`Story' told with feeling

May 14, 2004|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Movie stars may not be what they used to be but when it comes to movie acting, we're in the middle of a golden age.

Toni Collette's lead performance takes Japanese Story - an unusually delicate and strong Australian movie - all the way into the stratosphere. She plays Sandy Edwards, a rough-and-ready, career-oriented geologist who escorts a cultivated Japanese businessman, Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima), through the Pilbara desert in Western Australia.

Chagrined that she's agreed to serve as Hiromitsu's guide and chauffeur, Collette's Sandy doesn't try to hide her disguist - and doesn't care if she proves to be as loud and harsh as her Asian guest's worst stereotype of Down Under women. After all, Hiromitsu's daintiness and distance annoy her.

What's wonderful about Sue Brooks' movie (and the script by Alison Tilson) is that when the pair get caught in a sand bog, Hiromitsu reveals his reedy potency - and the feelings that flare up transform them.

Collette puts together a complete character out of toothy scowls and fierce fixed looks. When Sandy gives in to an unexpected passion for Hiromitsu it floods across the broad planes of her face and envelops the audience with a blast of sensual purity.

Collette makes you experience Sandy's rapture as it extends to the tips of her fingers and her toes. Collette conveys a mix of tenderness, appreciation and curiosity in the simplest movement of Sandy's hand over her lover's chest. This actress makes oddball touches register just right - like Sandy undressing, then donning Hiromitsu's trousers before going to bed.

And Tsunashima partners Collette with magical grace and sensitivity. When the two relax next to a waterhole, her casual touch on his arm and his reaction to it bespeak their love more eloquently than any florid dialogue or dewy beachside montage.

The glory of Japanese Story is that even after a daringly abrupt plot turn, the cast maintains its empathy and lucidity without interruption. Tsunashima turns Hiromitsu into a memorable man of feeling. And without softening or even manicuring Sandy's hard edges, Collette creates a classic figure of emotional awakening.

Japanese Story

Starring Toni Collette and Gotaro Tsunashima

Directed by Sue Brooks

Released by IDP

Rated R

Time 99 minutes

Sun Score ****

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