Samuel Goldwyn Films
Directed by Sue Brooks
Written by Alison Tilson
Produced by Sue Maslin
Starring Toni Collette, Gotaro Tsunashima, Matthew
Dyktynski, Lynette Curran, Yumiko Tanaka, Kate Atkinson,
(out of four)
“Which one’s the surname?”
Japanese businesses have bought up much of Australia’s
land, but the Australians don’t understand
the culture that has invaded their country. Sandy,
a geologist, has been ordered against her will to
show the Japanese son of the head of her company’s
major partner around town.
It’s the perfect setting for a romantic comedy,
but “Japanese Story” explores its opposing
thoughts-uniting tale in a much more thorough manner
than the standard love story. Rather than spend 100
minutes on the fights, bonding, new fights and re-bonding
of an initially disagreeable couple, screenwriter
Alison Tilson and director Sue Brooks build and expand
their themes with new thoughts and revelations.
The film includes several sequences that could be
feature-length films themselves—a road movie,
a survival film and of course the at-odds comedy.
While the shorter versions of these genres feel abbreviated
at times due to initial expectations, the end story
contains a more thorough character journey.
The sparky Toni Collette plays Sandy, who ends up
looking after Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima).
She wasn’t chosen for her pleasant personality,
but because none of her colleagues can work it into
their schedules. She picks him up from the airport,
takes him out to a large mine and carries his luggage,
but can’t get any words out of him other than “hi,” which
doesn’t mean anything to her. She doesn’t
have a business card, let alone know that she’s
supposed to exchange it with him while bowing.
Despite these cultural differences, she soon discovers
that he isn’t a stereotype. He hates karaoke,
for example, but engages in an amusingly failed effort
at the behest of some Australian business partners,
then drinks himself silly to quell the anxiety. Sandy
gets to take him back to his hotel.
The Australian landscape, wonderfully captured by
Ian Baker’s golden cinematography, romances
Tachibana. It’s the opposite of Japan: a lot
of space and no people. He wants to go deeper into
the outback, despite Sandy’s warnings to the
His insistence lands the two of them stranded with
their Land Rover’s tires sunk into sand. The
outback’s drastic temperature changes mean
the possibilities of heatstroke in the evening and
freezing at night. The two stubborn souls begin to
understand each other through Tachibana’s broken
The two actors have great comic chemistry together,
as Tachibana takes advantage of Sandy’s inability
to speak Japanese to drive her crazy. The language
lessons they offer each other continue the comedy
after the characters stop aggravating one another.
They are both unhappy in their current lives, and
this excursion into foreign land and/or culture offers
a change of outlook.
Tilson’s script focuses its attention on the
two people, rather than making a didactic political
film about racism. The only scene that directly addresses
the issue is one with a ferryman who describes the
country during World War II and comments on the economy: “We’re
the only country to have a trading surplus with your
lot,” he says.
Brooks’ direction usually manages to handle
the difficult pacing of the film’s building
revelations, and creates some beautiful moments of
happiness and desperation, even if there are certain
awkward moments as well.
While the twist at the end of the film’s second
act comes off as abrupt, that’s exactly how
it would come off in real life. This can’t
be written off as plot manipulation because the filmmakers
really take the time to examine the impact of the
developments. It’s not simply thrown in at
the end as a cheap device to draw emotion, but its
occurrence inspires more complex developments.
“Japanese Story” is a romance in which
the characters are more important than whether or not
they get together.