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Monday, 29 September 2003

Japanese Story (2)

This is a most mysterious film - and not just because of the midway plot twist that the media is forbidden to disclose. Amidst a cackle of infantile local films attempting (desperately) to make us laugh, director Sue Brooks' Japanese Story takes viewers on a decidedly sombre, thought-provoking and adult journey.

Sandi (Toni Collette) is a brisk and sinewy Perth geologist, the kind of girl who can program a computer, fix a 4WD and keep up with her make workmates at the pub. In the hope of selling her software, she finds herself acting as tour guide to Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima), a rude and chauvinist Japanese businessman. The story follows their prickly and life-changing journey through the mines and deserts of the spectacular Pilbara region.

There's something immensely appealing about plonking an urban-smooth technology-obsessed Japanese person in the midst of our rough desert landscape and its tough dirty inhabitants. (Remember Clara Law's fascinating Goddess of 1967?) It's a kind of social sci-fi, where we watch as an alien discovers our planet. But Japanese Story takes us beyond simple cross-cultural conflict, stripping away layers of sediment until what remains is merely two human beings, naked and vulnerable.

Perhaps a trifle too long in its final act, this film is worth watching for many reasons, but especially for Collette's fearless tour-de-force performance.

Rochelle Siemienowicz
(This review originally appeared in The Big Issue, Aust edn, #187)

Sunday, 28 September 2003

Japanese Story

The aptly-named Sandy (Toni Collette) is a geologist, not a chauffer. So why is she driving a Japanese businessman called Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima) around the deserts of Western Australia? That's a question she's asking herself: she came out to meet him on his visit because she'd be told there was a chance his company might be interested in the software her company's written, but he seems a lot more interested in travelling as far out into the desert as he can. It's not exactly a massive surprise then when they manage to get their four wheel-drive bogged, and the barely buried tensions between the feisty Sandy and the restrained Hiromitsu come to the surface. What comes after that, and the way the bond between them changes, is - only thing is, there's a little note at the bottom of just about everything to do with this film that says "the filmmakers would like to request that after seeing the film, audiences refrain from disclosing the plot within Japanese Story, so as not to spoil the film for others." So sorry, no big plot twist revealing here. Suffice to say that there is something of a twist - no extended dream sequences, identity shifts, or unbelievable revelations though - and that it isn't the kind of thing that'll have you storming out of the cinema in disgust. This is a quiet, low-key film about two people gradually revealing themselves to each other and the audience, and both performances are spot-on. The setting is just as impressive whether it's the expanse of the desert or some very large mining equipment, and while the story itself is stripped-back to the point of non-existence, every scene in it is arranged to bring out the emotional depths within. The more you're willing to put into Japanese Story, the more you'll take from it, and this quiet tale of love has a lot to offer.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #308)