Japanese Story

Meet an original odd couple…

Sandy Edwards (Toni Collette) is a geologist and a co-director of a software company always on the lookout for new clients; she’s close with mother, works too much, but also enjoys the great outdoors of her native Australia and tennis (when she can find the time for it).

Hiromitsu Tachibana (Gotaro Tsunashima) is a Japanese businessman, a stranger in a strange land, who arrives in the Outback for a tour of the wonders of the desert and to feel, for the first time in his life, alone in the world.

She’s a rough-and-tumble go getter, he’s a closed-off prissy smartass; what could go wrong? And so begins “Japanese Story,” directed by Sue Brooks and written by Alison Tilson. 

That’s the film I thought I was watching, and I was convinced I was seeing nothing original; Sandy and Hiromitsu spend the majority of their time together seeing the desert sights of the Outback, and at one point, getting stuck in the wastelands. But they prevail, and after a subtle night of passion (and post-coital awkwardness), their coupling begins in earnest.

Despite some hurdles (language, culture, personality), they’re inevitably falling in love before our eyes; kudos to Tilson for shaking up some gender stereotypes along the way and not taking the easy way out in a love story between foreigners. Yes, he’s a mystery, but he’s willing to be open with her; and yes, she’s somewhat uncouth and he initially recoils from her, but he sees her strength and is eventually drawn to her aggressive personality.

Standard setup, eh? Well, turns out, we’re not watching that movie; I don’t want to give too much away, but our lovers are abruptly parted, and Sandy is left to deal with losing love after getting a taste of it.

That spice of originality is also the film’s downfall; post-parting, the last half drags. The last 40 minutes take forever, and too many scenes just fill the time, time that could have (and should have) been spent on the character-driven moments that made the first hour so endearing. It’s rare to say a film you enjoyed should be shorter, but here is a perfect case; I wanted to keep liking this movie, but it just couldn’t hold my interest. Actors playing interesting characters (in riveting performances no less) can only carry a movie so far – the script has to give them something to do – and “Japanese Story” jumps into a minefield that burns like no other; a good movie that just fell apart in the last act.

If you’re in the mood for quirky indie romance, check out Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” his 1995 ode to the bliss of youthful romance. If you end up falling for Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), look into the sequel “Before Sunset,” a more mature romance, but just as compelling as the first.

“Japanese Story” (2003)

Directed by Sue Brooks

Written by Alison Tilson

Starring: Toni Collette (Sandy Edwards)

Gotaro Tsunashima (Hiromitsu Tachibana)