In her debut feature film, Oh Lucy!, Japanese writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi successfully expands her award-winning 2014 short film of the same name and delivers a more-than-ordinary drama that is a loud shout for existential freedom.
The central character is Setsuko Kawashima (Shinobu Terajima), a single, middle-aged office worker who lives a lonely and unfulfilled life in Tokyo. Despite a rough cough that makes her workmates uncomfortable, smoking cigarettes is perhaps her unique daily pleasure. Still, she’s the sarcastic type, a fact that can be confirmed during a co-worker’s retirement party, where she unleashes all her accumulated frustrations. Prior to the cited occurrence, and while waiting for the train on her way to work, a man jumps into the tracks after whispering ‘goodbye’ in her ear. Although traumatic, the situation didn’t seem to upset the resilient Setsuko on a large scale. The only thing she seems incapable to overcome is the fact that her ex-boyfriend left her a few years before for her competitive sister, Ayako (Kaho Minami).
“…a single, middle-aged office worker who lives a lonely and unfulfilled life in Tokyo.”
After spending a good time in the company of her careless young niece, Mika (Shioli Kutsuna), who takes the opportunity to borrow money from her, Setsuko decides to follow her suggestion and enroll in English classes at a freakish, unorthodox school.
Desperately in need of attention, she gets very well impressed with John (Josh Hartnett), the American English teacher, who is also a hugger. John makes her impersonate a more extrovert fictional woman he calls Lucy and introduces her to a widower, Tom (Kôji Yakusho), a security consultant and former detective, whose true name is Takeshi Tomori. During class, the students are only allowed to speak English and are urged to wear lame wigs to better embrace the fantasy of their new personalities. This particular phase of the narrative, devised with enough intriguing moments, made me heavily interested in the people hanging around there.
Ironically, Setsuko and her estranged sister end up making a long trip together to the outskirts of Southern California, after realizing that Mika had secretly escaped with John, her lover.
“…surfs the subject with confidence, stringing together a series of misadventures with wit and pathos.”
The American experience becomes unforgettable for our heroine. Besides quarreling with her sister in a diverting way, she learns that her niece went to San Diego after leaving John, who is now facing eviction. That makes her crave even more hugs from John, to whom she is visibly attracted. Will he be willing to satisfy her needs? Everything is possible after smoking a joint and the desperate-for-love Setsuko will jeopardize her integrity and also her family affairs. Self-seeking or deluded? Leaning on the emotional side, her American dream has a bittersweet flavor.
Hirayanagi surfs the subject with confidence, stringing together a series of misadventures with wit and pathos. Moreover, she takes the time to establish the characters so their personalities and intentions can be easily apprehended and evaluated. No plot excesses were found and the peculiar ambiance accompanies the confident narrative flow.
Standing on its own as a sympathetic cross-cultural drama, Oh Lucy! deserves an extra point for the ability to eke out unexpected laughs from the most painful scenarios.
Oh Lucy! (2018) – Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi. Written by Atsuko Hirayanagi and Boris Frumin. Starring: Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Kôji Yakusho.
Rating – 7 out of 10