Raindance Film Festival: Oh Lucy!

Oh Lucy!
Oh Lucy!
Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi
Starring Shinobu Terajima, Kaho Minami, Josh Hartnett, Shioli Kutsuna and Koji Yakusho
Screening at Raindance September 20th, 27th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

Atsuko Hirayanagi first told the story of Oh Lucy! in her 2014 award-winning short film of the same name. Expanded into feature length, the film is a character study of a middle-aged, lonely Japanese woman. Setsuko (Terajima) is a character rarely seen fronting a film – a single, miserable, lonely woman with very little going on in her life, apart from a friendly relationship with her niece Mika. A relationship that Mika takes advantage of, and that Setsuko ends up destroying.

Mika gently extorts money from her aunt, in the guise of English lessons with unconventional teacher John (Hartnett). John is teaching more of an American attitude and lifestyle rather than the English language as he makes his pupils don western wigs and American names, Setsuko’s being Lucy. At first Setsuko is skeptical, but with many years of repressed angst and emotion pent up, John’s overly friendly nature brings her out of her shell with a forceful hug.

To Setsuko’s dismay, she discovers that John and Mika are lovers, who romantically flee to America. Setsuko and her sister, Mika’s mother, follow the pair to LA; the mother to find her daughter and Setsuko to find John, who she has developed quite an affection for. Years of resentment are bubbling under the surface – Setsuko has never forgiven her sister for stealing her boyfriend and marrying him. She projects some of this anger onto her niece as she relentlessly pursues John, against all reason.

Exploring the culture clash of Japanese formality and American overtness, characters are not ever true to themselves. John is in Tokyo pretending to be a big shot English teacher, while his life in America shows him to be a bit of a deadbeat with his own issues to work through. Setsuko acts erratically as Lucy, embracing American spontaneity and shedding her more repressive Japanese politeness. Seeking out ideals rather than realities seems to be par for the course with these characters.

The balance of comedic and dramatic elements can often cause an uneven tone to Oh Lucy!. In spite of this, character nuances and soulful performances carry this film, emanating themes of loneliness and cultural identity. Oh Lucy! is an interesting study of an underrepresented character, and taboo themes that we are often too proud to discuss.


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