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Worth A Look: 18.81%
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2 reviews, 89 user ratings

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Japanese Story
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Mining beneath the surface"
4 stars

Last year, Toni Collette played such disparate roles as a contemporary American lawyer (Changing Lanes), tough-as-nails Australian gangster’s wife (Dirty Deeds), suicidal British hippy (About A Boy) and 1940s American housewife (The Hours). Although most of these parts were small, she left an indelible impression in each. It’s cause for celebration to see her take centre stage again.

She plays Sandy Edwards, a geologist based in Perth. Along with ex-lover Baird (Matthew Dyktynski), she’s partner in a small software company. Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima) is a Japanese business executive on a field trip to inspect Australian mines. Baird senses a possible source of funds if Hiromitsu’s company purchases their latest computer program. He dispatches Sandy to pick him up from the airport, hoping an opportunity will arise for her to demonstrate their product.

Their first meetings do not go well. Sandy is ignorant of Japanese language and etiquette, and Hiromitsu assumes she is only an unqualified driver. Sandy resents being a “glorified tour guide”, and barely contains her irritation (he’s “boring as bloody cat shit”). Hiromitsu thinks she is loud, aggressive and stubborn, with a “big bum”. Nevertheless, the Australian desert fascinates him - all that space and no people - and he demands that Sandy drive further. When their 4WD inevitably bogs in the sand, Hiromitsu and Sandy must transcend their cultural misunderstandings to survive.

Writer Alison Tilson wastes little time introducing her two opposites, establishing a credible background for each and then bringing them together. If the trajectory of Sandy and Hiromitsu is initially predictable, at least director Sue Brooks sends them to some eye-catching locations.

We’re taken on a tour of the BHP Billiton working iron ore mine at Newman and then into the stunning red-orange landscape of the Western Australian Pilbara desert. The cinematography of Ian Baker, a longtime collaborator of Fred Schepisi, is extraordinarily evocative. It’s also effective in generating a sense of awesome space in which Sandy and Hiromitsu redefine themselves. Baker and Brooks capture a feeling of ancient vastness in their depiction of the land. It’s not surprising the indigenous custodians of the region granted consent to their filming.

Japanese Story transforms itself from a road movie, as Sandy and Hiromitsu’s relationship deepens. Then Tilson and Brooks shift gear again with a remarkable change of tone. To this point, Japanese Story has been about surfaces. Form alters to match content, as the filmmakers strip away the apparent surface of the film to reveal a new layer beneath. Everything is simplified and the chief theme - the value of awareness - emerges clearly. “Even when you’re here, you’re not here”, Sandy’s best friend Jane (Justine Clarke) had told her at the start. Hiromitsu helps open Sandy’s eyes to what’s important. She, in turn, shows him something beautiful.

Tilson, Brooks and producer Sue Maslin all collaborated on 1997’s Road to Nhill, a likeable comedy about a group of lady lawn bowlers whose car overturns in the country. In terms of technique and confidence, Japanese Story is in another league. My only qualm was Brooks’ overuse of intense close-ups. She also tends to drape the characters photogenically against the stunning desert backdrops a little too often. Editor Jill Bilcock undoubtedly deserves to share credit for the beautiful flow of the story.

Tsunashima is an effective foil for the earthy Collette. He’s acted in Australia before, in the television mini-series Changi. There’s also strong support from Yumiko Tanaka as his softly spoken wife and Dyktynski as Sandy’s well-meaning but insensitive partner. This is Sandy’s “Japanese story”, and Japanese Story is Collette’s film. Sometimes funny, at other times emotionally raw, Collette’s constantly on screen and gives a gutsy and powerful performance.

