Oh Lucy! (2017)

Review #1,551

Director:  Atsuko Hirayanagi
Cast:  Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Koji Yakusho, Shioli Kutsuna
Plot:  A lonely woman living in Tokyo decides to take an English class where she discovers her alter ego, Lucy.

Genre:  Drama / Comedy
Awards:  Nom. for Camera d'Or & Critics' Week Grand Prize (Cannes).  Won NHK Award (Sundance).
Runtime:  95 mins
Rating:  M18 (passed clean) for sexual scene
International Sales:  Elle Driver
Singapore Distributor:  Anticipate Pictures

I first saw the short film (of the same name) which Oh Lucy! is based on back in 2014, when it was screened as a double-bill with Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (2013), an award-winning Taiwanese aerial eco-documentary that my colleague David Lee and I distributed in Singapore.  While not exactly an excellent short, it did work on its premise about a lonely middle-aged lady taking up an English class for the first time.  

Three years on, writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi expands on that initial premise for her first feature, which premiered at the Critics’ Week of the Cannes Film Festival.  The result is a warm if forlorn treatment on the twin poles of loneliness and companionship, a dialectical tension strongly embodied within Shinobu Terajima’s alter ego title character.  

Terajima, whom I was first acquainted with in Koji Wakamatsu’s Caterpillar (2010), a film my team brought in as part of the 2011 Perspectives Film Festival, is a wonderful actress.  In Oh Lucy! she plays a woman trying to find herself in a world (or two worlds) that seems to have left her alone.  There’s able supporting work by Kaho Minami (who plays Lucy’s sister) and Koji Yakusho (who was recently in Kore-eda’s The Third Murder), plus a meaty role for Josh Hartnett.  

Hirayanagi’s approach can be quite bleak and dark, but it is enlivened by its cross-cultural mode of address, comically employed through (mis)communication between the East and West.  But Hirayanagi knows that her film can only go so far narratively before wearing off its comicality, which is why the characters that she has developed, in their own little ways, are made to transcend the irony of their circumstance, to find perverted joy in their actions, and in an alien world.  

Oh Lucy! is an unassuming film and an assured first feature—it knows what it wants to do with the material, and more or less succeeds in doing so.  Shioli Kutsuna, who is a new discovery for me (#japanesegirlcrush), is so pretty!!  She will be in Deadpool 2 next, in a role shrouded in secrecy.  Mark my words, she will be on everyone’s lips when that movie is released.  

Verdict:  Shinobu Terajima’s strong performance elevates this unassuming cross-cultural comedy-drama into a warm if forlorn treatment on loneliness and companionship.




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