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