This film does feature some nice shots (of the pieces of art), and I think this was the first Japanese film to be shot at location in the Louvre. While story-wise, the narrative doesn't always provides the viewer with much to look at, luckily most of the visuals manage to do a reasonable job.
Hmm, now I think about it, a mystery story filmed at the Louvre about a secret hidden within the Mona Lisa... Sounds kinda familiar. The Eyes of Mona Lisa is quite different from The Da Vinci Code though, from how the story is told to the stakes in each story. The rather slow middle part of The Eyes of Mona Lisa is pretty much the opposite of cliffhanger-marathon The Da Vinci Code...

All-Round Appraiser Q: The Eyes of Mona Lisa is a fairly amusing mystery film that has an interesting angle with the art appraising story. And the Mona Lisa of course.  The plot occasionally stumbles over its own feet and for some, the appraisal angle can be a bit boring, but nice visuals and the not-too-heavy story did provide me with two hours worth of entertainment.

Original Japanese title(s): 松岡圭祐(原) 『万能鑑定士Q モナ・リザの瞳』

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