Toni Collette provides one of
those magnificently radiant performances in Japanese Story
, the type that expands beyond your home theater and threatens to
engulf every house on your cul-de-sac. And she's only one of numerous positives
in director Sue Brooks' and writer Alison Tilson's powerfully touching film, which has
(sadly) gone overlooked in North America but deserves greater
recognition with its release on DVD.
Set in Australia, Collette plays geologist Sandy Edwards, an ambitious
and strong-willed geologist who finds herself more than slightly flustered at
the prospect of having to figuratively baby-sit Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro
Tsunashima, also delivering a moving and bravura performance), a Japanese
businessman representing a potential investor in her company. Ordered by her
bosses to cater to his curiosities while in Australia, she reluctantly
drags him around town: to the beach, a karaoke club (where he proceeds
to butcher Danny Boy) and to various company mines and holdings. Her
frustration with her new role as ad hoc tour guide grows exponentially with each
trip, especially when he insists on her taking him out to see the Pilbara desert
in the remote outback. Their truck winds up getting stuck in the soft earth of
the desert, and the two strangers are forced to spend the night together with
the very real and fatal possibility that they might be stranded.
And all this is just the set-up. To reveal any more would be to reveal
too much, but over the course of the film Sandy and Hiromitsu begin to
discover more about each other, crossing the cultural and emotional divide to
establish a deep connection between themselves. When the third act begins, the
film takes a sharp left turn into dramatically rich territory, in which their
relationship takes a sudden and heart wrenching turn. It is here when Collette
proves herself to be one of the sharpest and most convincing actors of our
times. She overlays her character with so much depth and realism that, long
after the film is over, the ferocity of her raw performance will continue to
Credit must also be given to Alison Tilson, whose script smartly veers
far away from more predictable and mundane narrative devices. This film is
not just about two mismatched people who learn to look past their
differences after being stranded alone together. We've seen this type of
film hundreds if not thousands of times before, and she has instead
constructed a rich and poignant character piece that eschews
conventional definitions of love and pathways of understanding. Sue Brooks'
direction is honest and thoroughly unflinching, but she bathes the story
and its characters with beauty and emotional honesty.
Winner of eight Australian Film Institute Awards, including
Best Film, Best Actress (Toni Collette), Best Director (Sue Brooks) and
Best Cinematography (Ian Baker), Japanese Story is a great film.
Don't miss it.
is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically
enhanced for your widescreen-viewing happiness. Ian Baker's cinematography is one of
the many reasons why this film is so impressive, and the video quality
of this DVD doesn't disappoint. Colors are strong, rich, and vibrant, while sharpness
levels are pleasing and solid. A couple of scenes looked a tad
soft, but the overall level of detail is smart. I did notice a
smidgeon of edge-enhancement at times, especially in some of the bright outback scenes, but
the video quality is generally quite pleasing.
The audio is presented in
Dolby Digital 5.1, with optional English subtitles. No complaints here. You
won't find a
raucous, aggressive, and engaging
six-channel dynamic soundstage with sharp directionality and impressive discrete imaging, but what
you will find is a natural sounding and warm
delivery of the soundtrack. Dialog levels are bright and clear, with
minimal but effective use of the surrounds and some broad if not
overly expansive imaging.
Director Sue Brooks
and screenwriter Alison Tilson provide a feature-length audio
commentary. The pair talk affably and at-length about their film,
providing a host of anecdotal material about the cast and production as well as
screen-specific comments, and the track remains rather low-key but enjoyable
throughout its running time. Also included are five deleted scenes with
optional audio commentary by director Sue Brooks, which collectively
run almost thirteen minutes in length. The Talent Files section
contains filmographies for Toni Collette, Gotaro Tsunashima, Lynette Curran,
Matthew Dyktunski, Sue Brooks, Sue Maslin, and Alison Tilson. Photo
Gallery contains eight color stills from the production. Finally, there
are trailers for the film as well as for My Life Without
Me, The Secret Lives of Dentists, The Statement, and
I can't stress enough my positive reaction to
Japanese Story. The film is beautiful, haunting, and utterly
real; there is not a false note in the entire production. One can watch the
latest big-budget, empty-headed and emotionally-bankrupt production from the
major studios and fool themselves into thinking that they've somehow seen a
"good" movie, but after watching something as moving and extraordinarily rich as
begins to understand the truly transcendent power that great cinema can achieve.
With that in mind, this DVD indeed comes very highly recommended.