It’s worth stressing that Japanese Story ends up a very different film from where it starts. As a journey, it captures the unpredictability and preciousness of the life we live and the world we live it in.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8125&reviewer=104
originally posted: 09/03/03 23:47:29
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For more in the Australian series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/13/05 cHRISTINA Jovanonska you kill a character 1 stars
5/28/05 KDK Melodramatic swill. A Toni Collette overacting exercise. 1 stars
5/23/05 PPD Interesting but rather clichéed 3 stars
5/19/05 ABomb Lesbian shite 1 stars
1/23/05 sbpat21 touching yet sloppy 4 stars
1/13/05 Gullytrap histrionic acting demonstration by Toni Collette. Bruce Beresford was spot on. 1 stars
2/02/04 LKL Roger Ebert's review caused me to go see this movie - and I found it to be moving. 4 stars
1/31/04 crystal uehara it was pretty good 4 stars
1/30/04 gunnsir very good 4 stars
12/27/03 Donelle Intense, completely engrossing, Collette brilliantly portrays the mundane & the spiritual 5 stars
11/05/03 Dave awesome movie 5 stars
11/03/03 Sandy Fabulous, beautiful, moving 5 stars
11/01/03 P. Brawn Ten stars for Toni Collette's consumate acting. Her performance is remarkable and seamless. 4 stars
11/01/03 Felicity Paulsen interesting comment on our relationship with Asia.. politically well timed? Beautiful 5 stars
10/29/03 marg wanted to watch it over again! beautiful! 5 stars
10/27/03 celia dann a beautiful film, taking you on a heartfelt journey 5 stars
10/27/03 Paula Charles Shallow, pretentious 2 stars
10/26/03 Anne Mitchell Best film I've seen in a long time 5 stars
10/24/03 N eil Cammack Lazy plotting, atmospherics triumph over substance. Missed opportunity to make a good movie 2 stars
10/22/03 jon At least one sceen in this movie is just about as good as it gets 5 stars
10/21/03 Ian Peters Good acting, a little slow to start. Good to see my home town and state on the big screen. 4 stars
10/20/03 Beate No story, dragged out too long, boring. 1 stars
10/19/03 Linda Wesolowski Funny, tragic, multilayered. A journey of the meaning of human existance. 5 stars
10/19/03 Shirley Campbell A fabulous journey for the viewer 5 stars
10/19/03 Daniel Emlyn-Jones One of the best films i've ever seen. An exquisite masterpiece! 5 stars
10/18/03 Sue Goldberger A remarkable and very emotionally charged movie 4 stars
10/18/03 Jon Holmes Yokatta desu 5 stars
10/16/03 Robert Marks Excellent 5 stars
10/15/03 kalgirl wonderful and unpredictable, though sacrifices a bit of believabilty to achieve this 4 stars
10/14/03 Ayako Deep understanding on both cultures is shown. Not just another romantic film. Wonderful. 5 stars
10/13/03 Matthew Smith one of the year's best films, one of the great aussie films for quite some time. 5 stars
10/11/03 Nick Grigoriou A comparison of two very different cultures with the subtect of love and loss. 4 stars
10/11/03 Katie Lawson Fantastic, leaves you thinking.....'what lies beneath'....the pants! 4 stars
10/11/03 tim pols sad but beautiful 5 stars
10/10/03 Grassy Noel Teioud in the xtreme, but whaddaya know...the critics love it! Paying customers steer clear 1 stars
10/10/03 elise bee it was fantastic i really enjoyed it 5 stars
10/09/03 CrystalRevenge Check out "Walkabout" by Nicolas Roeg to see how a real artist handles a similar story. 2 stars
10/09/03 Laurie Swain What a dia=sappointment -lovely evocative reviews let down by actual film 2 stars
10/09/03 neil sullivan OK but superficial and forced 3 stars
10/08/03 andvin Toni Collette is brilliant 5 stars
