Film / Reviews

'We Make Antiques! Kyoto Rendezvous': Kansai caper revisits old tricks

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

The Japanese, we are told again and again by overseas commentators, are honest to a fault. Anyone who has been here any length of time has experienced that honesty, starting with the convenience store clerk who runs after you to return some dropped loose change.

But, as Masaharu Take’s two light comedies about the local antiques trade remind us, exceptions exist, especially when credulous collectors appear, ready for fleecing.

His chief scammers in the first 2018 film, “We Make Antiques!,” were dealer Norio Koike (Kiichi Nakai) and potter Sasuke Noda (Kuranosuke Sasaki) who conspired to make and sell a fake tea bowl, ostensibly by famed 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu, to a couple of distinguished-looking, black-hearted fraudsters, after which our heroes vowed to tread the straight-and-narrow.

We Make Antiques! Kyoto Rendezvous (Uso Happyaku Kyomachi Rowaiyaru)
Rating
Run Time 106 mins.
Language JAPANESE
Opens JAN. 31

Take’s new film, “We Make Antiques! Kyoto Rendezvous,” has many of the pleasures of the first, from its sleight-of-hand plot to its knowing send-up of the world of traditional culture. It also has little that is really new, with a narrative that follows much the same arc as its predecessor.

Also, for those unfamiliar with tea ceremony history and lore, the arcana about tea bowls and masters from centuries past can be more numbing than enlightening. It’s somewhat like asking a Japanese audience to sit through expert discussions of American Civil War archaeology.

And yet, the tea bowls, even the forgeries, are beautiful to look at, and the film, for all its familiarity, is entertaining enough, though it’ll appeal more to fans of television’s “Antiques Roadshow.”

As the story begins, Norio is running an antiques shop in Kyoto with his cheeky daughter, Imari (Aoi Morikawa), telling fortunes to draw in customers. Sasuke is also in Kyoto, scratching out a living as a potter and pottery instructor and getting nowhere fast.

Then fate, in the form of Shino Tachibana (Ryoko Hirosue), an elegant, kimono-clad tea ceremony master, draws them together again. Her senile mother, she sadly informs Sasuke , was defrauded of a tea bowl that was a family heirloom. Once belonging to Furuta Oribe, Sen no Rikyu’s disciple, it is worth ¥50 million. Can Sasuke help her recover it?

But Shino, as it turns out, is not who she seems. And Sasuke , by happenstance, made a copy of the famed bowl 20 years ago. Norio persuades him to make another. His aim is to fool Naoya Arashiyama (Masaya Kato), a tall, dashing antiques dealer who associates with the bureaucratic and political elite, and is a crook of the first order — as are the public servants he’s in cahoots with.

How does the Oribe bowl come into it? Suffice to say that it exists and serves as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite devices, the MacGuffin: an object that drives the plot.

More interesting, though, is the interplay between Nakai and Sasaki, two actors with the looks to play dramatic leads, but with comic talent that transforms bickering into laughs.

Are Shin Adachi and Masako Imai, writers of the film’s original script, channeling the Paul Newman and Robert Redford of that classic caper movie, “The Sting”? Perhaps, but they have the right pair for their lines. And if Nakai and Sasaki work together on screen again, I hope it’s not in the antiques game.

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