James Rosario is a writer, filmmaker, and musician based in the Asheville, NC area. His record label, Bigger Boat Records, releases...
Oh Lucy! (2017)
Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi
Reviewed by James Rosario on March 13, 2018
The first two-thirds of Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy! is something of a quirky mid-life crisis, odd couple road movie with a hefty dose of clever culture shock faux pas. Hirayanagi (who co-wrote the film with Boris Frumin) gives us plenty of subtle, and not so subtle hints at the underlying tragedy of her main character, Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima, in an outstanding performance), but does so craftily and sparingly. We get to know Setsuko and root for her through her triumphs and fumbles, even if she’s far from perfect and possibly a bit delusional. Oh Lucy! is a good film with plenty of style and substance to grab onto.
Setsuko is an unhappy 40-something office worker living alone in Tokyo. Her only friend seems to be her niece, Mika (Shiori Kutsuna), who cons Setsuko into taking up the debt she owes for English lessons she no longer wants. Setsuko reluctantly agrees and soon finds herself in an unorthodox English class taught by John (Josh Hartnett) who gives her the “American” name, “Lucy.” She’s joined by “Tom” (Koji Yakusho), another student in the class, who enjoys practicing under John’s unique tutelage. Before long, John has run off to America with Miko, causing Setsuko and Mika’s mother, Ayako (Kaho Minami) to follow in search of her. Did I mention that Setsuko is in love with John? She is, and this naturally complicates things.
Despite its comedic and quirky façade, Oh Lucy! is a character study of a woman in trouble. Setsuko doesn’t understand how her actions affect those around her, and she may not care. Her life is so mundane and repetitive that a brief encounter with someone different sends her half way around the world on a moment’s notice. She’s desperate to find something, some kind of meaning. Whether she achieves this is up to you, as the ending is left brilliantly open to interpretation.
It doesn’t take long for us to realize that, when properly motivated, Setsuko is a bull in a china shop to those in her immediate vicinity. She hides in plain sight, like a mouse in the corner, but is capable of a cruel honesty that gets her in trouble more than once. She doesn’t seem capable of knowing when to hold back and when to let loose, or at whom to direct her outbursts. She’s a ball of anger and depression with no realistic outlet, so it’s off to America on an ill-conceived road trip to find her niece? Or maybe it’s to find John. You decide.
Oh Lucy! works just fine as the quirky fish out of water story it starts out as, but it has a deeper darkness. That darkness creeps up, finally revealing itself in its entirety in a flash. Suddenly, the film has come full circle and it’s easy to see that you’ve been watching something much more than just a couple of Japanese ladies trying to make it in southern California. There’s more—a whole lot more.
I’m excited to see women’s perspectives on film. Their treatment of male characters tends to be much more accurate than male director’s treatment of women has been over the last hundred years of film—a trend I think we’re likely to see continue. Hirayanagi isn’t cruel to men. She doesn’t depict them as evil, just flawed in a more realistic way than we’re used to seeing. These flaws also aren’t dwelled upon. The men don’t get a chance to redeem themselves, to explain it all away. They made their choices just like everybody else. It’s a nice touch.
Oh Lucy! is now playing at Grail Moviehouse.
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