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Japanese Story

Japanese Story

Rated R, 110 min. Directed by Sue Brooks. Starring Toni Collette, Gotaro Tsunashima, Matthew Dyktynski, Lynette Curran.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., March 5, 2004

This cross-cultural love story is appropriately named. Though its setting is the desert of western Australia, whose roseate sands are sumptuously filmed by Ian Baker, it is modest and deliberate and very formally composed, like fukeiga; the landscape is bigger than the figures, and it exerts a powerful transformative effect upon them. Much of the film is a two-character piece. Sandy (Collette) is a geologist from the city, chain-smoking and somewhat brash. Hiromitsu (Tsunashima) is a manager in a multinational corporation engaged with Sandy’s firm. When he arranges a tour of the company’s mining operations, Sandy is sent to squire him around in a four-by-four. Soon it becomes clear that his purpose is personal rather than fiduciary; overwhelmed by the "heavy obligations" of work and family, he is seeking release in the big, open spaces of Australia. He pushes Sandy to drive him farther and farther off the road until the two are mired in sand and must camp for the night. Once they realize they must cooperate to survive, their considerable differences fall by the wayside. The ensuing relationship is not easily defined. This is not a conventional love story but a philosophical one; like the lovers in Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour, Sandy and Hiromitsu are strongly representative of their cultures, and their emotions exist within the space of history and collective memory. A boat trip with a hired captain demonstrates the complexity of their union: "In the war we thought you blokes were coming after us," he tells Hiromitsu. "Now you blokes own the place." Brooks blurs the line of gender, as well. Collette, with her akimbo stance and emotionally open face, is expressive where Tsunashima is coy. In one striking scene she comes to him wearing his tailored pants while he lies, passive, against white sheets that highlight the shade of their skin – he is so smooth and unblemished and she so tanned and weather-beaten that they appear to be the same color. Some viewers will lament the lack of a hard-and-fast plot structure. Until a third-act twist in the story, there is very little build – just a perceptible but gradual change in the characters, like erosion seen in time-lapse. When the twist happens, Brooks invites the viewer to look back and see how far we’ve actually gone. That realization – aided by an off-the-charts performance by Collette – is the reward of this Story.
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