Despite its title, Japanese Story is set in Australia and offers native-born Toni Collette a welcome chance to really strut her considerable stuff. The actress, previously so impressive in supporting roles in The Sixth Sense, About a Boy and The Hours, is onscreen in nearly every scene here, giving a performance of astonishing range and depth.
She plays Sandy Edwards, a geologist and software designer assigned to escort a visiting Japanese businessman (Tsunashima) when he flies in to inspect a mine owned by his father in the Outback. Assuming that she's merely his driver, he at first treats Sandy curtly. After the two have car trouble and get stuck in the desert, they begin to understand and appreciate their differences, ending up spending a blissful night together. But then something tragic happens, which tests Sandy's resources, both physical and emotional.
Story, which has been sensitively directed by Sue Brooks, is a movie that creeps up on you. The ending, thanks largely to Collette's luminescent performance, is unexpectedly wrenching. The film also offers a bonus: scene after scene showing off great stretches of the Outback in all its deep red, sandy glory. (R)