The Australian Outback is beautiful. If nothing else, that's what you'll be able to take away from Japanese Story, Sue Brooks' impeccably composed but seriously boring drama about an Australian geologist (Toni Collette) forced to chaperone a visiting Japanese businessman (Gotaro Tsunashima) who's a big investor in her company. Geologist Sandy is spunky, loud and outgoing! Businessman Hiromitsu is reserved, stern and demanding! Will they fall in love?
They most certainly will, and telling you that doesn't ruin the plot, since Brooks and screenwriter Alison Tilson pull a switcheroo about an hour into the film, which drastically shifts the tone and moves the focus away from the love story. Until then, we get Sandy, perpetually single and sullen, whining about driving Hiromitsu all over the beautifully photographed countryside of western Australia. Hiromitsu treats her like a chauffeur until the two bond after getting their SUV stuck in a sand dune. After that, it's all lyrical sex scenes and trite musings about cultural differences. "Here, you have a lot of space and not many people. In Japan, we have many people and not much space," Hiromitsu says, in what passes for a profound insight. Well, no shit, dude.
Brooks favors wide, open shots, and the last half-hour or so of the film consists almost entirely of people staring meaningfully into the middle distance. Collette is saddled with a role that requires her to do a lot of showy emoting, and while she's a terrific actress, her character is so overwrought that by the end of the movie she just tires you out. Since Sandy is in virtually every scene, the film lives and dies on Collette's performance, and how much you get out of it depends on how much you can invest in her character.
Ultimately, though, Brooks and Tilson rely too heavily on their actors to convey what doesn't come across in dialogue or action, and when big, important things happen to the characters, it's difficult to care. Once we leave the Outback, and cinematographer Ian Baker no longer has any pretty National Geographic images to show us, it becomes clear that this was one story not worth telling.