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Japan/USA 2017
Directed by
Atsuko Hirayanagi
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Oh Lucy!

Some audience will recall the 2014 black comedy Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, in which a depressed and lonely Tokyo woman travels to America to find the loot that was hidden by Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen brothers’ 1996 film, Fargo.  In Oh Lucy! a depressed and lonely Tokyo woman (Shinobu Terajima) travels to America to find her English teacher (Josh Hartnett) with whom has fallen in love,  Both films reflect on the alienating constraints of Japanese society and share a winsome affection for their melancholy heroines for whom America is a kind of over-the-rainbow land where all their dreams will come true.

Atsuko Hirayanagi’s film is however an expanded version of her own 22-minute short film that was very successful on the festival circuit in the year that Kumiko was released.  It is a delightful blackish comedy scripted by Hirayanagi with Boris Frumin, and featuring a marvellous central performance by Terajima as Setsuko, a grumpy, friendless chain-smaking middle-aged office worker who, to help out her flighty niece Mika (Shioli Kutsuna), agrees to take over her expensive English lessons. She goes to her first lesson at which the unconventional teacher John, (Hartnett)  gives her a new identity as Lucy, a blond wig to wear and hugs her warmly.  For the chronically depressed and repressed Setsuko suddenly the clouds hanging over her life part and she is smitten.  What she doesn’t realize is that Mika wanted her to take over the lessons so that she would have money to run away with John to America. Piqued, Setsuko decides to follow them and is accompanied by her emotionally-inflexible sister, Ayako (Kaho Minami), who wants to track down her errant daughter.

The first part of the film which is given over to setting up the self-denying formality of Japanese society with as John puts it to Setsuko, the "lazy and relaxed" spontaneity of American manners is both wryly amusing and pithy in its depiction of deadening conformism (the film opens with a morning commuter throwing himself in front of a train). The second part in which Setsuko, Ayako and John go looking for Mika who absconded when she found out that he had a wife and child is less persuasive but Terajima has impressed us with such quiet force that we want to find out what happens to her Lucy and the bickering between the two sisters which we find out has a very real foundation provides a entertaining diversion from the unlikely relationship between Setsuko and her former teacher.

The final act puts Setsuko back in the world from which she briefly, madly escaped but in keeping with the film’s good-hearted lightness of touch leaves the door to a better world for her open. Oh Lucy! Is a modest but moving  bitter-sweet story with a lead performance not to be missed.




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