Geologist Sandy Edwards (Toni Collette), is assigned to baby sit Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima), a visiting Japanese executive and show him round the red country of Western Australia’s remote Pilbara region, where some of the world’s largest deposits of iron ore are mined (and the oldest geological area in the world). She takes an instant dislike to the foreigner, and the cultural abyss between them seems to exaggerate the personal divide. When alone in the desert and in some danger, the two begin to discover things about each other and themselves.
Review by Louise Keller:
A powerhouse of a love story, Japanese Story is an emotional tour de force as it canvasses how love crosses all boundaries of culture, language, tradition and social taboos. The premise of two people from vastly different cultures being forced together may be simple, but the subtext and the consequences are far reaching.
This is the story of two people from two very different cultures: we explore the events from the time they first meet until the time when the superficial layers that divide them are stripped away. Intelligent direction and a perceptive script that hones straight to the heart, allow us to connect immediately with the two central characters. Toni Collette is simply riveting and brings extraordinary depth and complexity to the role. Collette has never been better and her face mirrors her every emotion: her soulful eyes and infectious smile unforgettable in every frame. We feel her exhilaration, her anguish, her anger, and in a final exchange at the airport, there is an overwhelming mountain of emotions to contain. Gotaro Tsunashima is perfect as the traditional Japanese businessman who finds what he is looking for – his performance is as contained as his character.
This is a film that connects on all levels, as we watch the veneer that limits communication and understanding simply melt away. Silence is used as a powerful tool in the film’s second half, allowing the myriad of emotions to be shaken up in contemplation. Like a see-saw, the mood constantly changes, and with it our perceptions. Although titled Japanese Story, the film could in fact be called Japanese-Australian story, touching on many issues from the sensitive war references to the sharp contrasts brought about from upbringing. Tachibana is a fish out of water in this land of few people and vast spaces, and it’s not until both Tachibana and Sandy are thrown together in a sink-or-swim situation, that they bond and discover a connection deep within that is unexpected, bearing in mind their more obvious differences. When they are stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing but red earth and sparse landscape to meet the eye, we get a glimpse of their poles-apart survival tactics. There’s a lovely sense of elation when they manage to rescue the car from the bog, and the immediate bond that is forged is transmitted from the screen straight to our hearts like an arrow.
These are extraordinarily intimate scenes as we witness two souls being totally stripped. Spectacular vistas and locations make this visually impressive, with its splendid cinematography and the use of both traditional Japanese and Yothu Yindi music colours our senses. Working successfully on two levels, Japanese Story is a potently engaging film, offering food for thought with its multi-cultural themes and satisfying resolution.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Japanese Story is a sensitive, caringly structured and powerfully performed love drama which not only probes our consciences about humanity in all its diversity, but is a testament to the complexity of individuals behind the outer layers of ethnicity. The title is deliberately simple, and the irony inherent in it – that it’s not the ethnic outer layer of people but their inner workings that is who they are - is at the film’s heart. It could easily be titled Australian Story or indeed Eskimo Story. The filmmakers also eschew simplification for the sake of cinematic shorthand. Emotional development is allowed to expand into its own timeframe. As a result, it feels almost as if the characters develop and engage with each other in real time.
Toni Collette is superb as Sandy, offering a thousand faces for a thousand moods and emotions, a journey on which we are not mere observers but almost participants. It would be a lesser film without her. Gotaro Tsunamisha is also excellent, making a journey of some emotional distance himself. Told almost entirely by women filmmakers (with the exception of cinematographer Ian Baker), it certainly presents a view of the world as experienced by women, but to call it a women’s film is still a gross injustice; it not only insults men as being disinterested in the subject (and considering it’s a love story of sorts between a man and a woman this would seem unlikely), it also sets up inaccurate expectations. The film is neither a weepy nor a gently romantic film. If anything, it’s anti-romantic in that it never portrays love as a pretty illusion. Indeed, in many ways it’s a tough, uncompromising film, and its selection for Un Certain Regard (Cannes 2003) underlines its exceptional values.
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UNLABELLED REPORT by Andrew L. Urban
JAPANESE STORY (M)
CAST: Toni Collette, Gotaro Tsunashima, Matthew Dyktynski, Lynette Curran, John Howard
PRODUCER: Sue Maslin
DIRECTOR: Sue Brooks
SCRIPT: Alison Tilson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ian Baker ACS
EDITOR: Jill Bilcock ASE, ACE
MUSIC: Elizabeth Drake
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paddy Reardon
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 25, 2003 (Advance screenings Sept 19, 20, 21)