[box cover]

Japanese Story

Toni Collette stars in this austere 2003 Aussie drama as Sandy, a dour and isolated geologist unwillingly assigned by her software firm to escort an important Japanese businessman deep into the outback. Her surly resistance to the mission is matched by the aloof unhappiness of her charge, Tachibana (Gotaro Tsunashima), whose total lack of interest in business only exacerbates Sandy's foul mood. Instead of making deals, Tachibana mopes for days before inexplicably insisting that Sandy drive him to a remote location, where their SUV bogs down into the unpaved road, leaving them stranded in deadly conditions, and forcing them to open up to each other, even if in anger. Directed and written by TV soap veterans Sue Brooks and Alison Tilson, respectively, Japanese Story is beautifully filmed against picturesque backdrops, and the solid, moody, despondent performances (not to mention its multicultural subject matter) satisfy the movie's aspirations toward indie-art cred. Unfortunately, however, the first half of the movie consists mostly of worn-out and shallowly explored ideas, inevitably leading to a series of unmotivated, artfully cold sex scenes between silently understanding and mostly unlikable former antagonists. To their credit, Brooks and Tilson try to shake things up with an "unexpected" twist, but while it offers an unusual dramatic path for the film's climax and conclusion, the randomness of it all totally fails to inform the tedious build-up with any meaning or to reveal anything interesting (or empathetic) about its lead characters. Nevertheless, Japanese Story won just about every Australian film award in 2003, and, doubtless, the seriousness of it will win over middle-aged women looking for a important-feeling, unearned cry — but that's mostly due to the skill of the film's technical posturing. The characters and story remain as remote as the Pilbara Desert. Columbia TriStar's DVD presents Japanese Story in a nice anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Brooks and Tilson chat along in an audio commentary track. The disc also includes a few deleted scenes with optional commentary and a photo gallery. Trailers, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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