These ones are somewhat so-so.

Bannō Kanteishi Q Monariza no Hitomi [万能鑑定士Q~モナ・リザの瞳, All-Round Appraiser Q: The Eyes of Mona Lisa] is one with Ayase Haruka, another favourite actress of mine famed for her, err, KFC ads in Japan. The acting is a tad hammy (although I have to say a few of the mainstream J-flicks that I had enjoyed do contain this) and the story reeks of a certain Dan Brown-penned story. Okay, I guess it was in parts when it involved conspiracy theories revolving around La Joconde, or the Mona Lisa in normalspeak.

Anyway, Ayase plays Rinda Riko, a woman with amazing skills of deduction when appraising scenarios or objects (for example, evaluating whether or not an object is indeed a valuable antique piece). Such is her skill that Riko was personally approached by the Louvre in Paris to be part of the team that brings the actual Mona Lisa for an exhibition in Tokyo. However, a young reporter named Yuto (Matsuzaka Tori from Kyō, Koi wo Hajimemasu) wanted to follow Riko for a story he desperately need to do to impress his editor. Riko wa initially reluctant as she was not one to crave the limelight but in the end relents.

The plot began to thicken when she discovered a certain secret in one part of the Mona Lisa that is said to affect the minds of anyone who gets too close to the painting. The various expositions along the storyline was fine and not too convoluted as I thought. Points of interest about the Mona Lisa were intertwined in the expositions, including the famous theft by Peruggia in 1911, although other points were made up (for obvious reasons when you watch the film). This was on okay film, I’d say 3/5 stars.

Jyajji! [ジャッジ!, Judge!] is a comedy which I saw on the JAL flight from NRT to KUL. I note the ham acting is worse amongst any of the non-Japanese characters (played by non-Japanese actors nevertheless) in the story. I am not singling out Japanese films in this case, as you see a similar thing in Hollywood films helmed by the likes of John Woo[1]. Just check out the following trailer to see what I mean.

Tsumabaki Satoshi plays Ota Kiichiro, a newbie exec at an advertising company who somewhat lacks confidence in his day-to-day dealings. One of his first work was a kitsune udon ad (he had to put on a fox costume for this one) which got dubbed the wrong way resulting in the fox going nyaa! like a cat as opposed to whatever it is a fox would sound like. Kiichiro was then cornered into representing the company as a judge at an international ad festival held in Santa Monica. The snag is that if he fails to ensure the ad that is put forward by his company wins, he’ll be fired. Kiichiro was paired with a colleague (who has an unfortunate penchant for gambling) with the same surname, Hikari (played by Kitagawa Keiko), who had to pretend to be his wife. To add to Kiichiro’s problem, Hikari is not too enamoured by this but was convinced by Kiichiro if she were to come along to play pretend, Las Vegas was only an hour’s flight away. At the ads fest, Kiichiro meets his counterparts from all over the world, all of whom would be judging his work as well as promoting their own ads – and Kiichiro begins to witness how these execs would do whatever it takes to influence other judges to help vote for their ads. All in all, some of the gags are quite funny enough to make you forget the cringeworthy antics of the non-Japanese characters (some of which are somewhat non-PC but I’ll put it to a cultural thing). Worth having a peek.

I don’t know what came over me but on that same flight I chose to watch Kamome shokudō [かもめ食堂, lit. Gull Café], a “slice of life” middle-aged chick flick about three women and a café[2] in Helsinki, Finland[3]. This was an old-ish film (released in 2006) and centres around Sachie (Kobayashi Satomi – yup, the boxing gym owner in 1ポンドの福音) who owns a café in Helsinki serving Japanese food. The problem was that she had no customers bar a young anime-loving Finn who would have his daily meals at her café. Things began to change with the serendipitous arrival of the tall Midori (Katagiri Hairi – I’ve seen her in 僕とスターの99日) and the calm Masako (Motai Masako, the mother superior in 1ポンドの福音 and the school matron in My Boss My Hero) as the number of patrons begins to pick up, and luckily for Sachie, the two ladies were keen to help out.

As with any slice of life flick, the story line is somewhat plain, almost akin to watching people go by whilst enjoying an ice cream on a park bench. The film’s conclusion is a positive one although it does feel like it didn’t take much to get there. An okay fare if you have nothing much to watch on a lazy Sunday’s afternoon.

[1]In Face/Off, I felt both Travolta and Cage were somewhat exaggerated in their mannerisms (like the “face… off!” bit done by Cage) and I wondered if Woo’s applying the HK ethos to a Hollywood film.
[2]It is an actual café in Helsinki.
[3]Coincidentally, my next trip to Japan is on a flight via Helsinki as well.