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    Japanese Story

    Desert fox

    Toni Collette continues to shine in "Japanese Story," but it's a rather arid tale of a Japanese man and an Australian woman stranded in the outback.


    Like her male equivalent Philip Seymour Hoffman, Australian actress Toni Collette has never given a bad performance on film (well I certainly can't think of one).

    Directed by: Sue Brooks.
    Written by: Alison Tilson.
    Cast: Toni Collette, Gotaro Tsunashima, Matthew Dyktynski, Lynette Curran, Yumiko Tanaka, Kate Atkinson, John Howard, Bill Young, Reg Evans, George Shevtsov, Justine Clarke.
    Cinematography: Ian Baker.
    Music by: Elizabeth Drake.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    I loved her in "Muriel's Wedding," the first time I ever noticed her, and she was excellent in "The Sixth Sense" (although I didn't care much for the movie). Likewise Collette was notable in "The Hours" (a film I didn't much care for either; she played the trussed-up Kitty Barlowe) and simply wonderful in "About a Boy" (one of my ten best films of 2002).

    And she's hands-down the best thing about "Japanese Story," a "Sheltering Sky"-like drama about an Australian geologist and a Japanese businessman who find themselves temporarily stranded in the wide open spaces of Australia's Pilbara desert (pronounced dez-ut, not de-zurt, "like the sweet") region. Collette's appropriately named Sandy is "volunteered" by her boss (Bill Baird) into driving prospective client Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima) around in the outback in a rented Toyota 4-Runner. Not a very good ad campaign for the SUV (or Hertz), it turns out, since it quickly gets "bogged," with the two mismatched individuals forced to spend the night together par terre with ne'er a cellular signal between them.

    Japanese Story  
    But slowly, imperceptively, Sandy's permanent frown disperses and she gets all touchy-feely with her vulnerable, fish-out-of-water charge. Why? When? How? It doesn't seem to matter, but touchy-feely she gets. Up until this point (about two-thirds of its running length), the film has been intriguing and entertaining, buoyed along by a vibrant Collette (and her winsome buck teeth) playing off — and with — Tsunashima's uptight Asia miner.

    There's much to be said out there amid Ian Baker's breathtakingly shot landscapes, about economics, privilege, and gender, and about how culture invariably shapes and divides these. But then the unthinkable happens. And "Japanese Story" loses its story. The remaining third of Sue Brooks's film is a dull, schmaltzy affair, slow as molasses and hammered home with unflinching torpor. And it becomes increasingly evident that, without our looking very far, there wasn't much of a story to begin with.

    At this point Alison Tilson's script breaks down completely. At this point Elizabeth Drake's music becomes moribund in its repetitiveness. Yet at this point Toni Collette still manages to pack a considerable wallop, effortlessly expressing guilt, shame, and sadness. It's another solid performance lost in a barren wilderness of easy assumptions and unfulfilled fancies.

    FEBRUARY 3, 2004

    Reader comments on Japanese Story:

  • Japanese Story   from Camella, Nov 24, 2004
  • The Ending   from Gixhaix, Nov 25, 2004
  • Re: The Ending   from dahlia jones, Jan 22, 2005
  • Re: The Ending   from Jessica Tsab, Feb 15, 2005
  • Re: The Ending   from Bruce Andrews, Mar 14, 2005
  • Re: The Ending   from Nick, Sep 23, 2006
  • Re: The Ending   from Patrich, Nov 16, 2006
  • Dazzling Performance   from Dan Vrooman, Feb 12, 2005
  • What did Hiro die from?   from Linda, Jul 2, 2005
  • Re: What did Hiro die from?   from Dana, Jul 31, 2005
  • Re: What did Hiro die from?   from Dan Rapp, Aug 12, 2005
  • Re: What did Hiro die from?   from lu, Oct 14, 2005
  • Re: What did Hiro die from?   from edualc, Aug 11, 2006
  • Re: What did Hiro die from?   from Meg Tasker, Oct 15, 2006
  • Re: What did Hiro die from?   from Shula, Aug 7, 2007
  • Re: What did Hiro die from?   from Al from sydney, Jan 8, 2010
  • the letter Hiro wrote   from jana, Aug 19, 2005
  • Re: the letter Hiro wrote   from Damian, Mar 29, 2007
  • Re: the letter Hiro wrote   from Lyn (Europe), Oct 7, 2007
  • Japanese Story Soundtrack   from Ovi, Oct 6, 2005
  • Re: Japanese Story Soundtrack   from Zoey, Nov 6, 2005
  • Re: Japanese Story Soundtrack   from Nicolas, Nov 21, 2005
  • a bath would help   from Leda, May 18, 2006
  • The Sadness   from Bill, Apr 9, 2007

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