By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy! is an indie film which can easily evoke feelings of self-pity for those believing they are in the same boat as her. When life tears you down, you are middle-aged and have nothing great to look forward to in life, just what can you do? Some people will get a handle on it and add excitement. Others feel resigned to their fate. They stop trying. I know of a certain person like that and can only feel sorry for him. All I can hope is that one day he will wake up, and achieve happiness. In my experience, that’s not easy to do unless chances are made, and risks are taken.
In this film, I wonder if Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima) even has people she can call true friends. This actress is terrific at creating a deadpan attitude and to go into that place to convey what looks like eternal sadness. She’s simply trying to survive life in the concrete jungle known as Tokyo. After witnessing a suicide in the subway, her reaction and lack of empathy make me wonder how rough can life in the city be? I lost a good buddy decades ago. He had the pressures of living up to family expectations and the Japanese societal norm. We had good times hanging out when he was still in Canada, but when the family decided to go back to Japan, things changed.
In this film, the camaraderie that goes on in the office stays there and when away, nobody makes the effort to associate. Whether this film’s realism is true or not, the stabs at what goes on and worries many people face in the hustle of daily life do not go unnoticed.
When young Mika (Shioli Katsuna, Deadpool 2) asks Setsuko, her aunt, to attend the English classes she cannot make, this elder gets a glimpse through the looking glass. The school is not even a proper one. It’s a fly by night operation John (Josh Hartnett) sets up in a love hotel. He offers some lessons in spontaneity though. That is, he tries to teach Americanisms to his students. He puts a blonde wig on Setsuko and gives her the name of Lucy.
The lessons she gets are hilarious. John is no teacher and while he manages to break his students out of their complacency, he better be prepared to follow through with his lectures and be a mentor on top. Sadly, he does not and flees from responsibility. although Mika follows him back to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams, Lucy, is soon tagging behind. Part of it is at the urging of Mika’s mother, who is very worried.
This plot is not spectacular. The film feels like a pointed character study. Like Shall We Dance? (1996), the protagonist has no direction. Life feels pointless, and in both works, these characters are at the point of falling into a deep depression. This maudlin subject matter is handled deftly by Hirayanagi. She does not let the pity last long without some irony.
The third act takes on a different tone. It’s a contrast to life in a different country. More humour can be found here as sisters deal with rednecks and culture clash in search for Mika. To say what level of success they have and where they go will spoil the film. By the end, I am left wondering if the character of Lucy will come out again? Billy Joel’s song The River of Dreams best sums up where this film could have gone. All the narrative had to do was show that for some, finding happiness is with connecting to spirituality.
3½ Stars out of 5