Setting: Somewhere in South America, 1996
Available on Hulu
Time: 102 minutes
Based on the novel with the same title, by Ann Patchett, this is also a fictionalized retelling of the actual event, famously known as The Japanese Hostage Crisis. Both the book and the film set the plot somewhere in South America, but history books record the event as taking place in Lima, Peru.
On December 17, 1997, a party was held for the Emperor of Japan in the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru, Morihisa Aoki. The movie gives the audience the correct impression that this was a huge event with hundreds of dignitaries from all over the world In attendance. In actuality, 600 people attended the gala. Among the guests was a wealthy industrialist, Katsumi Hosokawa, who accepted the invitation under the guise of wanting to build a Japanese factory in poverty stricken Peru. As an ardent opera buff, he was instrumental in arranging for his favorite soprano, Roxann Coss, to be the evening’s guest performer. It was his sole reason for leaving Japan to attend the party. Roxane agreed to sing, only after her agent accomplished the negotiation that would bring her an acceptable amount of money. The only person of importance who did not make an appearance, much to the ambassador’s disappointment, was the Peruvian president. His excuse: he’d rather stay home to watch his favorite television show.
In the middle of Ms. Coss’s aria, the party was taken over by an army of rebels. They’re main and only goal was to kidnap the president. Once they realized that he was not there, they decided to take everyone hostage. Within the first two weeks, they did release all the women and a random selection of men. Records indicate that 287 people, including Roxane Coss, the only female hostage, were kept in captivity for 126 days.
The captors felt that if Ms. Coss stayed with them, they would be closer to having their demands met: better prison conditions, the release of certain prisoners who are their relatives, and making sure that money from foreign assistance gets allocated to all of citizens and not just the select few.
As most people know, Julianne Moore is not a professional opera singer. Renee Fleming was her dubbed voice. The editing and sound effects were so precise, and along with Ms. Moore’s the voice substitution doesn’t make a bit of difference to the viewing pleasure. Her facial expressions and mannerisms were perfectly timed with the music and in sync with Ms. Fleming’s voice.
While watching the movie, please keep in mind that this is not a documentary or a memoir. The book and film, are pieces of historical fiction with lots of drama and romance. Romance? During a hostage crisis? If you include the army of rebels with the amount of hostages, there were over 300 people living together for over 4 months. Relationships developed between the hostages and the guards. A deep love affair was built between Roxane and, Katsumi Hosokawa. The food the hostages were given in the beginning was a bit questionable. As time progressed the group actually conduct sit-down dinners around the banquet table, eating gourmet meals. It was fascinating to watch how human behavior can change according to circumstances. This story is a perfect example of how the environment can affect a person’s character.
To explain how the crisis ended would be a spoiler. I suggest that you watch this entertaining movie and learn a bit about Peruvian history, even though the writers land you in a non-descriptive Spanish speaking country in South America.
-posted by Isabel, Readers’ Services