Thereafter, as romantic convention demands, they find themselves sleeping together. So far, so routine. But then Japanese Story takes an unprecedented turn. Reviewers are often chastised for revealing the end of a movie. But in this case, what can't be discussed is the middle, the remarkable turning point. All we dare say is that what begins as a brusquely stated but rather ordinary romance turns into a meditation on mortality that is harsh, potent and unforgiving.
As unforgiving as the landscape in which director Sue Brooks situates it. This is brutal, unlovely country, indifferent to human enterprise or feelings. It is a perfect match for these damaged, rather hostile people. That they can break through their barriers, which are cultural as well as psychological, and find a few moments of happiness is plausibly managed by Alison Tilson's script and played with a kind of offhand realism by Collette and Tsunashima. They have the rough grace to act surprised by this turn of events. When the landscape exacts its revenge for their happiness, when Sandy faces the consequences of her carelessness, we are surprised by the intensity of our feelings. Japanese Story is a simple, austerely told tale. But there is something memorable, even haunting, about it.