Oh, Lucy! (2017)
We open on a crowded train platform. We see Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima) staring absentmindedly off into space. As an express-train speeds through the terminal, a young man standing behind Setsuko tells her ‘good-bye” and then jumps onto the tracks, getting hit by the speeding train. Setsuko looks on shocked at what she just saw as other people get their cell phones out and start taking pictures of the dead man.
We see Setsuko smoking in a smoking area, once again staring off into the distance. We next cut to a break room where Setsuko is washing out a teapot as other office workers complain about getting candy from a fellow office worker. That office worker comes in and gives Setsuko a candy bar as the other workers laugh and then leave. The worker asks Setsuko if she saw the suicide. Setsuko doesn’t respond as the office worker rambles on about how she has never seen one, even though they happen all the time. The office work pushes Setsuko away from the sink, telling her that she will handle the tea making for this morning.
Setsuko is now at her desk when she gets a call from her niece, Mika (Shioli Kutsuna). They talk about Mika’s mother, who Mika describes as “That bitch!” You can tell from Setsuko’s expression that she agrees with Mika’s opinion. They set up a lunch date because Mika wants to talk to Setsuko about something. Setsuko’s boss, from his desk, admonishes Setsuko about her constant need to smoke, telling her that she should quit and maybe eat sweets instead. Setsuko just nods agreement to her boss and goes back to work. Setsuko pulls out the candy that the office worker and put’s in a desk drawer full of candy, all unopened.
We cut to downtown as Setsuko crosses the street slowly as other people quickly pass by her. Setsuko arrives at the cafe, which has a kitschy theme, with waitresses in short maid outfits. Mika, also in a skimpy maid costume comes over to Setsuko and greets her aunt warmly. Mika takes Setsuko to a table and begins serving her tea, telling her when she fills the cup with milk, Setsuko is to ‘meow like a little kitty” for Mika to stop, which Setsuko does. Mika tells her that she is going to put a spell on the tea. Mika then stirs the tea while saying ‘Become more delicious,” finishing by doing the heart sign with her hands. Mika and Setsuko begin talking about Mika’s mother. We find out that Mika’s father left her mother and that before Mika’s mother dated her mother, Setsuko dated him. Mika ask’s why Setsuko has never been married to which Setsuko replies “That’s none of your business.’ Mika tells Setsuko that she wants her to take an English class for her. Mika has been taking it for six months and loves it. Mika tells Setsuko that she needs the money and can’t get a refund for the rest of the year. Mika wants Setsuko to pay her for the rest of the year and take the class in her place. Setsuko agrees to try the class out. It’s obvious the way that they treat each other that Mika and Setsuko care for each other. We cut to Setsuko heading into the building that houses the English class. It’s a class that is going to change Setsuko’s life forever.
Writer/director Atsuko Hirayanagi gives us a brilliant and moving tale of a woman on a journey of self-discovery, searching desperately for love and companionship. The film is quirky, often a little weird as Setsuko, the chain-smoking unhappy woman, looks for something that can make her happy. Hirayanagi has created a character in Setsuko, who is unlikable because she often puts her needs in front, sometimes hurting other people was she does so. It’s to Hirayanagi’s and actress Shinobu Terajima credit that by the end to the film we are rooting for Setsuko, despite her character flaws. Hirayanagi characters in this film are slowly revealed to us, peeling back layers little by little, so that we understand why people in this film, like Setsuko, do the things that they do. What I loved about this film is you get to see how people work and live in Japan in contrast to Southern California, where Setsuko ends up in her quest to find her niece. The devices between the two cultures are immense, and Hirayanagi lets us see all this through the eyes of Setsuko, who goes from being very passive in Japan to very aggressive in California. The film feels very real and honest as it takes Setsuko on her journey. It’s funny to call this film charming and delightful because Setsuko is so unhappy for much of the film, but because she is such odd and unusual character, you come away with the feeling that it is so appealing and engrossing.
Shinobu Terajima gives a tour de force performance, making us love Setsuko in spite of her ways. It’s a powerful and bewitching performance as Terajima dominates the screen in every scene. You can’t take your eyes off of Setsuko because you don’t know what she is going to do next. Terajima gives Setsuko a magnetizing presence on the screen, and it’s just fascinating. Kaho Minami plays Mika’s mom, Ayako, who joins Setsuko on her journey to the states. They play off each other with a feistiness that makes us believe their characters despise each other. The two figures contradict each other as Setsuko is ready to embrace America and Ayako wants to get her daughter and go home to Japan as soon as possible.
Oh Lucy! is a beautiful film filled with damaged people, most of which are self-centered and selfish, but in spite of that, it’s a journey will want to take with Setsuko, as her quest will stay with long after seeing the film. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is playing in Atlanta exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
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