8 March 2010
One or two reasons why Japanese Story is one of the best films of the last decade
Japanese Story is one film I've always wanted to see get more praise. The '00s saw a healthy and much-needed rise in female filmmakers making films, but Story's director Sue Brooks is rarely mentioned among them and she should be. (She's only made two films in the past ten years, admittedly.) Her direction is by turns both beautifully unfussy and immaculately focused. The film's leisurely pace allows time for firm characterisation to take hold (solidly realised characters in love stories are essential in terms of identification, often more so than in other genres) and an atypically affecting exploration of Australia's harsh outback terrain that we don't tend to usually get to see, or that we have seen numerous times before, but here it's shot in a wholly invigorating way.
It's one of the most romantic films I saw in the last 10 years, too (this may sound initially odd if you've seen it, however - but it isn't woefully doom-laden in any flaky, trendy way which was particularly ubiquitous in many '00s love stories). Although its feel for romance is supplemented with a gut-wrenching tone of loss that creeps in halfway through, it nevers loses its aim in conveying how two people, finding the right fit in each other, interact affectionately: here, love is furtive and concretely felt.
Toni Collette gave one of the performances of the decade, without question. She is matchless in the scene by the creek (you'll know the one if you've seen the film). Ian Baker photographed deserts, small-town bars and airports as if they were more than the quick-stop transitional places that they are. (The film features one of the best uses of an airport in cinema, too.) Its prolongued use of the traditional Japanese folk song 'Chinsagu No Hana' is spellbinding, crushing and incredibly well utilised all at once. And the last lines, spoken in voiceover, universally sum up that whole darn messy falling in love thing in less than twenty words... and then painfully reverberate right back through the preceding two hours perfectly. Japanese Story needs to be seen by more people: it's an exemplary film.