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‘Oh Lucy!’ (review)

Executive Producers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Produced by Atsuko Hirayanagi, Han West,
Jessica Elbaum, Yukie Kito

Written and Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi
Starring Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett,
Shioli Kutsuna, Kaho Minami, Megan Mullally

 

Oh Lucy! is writer/director at Atsuko Hirayanagi’s feature debut.

Based on Hirayanagi’s short film of the same name, Oh Lucy! follows Setsuko Kawashima (Shinobu Terajima), a quiet, unassuming Japanese woman.

Everything about Setsuko marks her as a failure in Japanese society.

She is over forty, a spinster with no children, and working a mundane job where she is neither liked nor respected.

The monotony of her life is interrupted when her niece talks her into taking an unorthodox English class, taught by an overly friendly American, John (Josh Hartnett).

Each student is given an American name and encouraged to adopt a cartoonishly relaxed personality. Setsuko beings to feel connected to John and tentatively beings to embrace her American alter ego, Lucy. John suddenly leaves the country, and Setsuko is left wanting for something in her life. When she discovers that her niece has run away with John to America, Setsuko follows them to California. Her journey reopens old wounds and forces her to confront new desires as she vacillates between being the mild manner Setsuko and the adventurous Lucy.

Hirayanagi’s film deftly paints Setsuko’s struggle to try and claim a life of her own after being marginalized and ignored for so long.

While most American audiences will only recognize Josh Hartnett from the cast, Hirayanagi has assembled a stellar ensemble of Japanese actors.

Shinobu Terajima’s performance as Setsuko is heart-wrenching. Even as Setsuko continues to make one bad life choice after another, it’s through Terajima’s raw performance that I sympathized with the character.

Kano Minami’s portrayal of Setsuko’s controlling sister, Ayoko, dovetails well with Terajima’s lost Setsuko. The two actresses work well off each other to give verisimilitude to the sisters’ strained relationship.

I was surprised to see renowned actor Koji Yakusho (who I have followed for years from Tampopo to Memoirs of a Geisha) given such a small supporting role as Tom, Setsuko’s English classmate. Although his role almost qualifies as a cameo, Yakushino brings an earnestness to the character that makes the last scene in the film that saves the story from being another Indie film of hopelessness.

One of my favorite touches to the story is how it tackles stereotypes.

Several times I expected characters that appeared to be from rough backgrounds to be a threat to Setsuko. On the contrary, they were the people who showed Setsuko small kindnesses, whereas the people she knew well and were “respectable” were often the ones who were most cruel. Hirayanagi constantly challenges the viewer to define what makes a “good” person, and often people are “bad” only because they are wrapped up in their own drama.

Oh Lucy! is an intriguing film, and I am looking forward to see what Ms. Hirayanagi will make next.

 

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