(Japanese, Portuguese, English, French and Spanish dialogue)
A portrait of oppressed Jesuits in 17th-century Japan, “Eyes of Asia” is like spending an hour and a half in church, complete with a sermon on tolerance, some religiose music and a sanctimonious tone that never raises itself above a whisper. This beautifully lensed but dull Europudding should be put in a museum, where it may attract a few paying acolytes.
After an opening sketching the growth of Christianity in Nagasaki (through four young Japanese priests) and its subsequent demise when the local shogun gets nervous about Western influence, the film’s reverential earnestness weighs in big-time with the appearance of Geraldine Chaplin as the multilingual Jane Powell, a Euro cultural commissary visiting modern Nagasaki to check out an opera on the subject by real-life composer Edward Ishita.
Thereon, pic flip-flops between the story of a priest, Juliao Nakaura (Yoshi Oida), tortured by the shogun’s inquisitor (Kiyoto Harada) to renounce his faith , and Powell wandering around the contempo city and recalling the changes since a visit in her youth. References to the World War II destruction of Nagasaki are stitched in for good measure.
Portuguese helmer Joao Mario Grilo (“The End of the World”) would have made a more convincing case against intolerance if he had come up with a more dramatic, less one-sided script. No real dialogue of ideas is established between the priest and his torturer, Nakaura’s martyrdom is shown to be pointless in practical terms, and the Japanese are vilified simply for protecting their own beliefs.
Performances are as studied as the photography, a rich series of immaculately composed visuals in rich, saturated colors and deep blacks.