March 11
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Independent Film Gets ‘Down and Dirty’

Depp Pushes, But Can’t Open ‘Secret Window’

Not a Typical ‘Japanese Story’

Not a Typical ‘Japanese Story’
by Jeremy Mathews

“Japanese Story”
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, John Howard
Rated R

(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 contrary.

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 English.

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.

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