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Against the background of an Australian desert, Sandy, a geologist, and Hiromitsu, a Japanese businessman, play out a story of human inconsequence in the face of the blistering universe. The end of the journey leaves no one capable of going back to where they started from. Written by
A naturalistic journey into a landscape of raw emotion and beauty.
Tender, original and moving, Japanese Story boasts an exceptional performance from Toni Collette. The star of Muriel's Wedding plays the ambitious geologist Sandy Edwards, reluctantly accepting the assignment to guide Japanese businessman Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima) through the Australian outback: a vista of spartan natural beauty captured through expert photography. Unlikely intimacy and human emotion beckons in the expanse, as the feisty Antipodean and reserved Easterner clash and then connect, while getting lost in the desert.
The polarised characters of Sandy and Hiromitsu are thrown together purely for placating the relations of business, reflective perhaps of the relationship between Australia and Japan for the last fifty years as their union exists rather out of an economic necessity. Sandy accepts the assignment in order to promote her software designs, determined to persist in striking up conversation with her reluctant Japanese counterpart. Hiromitsu exhibits all the characteristics of a patriarchal tradition; conversing only with men in the language of business whilst openly rejecting Sandy as merely his chaperon not worthy of any common courtesy of niceties.
The film takes us on a road-trip journey that forces the unlikely couple further into the expansive Australian terrain. Hiromitsu seems obsessed with the amount of space the land has to offer signifying his claustrophobic existence in both his marriage and corporate structure where he is subordinate to his father. His infatuation with Australia's limitless landscape fuels his demands for Sandy to drive deeper into the unknown. Sandy meanwhile openly displays her disdain and frustration towards Hiromitsu yet a series of unpredictable enactments allow attraction, desire and romance to ensue.
Just when their relationship is tenderly developing in adversity, the film takes a dramatic turn, forcing the audiences expectations of a conventional love story to be confounded. What we get instead is a radical turn of events that cause a delineated plot leaving the audience emotionally wrenched whilst unable to fathom the film's outcome. Alison Tilson's script directed by Sue Brooks gives the film a tenderness and realism to both character and plot which could so easily have been overplayed. The film in essence is as unpredictable as life, taking you on a journey where the final destination is never a straightforward route of resolutely love and happiness. Under Brook's direction, Collette and Tsunashima give a performance that is outstanding, captivating and highly charged with emotion. Collete's naturalistic and raw emotion is powerful enough to effect even the hardest of nerves whilst Tsunashima's character transgresses from a confined man to a freer being allowed to shake off his shackles of tradition and expectation.
The film's beautifully constructed cinematography of a picturesque yet barren landscape is reflective of Sandy and Hiromitsus' relationship that exudes so much promise and beauty within an environment of unpredictability, danger and frailty. Hiromitsu even remarks to Sandy that 'You have shown me so much beauty' which rings true through the landscape, her physicality and their human emotion. The film's success lies within its examination of binaries and confounding expectations within those structures. The cultural division between East and West are temporarily eroded in the relationship between Sandy and Hiromitsu whilst gender and sexuality are displayed in a unique cinematic way. The male body becomes the object of desire through the lingering camera work both on the beach and in the hotel bedroom encounter. Both female and male body are examined equally adding to the feeling that both Sandy and Hiromitsu are temporarily detached from the world abandoning all its preconceptions and social baggage.
It is remarkable to see another resounding success for Australian cinema and so refreshing that Collette isn't just prepared to settle at what Hollywood throws at her. Japanese Story is a powerful journey into the unknown and the unexpected, leaving both the protagonists and audience emotionally exposed to what life has in store for us.
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