The making of "Japanese Story" (IMDb listing) is as intriguing as the film itself.
Initially reluctant writer Alison Tilson was won over by the image of a
Japanese guy driving alone through the Australian desert, and numerous
drafts later a painstaking casting process began.
While it took several trips to Japan and boxes of tapes to find accomplished
Japanese actor Gotaro Tsunmashima for the male lead, the character of Sandy
had been written with Australian actress Toni Collette in mind. When the
filmmakers received an amazingly fast response that she was indeed
interested, they flew out to meet her -- and were in for a surprise. Instead
of them pitching the part to Collette, the actress went through the script
scene by scene, telling them what she loved about it. "So we just sat and
shut up," recalls producer Sue Maslin. Collette for her part describes the
story as, "very beautiful, and real and subtle and kind of uncomfortable."
In other words, stimulating.
Beneath the surface of anyone or anything, there is incredible
complexity. This is a central theme in "Japanese Story," represented by the unusual exploration of
acquaintance between an Australian woman and a Japanese businessman
thrown together in a car by circumstance.
Geologist Sandy (Collette) and her business partner Baird (Matthew Dyktynski)
desperately need a sale after years spent developing their mining software
and Hiromitsu (Tsunmashima), visiting his father's steel works in Australia,
just might be it. There is just one catch. He wants to see a lot of the
country first, and a lot of it is a long way away. Unwilling to miss his son's birthday, Baird relegates the task of showing their visitor around to a
less than thrilled Sandy, and from the minute she and Hiromitsu meet at the airport,
things get off to a bad start. To Sandy, Hiromitsu is arrogant,
condescending and sexist. To him, his tour guide is loud, rude and annoying.
Their cross-cultural barriers remain safely in place throughout their
lengthy drives, until Hiromitsu demands Sandy take him to an abandoned ore
mine in the Pilbara desert.
That is as much as I'm allowed to divulge without being maimed for life, and
it's actually better this way.
Attached to this film comes a list of accolades and festival prizes that
would qualify as a small book. Best film, director, producer, actress,
cinematography and music score from the Australian Independent Film
Festival, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and the Australian Film
Institute -- each.
Often audiences are rightfully wary of such distinctions, but in the case of
"Japanese Story" they are well deserved. It's a great and surprising story
with some amazing acting moments (Collette being impeccably matched by
Tsunmashima), and spectacular visuals. A rare treat.
Filmfodder Grade: A