Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Amalfi:Megami No Hoshu (Rewards of the Goddess)

Film Title: Amalfi
Director: Hiroshi Nishitani
Running Time: 125 mins

The thing about hype is that it is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it could help a great deal in generating awareness, and stirring up interest, excitement, anticipation, to the point of even invoking urgency in movie-goers to pre-book their tickets and triggering their desire to sweep up as many related merchandise as possible, even before the film is aired or even previewed! Yet, on the other hand, film execs would have to be cautious on determining just how much hype is just right and at what point would it be over-hype. Because once you tip that scale in the wrong direction, whatever good that may have been built up so far could very well go the other way and end up working against the success of a film! Sadly, such would be the case for this film.

Highly regarded as the tribute film to Fuji TV's 50th Anniversary, this star-studded vehicle was touted to be the Japanese equivalent to "Angels and Demons"! However, apart from it being a mystery thriller that is shot in Italy too, whether be it the drastic contrast in the pacing of the action, or the disparity in the compactness and twists of the plotline development, the two films could not be more different! Whilst "Angels and Demons" was a bona fide mystery film set against the beautiful backdrop of Italy, "Amalfi" however could be likened to be that of a spectacularly filmed Italy travelogue video with a mystery sidestory added, to give it a bit of "human drama" and less "commercial-ly".

The storyline is simple. As a special treat for Madoka Yagami (Ayane Omori, some of you may remember this adorable little girl from her previous role in disaster film "252: Seizonsha Ari") before her corrective eye surgery, single mother Saeko Yagami (Yuki Amami) happily whisks her daughter away to Italy for a special Christmas vacation. However, their merriment was soon cut short when little Madoka gets kidnapped during a trip to the museum! Japanese diplomat Kosaku Kuroda (Yuji Oda), having recently received word of a potential terrorist strike in Italy, had also just arrived in Italy, under assignment to aid in the safeguarding of Japanese citizens, as well as Japan’s Foreign Minister Wataru Kawagoe (Mitsuru Hirata) who would be due to arrive in Italy for a high-profile G8 foreign minister’s meeting. However, with the Minister's arrival being delayed, Kuroda and his aide, a trainee interpreter (Erika Toda), were temporarily assigned to help Saeko as translators in her daughter's hostage situation.
Although seemingly nonchalant initially and even slightly annoyed at being embroiled in this domestic complication, Kuroda soon found himself touched by Saeko's single-minded devotion towards locating her daughter, and together the pair raced against time to save little Madako's life.
But after several unfruitful attempts, and plenty of red herrings thrown in along the way, Kuroda soon began to question if there was more than meets the eye to this kidnapping incident?
And indeed, he would be right to be doubtful, because after close to two hours of meandering, the film FINALLY picks up its pace in the final quarter and delivers the much needed adrenalin rush of action (by the likes of gunpoint confrontations and car chases), surprise plot twists and of course, the big reveal that would connect the dots for audiences as to how the kidnapping of little Madako would fit into (and how the mythical legend of Amalfi would relate to) the big, secret conspiracy of the film.
Now I'm not sure if it's the style of Japanese investigative mystery films or not (since I've not watched that many of them to confirm this) but I felt that too much time was lost on too many red herrings thrown in and the action pacing WAY too spread out during the first 90 minutes or so of the film! I understand about the necessity of plot and suspense development in a suspense film, but in this case, there was barely enough of either during that course of time to warrant it even being called development! The flow of the first three-quarters of the film was so languid that I was even beginning to not care myself about the plight of the kidnapped little Madoka, and getting somewhat annoyed by the hysterics of Saeko! Thankfully this portion of the film was slightly redeemed by the flawless capturing of the breathtaking picturesque beauty of Italy (the Coliseum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps and, how can we forget, the titular Amalfi Coast) by director Hiroshi Nishitani and cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto - although in my opinion, I thought they may have spent TOO MUCH time focusing on this aspect that they neglected the crucial plot development and the pacing of the film! And of course, we HAVE to mention the incredible vocal prowess of Sarah Brightman, who not only added a spectacular touch to the film soundtrack with her rendition of Andrea Bocelli's "Time to Say Goodbye" as its theme song, she graciously made a guest appearance in the film's finale too!

No complaints about the cast though. I'm already a fan of Yuji Oda even before I watched this film - LOVED him in "Bayside Shakedown 1 & 2" and J-drama "Tokyo Love Story". And although many film critics thought it to be a waste of Yuki Amami's talent to have her reduced from the iron woman roles she always takes on to the helpless mother in this film, my friend Antonio (who's also seen the film) and I thought she did an fantastic job in showing a different facet of herself, being able to competently convey the despair, helplessness, unwavering faith and devotion of a parent who has had a child taken away from her. Watch out for the scene where she finally succumbs to her moment of weakness and crumbles emotionally in the arms of Yuji Oda - it's our common fav moment in the film.

My final say? Go for the film if you LOVE the sights of Italy and don't mind trudging through 90 minutes or so of scenery footage before the plotline ACTUALLY kicks in. Otherwise, if you're a true blue suspense mystery thriller film fan like me, give it a miss - this can wait till the DVD comes out.

My rating?
As a travelogue:

As a film:

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