Watching this film really had nothing to do with my recent visit to Japan, despite appearances. I put it on my Lovefilm queue long before I even knew that I was going, but it floated to the top of the list after I'd got back. As it turned out, the film is only tangentially about Japan. The story follows the relationship between Sandy (an Australian geologist) and Tachibana (the son of an important potential client of Sandy's company). Sandy is instructed to drive Tachibana around the desert, and generally be nice to him — a role that she deeply resents.
At the start of the film, you think that it's going to be a standard culture clash romance, but it turns into something more subtle than that. They each come to understand one another a little better, and as they do, we see them more clearly as rounded and complex characters rather than as stereotyped citizens of their respective countries. The casual racism of those around them becomes more obvious — a man hired to row them out on a lake talks about how most of the land is now owned by 'you people' (referring to the Japanese), but smiles as he says it in a "no offence, mate" kind of way, as if that does actually make it less offensive.
There's a massive and — to me at least — wholly unexpected twist in the middle of the film, which radically changes the mood of remainder. Since I don't want to give anything away, this means that I can't really discuss the second half of the film at all. I can say that — quite apart from the characters and plot — the Australian desert is absolutely stunning, and almost makes the film worth watching even if you don't like the other components of the film.