Japanese Story

With her role in Japanese Story, Toni Collette proves that she is one of the most versatile actors working in Hollywood that is still unknown to most people. Part of her continuing anonymity stems from the fact that she is so good in her roles. She tends to disappear into them so much that it is sometimes hard recognizing her from one film to the next. Collette's (About a Boy, The Hours) performance is the primary reason to watch Japanese Story. Who knows, maybe it's something in the water over in Collette's homeland of Australia, which also turned out such phenomenal actresses as Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts.

Collette is Sandy Edwards, geologist, and current babysitter/chauffeur of Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima). Hiromitsu works for an important Japanese client of Collette's company, and he wants somebody to drive him around. It's not clear whether he is here for business or just sightseeing, as he wants to go all over the place, most ominously deep into the desolate Pilbara desert. Against her wishes, Edwards' colleagues enlist her to drive Hiromitsu around, and the mutual annoyance is instant and palpable. This is an unlikely romance, and unfolds along much the same lines as many other movies where the two protagonists hate each other at first, but Alison Tilson's (Road to Nhill) screenplay is anything but ordinary.

Tilson, and director Sue Brooks (Road to Nhill, An Ordinary Woman) keep the focus squarely on Collette and Tsunashima. It helps that they are the only two people on screen for long stretches of time. Edwards feels degraded that she is reduced to driving somebody around. She feels it is a waste of her time and Hiromitsu does not help with his sexist, imperialistic attitude. He treats her like a driver instead of a scientist, and basically ignores her for long stretches of time. Given that they are in the middle of nowhere with nobody else around, it forces them to confront each other. Once they do, they find that they have more in common than they initially thought. Both are passionate and driven about their work, and will work hard to succeed at whatever they want to do. One particular breakdown of their car provides the impetus for their emotional attraction to each other.

It's difficult to talk about Collette's performance without revealing too much about the plot, but after they fall in love, something happens causing Edwards to spiral downwards. In the span of about ninety minutes, Collette has taken her character from anger, to love, then into a deep depression. It's an amazing, nuanced performance, and as Japanese Story nears its ending, Collette only gets better. Edwards has all these emotions swirling around inside her head, and she needs to try to figure out how to deal with them without having a complete breakdown. However, there is not much else to Japanese Story. Take away Collette's performance, and there isn't much else to watch.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for some sexuality and langauge.

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