Film / Reviews

'We Make Antiques!': A caper flick that's the genuine artifact

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

One of my guilty pleasures is watching “Kaiun! Nandemo Kanteidan,” which translates loosely as “Get Lucky! The ‘Anything Goes’ Appraisal Team” in English. It has been airing on TV Tokyo since 1994 and has encouraged countless folks to unearth family treasures for inspection by expert appraisers. Quite often, however, the experts unmask the “treasures” as cheap copies, to audience laughter and sheepish grins from the owners.

In “We Make Antiques!,” Masaharu Take’s smart, if self-indulgent, comedy about a pair of scammers in the local antiques game, we see that the appraisers, typically owlish gents in formal kimono, are not always on the up and up either. And the game’s gamesters, from the makers of fakes to the dealers who hawk them, prey on the appraisers themselves.

Take and scriptwriter Shin Adachi, who also collaborated on the award-winning boxing drama “100 Yen Love” (2014), are hard-eyed realists in an industry full of pop-culture-fed fantasists — and their new film is thoroughly grounded in the actualities of the antiques trade. Despite the peppy jazz score, the silly comic chase sequences and other hackneyed attempts to enliven the proceedings for the masses, the film is, at heart, entertainment for elderly “Kaiun!” fans, who will get the occasional arcane references to Japanese history, literature and crafts.

We Make Antiques! (Uso Happyaku)
Run Time 105 mins

But even under-60 outlanders will find bits to enjoy and ponder, such as the attitude, stated more than once in the film, that Japanese cultural treasures properly belong in Japanese hands. It’s an attitude not limited to Japan, but one expressed here with a xenophobic spin.

The first scammer we meet is Norio Koike (Kiichi Nakai), an unctuous, smooth-talking dealer who works in tandem with his sassy daughter Imari (Aoi Morikawa). But when he attempts to swindle the indifferent owner (Kuranosuke Sasaki) of a pile of old pottery, he is swindled in turn. Thinking he has paid next to nothing for the one valuable item — a cup attributed to 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu — he discovers it was faked by the ostensible owner, actually failed potter Sasuke Noda (Sasaki).

This pair improbably bond, as do Imari and Noda’s nerdy son Seiji (Tomoya Maeno), whose hobby is making World War II dioramas. After mutually confessing their failures as fathers and professionals, Koike and Noda team up to scam the distinguished appraiser (Masaomi Kondo) and trusted dealer (Kogan Ashiya) — both black-hearted crooks who set them on the road to ruin. But first Noda has to make a perfect Sen no Rikyu cup with the aid of three expert forger buddies and Koike has to dream up a likely story to sell it.

Caper movie fans will be able to see around many of the plot’s corners. The script by Adachi and co-writer Masako Imai hews closely to genre formulas, including the one about the eventual fate of the loot.

The film goes interestingly off the rails when a tweedy British antiques buyer bids for the faked cup at auction — and is put in his place by a stuffy Agency for Cultural Affairs bureaucrat, defending the national honor against the foreign interloper. But this familiar expel-the-barbarian scenario is not what you may think — and “We Make Antiques!” ends up being a refreshingly un-xenophobic piece of entertainment.