10/07/03 Nova One for the critics. Punters beware. 2 stars
10/07/03 Nova As bad as its title 1 stars
10/07/03 Mike Welcome to Japanese Story....You are feeling sleepy...Very sleepy... 1 stars
10/07/03 Wilkie Tedious, sleep-inducing, pretentious shite. Get ready to snooze! 1 stars
10/07/03 Suzanne Morton Thought provoking with underlying questions left unanswered, set re a beautiful backdrop. 4 stars
10/06/03 Gary evocative moods stunning location 5 stars
10/06/03 Jennifer A. Sensitive performances from the two lead actors 5 stars
10/06/03 Susanne s Fantastic, can't stop thinking about it 5 stars
10/05/03 Kelso Mayer Although most of the emotions were hard to read or assume 4 stars
10/04/03 Herb The Brown Bunny without the blow job. 1 stars
10/04/03 Prakos Plenty for the Deb Verhoevens to wank on about. Nothing for actual audiences. 1 stars
10/04/03 Arlo Don't be fooled by the hype. It's "Swept Away" with arty overtones. 1 stars
10/04/03 Mel Lesbian tripe. 1 stars
10/04/03 Rach Ooh look...the woman's "wearing the pants" Could it be any more sledgehammer? 1 stars
10/04/03 Suzy At least the "big twist" wakes you up...for a minute or so. 1 stars
10/04/03 Abe Lengthy tedious silences + "meaningful" travel photography = critics fooled again. A bore. 1 stars
10/04/03 Renko This tedious (and predictable) art-house snore is the perfect cure for insomnia! 1 stars
10/04/03 Cole Take a pillow! 1 stars
10/03/03 christene walker geogeous, thought-provoking film 5 stars
10/02/03 Andrew The twist was exciting but the momentum for me quickly diminished. 3 stars
10/02/03 Janelle Burgess amazing 5 stars
10/01/03 Kwang Kwon Charming work and should be seen to Australian public 4 stars
10/01/03 Joy Wonderful use of silences 5 stars
10/01/03 Andrew Really worth a look 5 stars
10/01/03 phil truly magnificent - toni collette is stunning 5 stars
9/30/03 max Dull, laboured and predictable 2 stars
9/30/03 George Stamell Brilliant movie - as a by product also good for geography lessons 5 stars
9/30/03 rose Fantastic, I must see it again 5 stars
9/30/03 Rochelle Wilks Different, interesting and thought provoking 5 stars
9/30/03 Sarah So great, beautiful cinematography, great story 5 stars
9/29/03 Stephen Ho-hum binary opposites, cultural cliches, workshop mode script, struggling for development 3 stars
9/29/03 Kerry Best film I've seen in ages 5 stars
9/29/03 Lisa You know a movie is great when you can't stop thinking about it for days afterward! 5 stars
9/28/03 Penny ***** 5 stars
9/28/03 Amy Absolutely fantastic. Don't miss it. 5 stars
9/28/03 Sylvia Tracey Penetrating and meaningful. Beauty in depth and in dessert. 5 stars
9/28/03 Dominic I loved it. I was deeply affected by the story and the setting. 5 stars
9/27/03 Celeste Collette is great but can't cover up unconvincing plot. 3 stars
9/26/03 Brian Mc Emotionally draining; superb acting by Colette; stunning settings. 5 stars
9/26/03 Tom Lomas Wonderful and moving 5 stars
9/25/03 jenny britain predictable-nothing special 1 stars
9/24/03 Margaret Jacobs Makes a tremendously powerful impact 5 stars
9/24/03 katelin absolutely brilliant 5 stars
9/24/03 Brett Houlon Brilliant...Toni Collette should get an Oscar if there is any justice in the world 5 stars
9/24/03 CC Over-rated dribble 2 stars
9/20/03 Peter Sellick This film is so deep and coplex I need to see it again. 5 stars
9/20/03 Steve Innes Loved it. Hope more films like this are made in Perth and Western Austrailia in general. 5 stars
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  31-Dec-2003 (R)
  DVD: 11-May-2004


  25-Sep-2003 (M)

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