We Make Antiques! (Japan, 2018) [JAPAN CUTS 2018]

The best scam artists wins all in Japanese shady antiques dealings – the luckiest one might even get his hands on a genuine Rikyu tea ceremony chaki. Kiichi Nakai leads a delightfully comedic ensemble cast, who put their best in keeping the trades rolling and pottery – real or fake – turning up.

Japan has a long tradition of skillfully created pottery and other antiques, be it gold-plate-ornamented lackery tableware, or emaki scroll paintings, not to mention ukoyo-e woodcut and calligraphy. Naturally there is also a lively antique trade going on around those treasures. Those visiting Japan might end up to a temple market, where you can sometimes make real findings, if you have the eye and expertise to see the treasures amongst the junk. Naturally these treasures get sold at antique shops, auctions, and nowadays online.

Masaharu Take builds his film around this world. The genre is comedy, and in this film everyone tries to outdo everyone else. Although comedies do not often work outside of national context, We Make Antiques! director Take takes a premise that is familiar enough to all of us raised on television antique valuation shows to make his film universally entertaining. There is almost something ‘British’ in this film, with its comedy about infatuation on things traditional.

Take joins hands with screenwriter Shin Adachi, who worked on the boxing drama 100 Yen Love (2014). Here they have created a colorful character group, ranging from shady and smooth antique dealers to the younger generation, government bureaucrats, and kimono wearing retired house owners who have all those treasures in their houses – or at least think that every cup and bowl is a treasure to be cashed on.

Norio Koike (Nakai) is the kind of scam artist we would meet everywhere, studying the artefacts and adjoining documents carefully through his reading glasses. He is joined by his daughter Imari (Aoi Morikawa). They think they have hit the golden pot, when they manage to buy what seems to be a genuine 16th century tea ceremony bowl handled by Rikyu. It turns out to be a masterful copy, made by potter Noda (Kuranosuke Sasaki). Well, if you can’t beat them, join them, decides Koike, and pairs with Noda to scam other arts dealers with a perfect Rikyu chaki, tea ceremony bowl, which they naturally need the help of others in their line of work to fake.

Sen no Rikyu was the 16th century Buddhist monk and tea ceremony master, who brought this art to Japan from China, and developed it into the form known as Japanese tea ceremony. Naturally a real tea ceremony bowl, handled by Rikyu would be worth a million yen, and actually a national treasure, belonging to Japan’s national museums. Koike and Noda settle for the impossible with a determination to succeed.

Even a slight reference to the current ultra-nationalistic political scene is brought out in a scene, where the gentlemen from the Agency of Cultural Affairs demand for “the treasures to stay in Japanese hands”, once a British antiques dealer appears on the scene. Koike and Noda, on their part admit being bad fathers to Imari and Noda’s son, who finds allegiance with Imari (Imari’s name naturally refers to the famous Imari porcelain). In the end this sympathetic bunch of characters manage to make things work, though not necessarily the way they originally planned to.

We Make Antiques! is showing on July 22 at JAPAN CUTS.