Tender, original and moving, Japanese Story boasts an exceptional performance from Toni Collette. The star of Muriel's Wedding plays sparky geologist Sandy Edwards, reluctantly guiding Japanese businessman Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima) through the Australian outback: a vista of spartan natural beauty captured through expert photography. Intimacy beckons in the expanse, as the outgoing Aussie and reserved Easterner clash and then connect, while getting lost in the desert...
The cultural crunch between East and West was explored in Lost In Translation, but Sue Brooks' film is less glibly amused by Japanese peccadilloes, and more interested in people than broad laughs. The script by Alison Tilson creates characters using deft, underplayed action (Sandy's harried evening meal; Hiromitsu's attention to his mobile phone), conveying information with great economy and allowing its story to stroll along a surprising path.
"WRONG-FOOTING AND REFRESHING"
Most movies take you to a pre-ordained end: you know the guy will get the girl, the hero defeat the villain, the 'right' win through might. But this genre-blending picture is as unpredictable as real-life, taking you on an emotional journey where the departure point never suggests the final destination. It's wrong-footing and refreshing you really are being told a story, not just seeing an on-screen echo of your expectations.
Brooks also has a keen eye, not simply in the way she and cinematographer Ian Baker shoot the outback (a landscape so stunning it would probably be pretty hard to film badly), but also in her approach to gender and sexuality. Where the camera usually lingers on female flesh, here it holds on the beauty of the male body. Woman is very much the sexual equal of Man and cinematic convention is again overturned (particularly in an erotic hotel encounter). Whether Japanese Story retains its raw emotional punch on repeat viewing is arguable, but for 105 minutes its power is palpable. See it.