Itís difficult to describe a film like Japanese Story. On one level itís a haunting and lyrical romance while on the other itís something completely different. Regardless of how it can be classified, it is most definitely one thing; exquisitely beautiful.
Sandy, a geologist, is outwitted by her boss and must spend some time with a visiting Japanese dignitary, Hiromitsu. His father owns one of the parent companies that own a local mine and she must travel with him to try and sell them on her mining-related computer software.
Upon first meeting the gap between cultures is wide and the two take a disliking to each other. However, soon they become bogged in the middle of nowhere with little by way of survival rations and must learn to work together to get themselves out of trouble. They find they actually have more in common than they thought and soon they have become close, but it turns out Hiromitsu has a wife and child at home and a dilemma soon arises.
The film has been shot magnificently in the Pilbara desert with the city backdrop in Perth, that most underused of Australian cities in cinema. It is a brilliant document of the breathtaking landscape of the desert and the story travels far and wide throughout the region exploring the countryside even as the characters explore each other.
Toni Collette is dynamite as feisty Sandy here and is perfectly opposite to Gotaro Tsunashimaís Hiromitsu. They have a sensational chemistry between them and this adds genuine depth to the film with faultless deliveries from both. Collette won the trifecta with her role here, scooping up the 2003 'Best Actress' at the AFIs, the IF Awards and the Australian Film Critics Awards and deservedly so. This is one of her greatest performances without question.
As a rental, I canít begin to recommend this highly enough. This is for anyone whoís ever been in love and itís for anyone whoís ever even considered it. It holds surprises, laughter and an interesting insight into the differences between peoples of the world - while also commenting on our similarities. Captured on film magnificently and transferred to DVD just as well, this is unmissable.
Again, this has been shot brilliantly and delivered in the full cinema aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with anamorphic enhancement. The colours are brilliant and well saturated, giving a deeper resonance to the outback vistas while the picture quality is crisp and clean without any artefacts littering the landscape. Flesh tones are perfect, shadow detail is good in the rare times it is used or needed and blacks are natural, although once or twice they lean toward deep blue, particularly in the night shots. Overall though, the picture quality is superb.
While granted us in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, there is very little by way of surround use and even the subwoofer sits quietly by doing little but deepening the mining and car noises sprinkled sporadically throughout. The sound effects are all well synched and there are no problems there. Musically, the film has been scored by Elizabeth Drake and she has utilised many aspects of traditional Japanese music to create a rich soundscape of moods to reflect the drama on screen. The mixture of two styles is also explored and adds the subtle collision of cultures so necessary to the storyline. Itís a beautiful score that is delivered cleanly, although it stays in the forward channels for the majority of the piece.
As far as extras go, there are a few slight ones but they're well worth the look. Firstly come the ten cast and crew biographies. Most of these are one pagers, but Toni Colletteís includes a small filmography as well.
A photo gellery follows and this contains but eight shots. However, they are all delivered full screen and so look sensational with some nice clear detail. Some are stills and some posed for the promotion of the film, but they are all beautiful and well shot.
More From Palace presents us with four trailers for The Rage in Placid Lake, Iím With Lucy, Facing Windows and Plots With a View.
Oh, and the cleverly sculpted theatrical trailer for Japanese Story is here too, presented in 1.85:1 without enhancement. This runs for 2:20.
My recommendation is rent this film and see it as soon as you can. I canít remember an Australian film of such lasting beauty as this and this is one story that will stay with you long after the final credits. For a rental it has a nice collection of extras, although I suspect there will be more on the retail release when it eventually hits stores.
Performances are brilliant and fill out a beautiful picture in perfect style. The transfer is magnificent and just helps amplify the haunting beauty of the film.
For rental I say go get it. If it were a retail release Iíd say the same thing.