Japanese Story 

(R) 3 1/2 stars

(R) 3 1/2 stars
Geologists study Earth by looking into its rocks. To do their job, they must go beneath the surface. Once that happens, the surface is forever changed. No matter how closely they might attempt to restore it, it will never be quite the same. Sandy Edwards (Toni Collette) is an Australian geologist working for a software company in Perth. Asked to transport/assist/babysit 20something Japanese businessman Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima), she can’t refuse. After all, Tachibana’s father is an investor in the company. But that doesn’t mean she has to be nice about it. When Tachibana, who does not speak English, voices his wish to explore the Western Australian desert, she dutifully agrees to drive, but her displeasure is obvious in her inflection and mannerisms. And so the trip begins, with Sandy miserable and Tachibana surely wondering why this foreign woman is being so surly. Any literate person can figure out some of the ensuing developments. In most stories, at least one character must move from Point A to Point B, so it’s safe to assume that Sandy and/or Tachibana will be different at the end than they were in the beginning. And when a man and a woman travel together in fiction, they almost always either flirt or have a romantic encounter. So fine — Sandy and/or Tachibana will be changed by their shared desert experiences and they might have some sort of physical or spiritual bonding. I won’t go into specifics, but I will say this: Filmmaker Sue Brooks and screenwriter Alison Tilson do good work. The film has an almost tactile air to it and the script allows for nicely detailed character development. Later, Brooks and Wilson do something quite unusual. They show the aftermath of the trip. Filmmakers love to present colorful outings, but are generally loathe to address what happens later. The change from adventure to aftermath is abrupt and jarring (which seems about right) and the follow-up is fascinating. All in all, it is very un-Hollywood and thank you for that. Gotaro Tsunashima is very good, but this show belongs to Toni Collette. Known mostly for her co-starring turns in The Sixth Sense, About a Boy and The Hours, Collette gets to strut her stuff here and she turns in a remarkably nuanced performance. In her supporting roles, she wore raw emotion on her sleeve. Here, she manages to project broad feelings while revealing the core of her character ever so carefully. Laid out on a sparse surface, Japanese Story uncovers moments both delicate and brutal beneath. The film plays exclusively at Key Cinemas for one week only starting Friday.

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