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OH LUCY!

★★★

A CHARMINGLY ECCENTRIC ROAD TRIP

JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
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By Jake Watt
3rd February 2019

Setsuko Kawashima (Shinobu Terajima, ‘Caterpillar’, ‘R100’) is a lonely, chain-smoking office worker in Tokyo who is unmarried. 'Oh Lucy!' begins with Setsuko standing on a crowded Tokyo train platform. She’s wearing a surgical mask, like many other passengers. As the train arrives, a man slides past her, whispers “Goodbye” and leaps to his death. Unfazed, she heads off to work for the day.

When her niece Mika (a glowing Shiori Kutsuna, ‘Deadpool 2’) contacts her and tells her that she has signed up for a year of English classes but can no longer afford to go, Setsuko buys her out and goes to the school for a free first class.

At the shady fly-by-night school, Setsuko meets John (Josh Harnett, ‘Sin City’, ’30 Days of Night’), an unorthodox American teacher who hugs her warmly, gives her the American name of “Lucy” and a cheap, bright blonde wig so she can adopt an American persona. Despite his bizarre teaching routine, something in Setsuko is rekindled by the charming John and she decides to attend a second class, where she meets “Tom” (legendary actor Kōji Yakusho, ‘The Blood of Wolves’, ‘Shall We Dance?’).

'OH LUCY!' TRAILER

At their next session, she learns that John has abruptly quit to go back to America. Setsuko, along with her sister Ayako (Kaho Minami, ‘And Then There Was Light’), decides to pursue him. The sisters’ plane ride to America, where they sit on either side of an American woman (Megan Mullally, ‘The Kings of Summer’, TV's 'Will & Grace'), begins with polite, halting conversation but ends with Setsuko blurting out, “She stole my boyfriend!” From this point, the story morphs into an off-kilter, culture-clashing road trip.

Directed, produced and co-written by Atsuko Hirayanagi, ‘Oh Lucy!’ is based on her 2014 short film of the same name. With a story and emotional tone that is all over the map, the strength of the film is how well it demonstrates the speed in which situations can shift: there is a thin line between Lucy’s healthy liberation from the restrictions of Japanese society and her complete self-destruction.

Several relationships in this movie shift from flawed to toxic in the space of a few lines of dialogue. Multiple times in ‘Oh Lucy!’, the “point of no return” comes and goes before the characters even realise they’ve crossed it. Setsuko is a sister enmeshed in a complicated sibling rivalry, an aunt spoiling her niece, and a woman with a crush on her English instructor. As she becomes more liberated, more comfortable exploring the “Lucy” side of herself, she often hurts others in her quest for herself. No one here is wholly sympathetic. The handsome, tactile John (Josh Harnett has a supremely laidback, likeable presence in an underwritten role) may come on as a wild American spirit but he’s a real jerk, too.

Directed, produced and co-written by Atsuko Hirayanagi, ‘Oh Lucy!’ is based on her 2014 short film of the same name. With a story and emotional tone that is all over the map, the strength of the film is how well it demonstrates the speed in which situations can shift: there is a thin line between Lucy’s healthy liberation from the restrictions of Japanese society and her complete self-destruction.

On the surface, this is 90s-riffing deeply eccentric comedy about a middle-aged Japanese woman, falling in love with an American heartthrob and then following him back to the U.S. with a heart full of hope. The closed-in sense of Setsuko’s life in Japan - Hirayanagi keeps the lighting either drab or dim in these scenes - contrasts with the wild, wide-open California dreaming of Lucy’s American adventure. She tries pot. She gets a tattoo. She is introduced to the world of automotive sex. Like any convert, she also takes her new life to sometimes troubling extremes. Looking closer, we can see how two cultures can be very different, and also the big difference between generations.

Perhaps the central theme of the film is that you can lose just about everything, and it can still be your best possible outcome. Even if you didn’t mean to burn your bridges, even if you regret it, if there was nothing on the other side worth visiting, did you really lose anything in the end besides the burden of endless bridge renovations?

With a smattering of romance, empathy for loneliness, funny little moments, a dash of hot sex, anger and lots more thrown into there, ‘Oh Lucy!’ is a whirlwind of activity. It’s not a side-splitting comedy, but there is a lot of dark humour to be found in this later-in-life coming-of-age story.

FAST FACTS
RELEASE DATE: TBA
RUN TIME: 1h 35m
CAST: Shinobu Terajima
Josh Hartnett
Kaho Minami
Koji Yakusho
Shiori Kutsuna
Reiko Aylesworth
Todd Giebenhain
Nick Gracer
Tre Hale
Megan Mullally
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Atsuko Hirayanagi
PRODUCERS: Yukie Kito
Jessica Elbaum
Atsuko Hirayanagi
Han West
SCORE: Erik Friedlander
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