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Japanese Story
Australia - 2003
Sue Brooks - Director

A review by Ola Tjornbo


Japanese Story is a slow paced exploration of the development of a relationship set against the stunning backdrop of the Australian outback. Although at times it may struggle to sustain your interest it also features fantastic performances from the whole cast and has moments of exhilarating tenderness. Sandy Edwards (Toni Collette) is a geologist who reluctantly accepts the job of trying to sell her company’s software to the representative of a large Japanese corporation by acting as his tour guide as he travels around the outback. She and her client Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima) are two very ordinary characters; Sandy is overworked, disorganised and slightly rough around the edges while he is the living embodiment of the stiff Japanese businessman stereotype and if you’re expecting a culture clash, you won’t be disappointed.

So far so very pedestrian, Japanese Story takes a very long time to get going. Sandy and Tachibana spend the first part of the movie being very uninterested in each other and being equally uninteresting to us. There are some beautiful shots of Australian countryside but you begin to wonder if there is really enough of a story here to warrant a whole film. Almost imperceptibly though, the perils of the outback force them to pull together and display their more admirable qualities. It doesn’t take long for their relationship to blossom and for the film to take on a road movie feel. We’re made keenly aware of just how small these two lovers are as vast empty Australia stretches out around them. The contrast between their frailty and the enormity of the outback creates some truly memorable moments. The true turning point in the film arrives as they lie naked together in the wilderness, touching on something vulnerable and beautiful.

From here on in Japanese Story has a lot to tell us about the human condition. The very ordinariness of the characters becomes an asset as we recognise the struggles they face to cope with the rigours of life. Several times during the latter parts of the film I felt shivers running along my spine as director Sue Brooks managed to tap into some very raw emotions. The performances throughout are magnificently understated and Collette shines as she’s called upon to display her full range of abilities. With Tsunashima she creates a believable and awkward burgeoning love affair and together with Yumiko Tanaka playing Tachibana’s wife, she gives a wordless display with real power.

Unfortunately, like the beginning, the end of the film is drawn out too long. There is very little dialogue and the scenes are instead tied together by a mournful piece of music that has become overly familiar by the time the credits roll. This is a film well worth seeing if you’re prepared to show a little bit of patience in return for some genuinely wonderful moments. There is nothing that is unaccomplished or clumsy about it but sometimes there is just so little going on that it makes you wish they hadn’t wasted their time shooting it.

Runtime:  100 minutes

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