Dan Lybarger, 2 January 2004
Despite a uniquely captivating
setting and the reassuring presence of Toni Collette (About a Boy,
The Sixth Sense), Japanese Story never feels
convincing enough to be engaging.
Cinematographer Ian Baker's (A
Cry in the Dark) breathtaking images of the rugged and
forbidding Western Australian landscape -- specifically the desert
region known as the Pilbara -- only seem to emphasize that the
humans in this film aren't as interesting the hills and wastelands.
The people in this tale seem to
fight or fall in love on cue. Any viewer whose watch stops during a
screening of this can reset it by synchronizing it with the plot.
Collette plays a brusque,
no-nonsense geologist named Sandy Edwards, who has the thankless
task of carting around Japanese businessman named Tachibana
Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima). Tachibana is visiting the region for
more than a simple vacation, and Sandy's associates hope to strike a
lucrative pact with Tachibana's crew.
If the matter were left simply
between the two of them, no deal would be struck. Sandy speaks no
Japanese, and Tachibana's English is limited, although it's doubtful
he'd speak much even if he were fluent in the language. When he's
calling home on his cel phone, he complains about her loud, butch
Needless to say, it's not love at
his insistence on seeing the most remote landmarks, the two wind up
with their vehicle stuck in a sinkhole. After the two finally work
together long enough to get back on the road, they start bonding.
From here, a thin but mildly interesting setup quickly goes south.
that happen when they are both in and out of love seem irritatingly
telegraphed. After a few minutes, it gets tiring guessing what the
characters discover about each other or even what their next lines
doesn't help. While Collette and Tsunashima at least look committed,
it seems more of an act of desperation, as if screenwriter Alison
Tilson and director Sue Brooks had run out of ways to show the two
were hitting it off despite the fact that Tachibana is married.
movies like Monster's Ball and Last Tango in Paris
needed the sex scenes in order to be effective. But Japanese
Story never really achieves the intellectual or visceral weight
to lead viewers to believe that its couple has teamed up for any
reason other than boredom.
like a cheap shot to compare this flick with Sofia Coppola's Lost
in Translation, but with both films feature Brief Encounter-like
relationships and cultural clashes and share 2003 release dates.
One of the
things that made Lost in Translation work was the
writer-director's loose, improvisational approach. She made the
eventual boding between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson appear
unaffected and natural. It is preordained, but it doesn't feel like
also managed to achieve more emotional peaks by leaving her actors'
clothes on. There's more passion in Coppola's longing than in Brooks
and Tilson's consummation.
The final act of Japanese Story
seems to be Brooks and Tilson's attempt at jolting viewers, but it
rings false and fits poorly with what came before. Tilson does
deserve some credit for understanding Japanese social customs, and
there is a funny sequence where Sandy and Tachibana have the
misfortune of being stuck with an old man who, try as he might,
can't help but spout racist slips of the tongue.
is a movie I desperately wanted to like. After all, it has won
dozens of awards back in its native Australia and has been
omnipresent on the festival circuit. Nonetheless, on this side of
the Pacific, it goes over about as well as Yahoo Serious and