When I went to a local arthhouse movie theater for “Oh Lucy!”, I did not expect much, and the movie did not surprise me much. While the movie had some humor and pathos to engage me to some degree, I felt impatient at times dues to its adamant low-key mood and slow narrative pacing, and I must confess that my mind kept coming back to my smartphone which were being charged outside the screening room.
After the opening scene whose calm atmosphere is suddenly disrupted by a shocking incident, we observe another usual working day of Setsuko, a middle-aged Japanese office worker living in Tokyo. Although one of the colleagues at her workplace is about to retire, she does not particularly care about that, and we later see how lonely she is in her solitary daily life. While she has been unmarried for years, she is still not so interested in dating someone, and she lives alone in a small apartment packed with many different stuffs. Watching this messy residence of hers, I could not help but think of the similar residence belonging to the Japanese heroine of “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” (2014), whose life in Tokyo is as dreary and miserable as Setusko’s.
And then, of course, there comes an unexpected change into her life on one day. Her niece Mika (Shiori Kutsuna) calls, and she later asks Setsuko to do something for her. There is an English lesson center where she recently learned English, but there is a small money trouble to be taken care of, and she wants her aunt to solve this trouble. In addition, she suggests to her aunt that she should also try to learn English, and, though she is not so eager about that, Setcuko eventually goes to that English lesson center, which, to our amusement, looks more like a red-light district place with its dim lighting and gaudy interior design.
Once she enters one of the booths in this rather silly place, Setsuko meets an American English teacher named John (Josh Hartnett), whom Mika already introduces to her via a calling card. While emphasizing that they speak English only during their lesson, John gives her an English name, and now she is called ‘Lucy’ while also wearing a blonde wig as instructed by John. This partially reminds me of an English conversation class I attended during my adolescent years; I did not wear any wig, but I chose my English name as required, and it was Ellery (Damn those mystery novels by Ellery Queen!).
Right from their first lesson, John hugs Setsuko for showing more of how American speakers interact with each other, and that physical gesture touches something inside Setsuko. While her fellow student Takeshi (Kōji Yakusho) seems to be interested in her, she finds herself more attracted to John, and then she is quite disappointed when she happens to find that John is in a relationship with Mika, who eventually flies away to California along with John without saying any word to her mother Ayako (Kaho Minami).
After being visited by Ayako, Setsuko decides to go to California for finding Mika, and Ayako also goes with her although she is not particularly close to Setsuko or Mika. Using a postcard sent to Setsuko by Mika, they manage to arrive at John’s current residence, but Mika is already gone, and, not so surprisingly, Setsuko comes to see what a lousy man John is in many aspects.
Anyway, the movie shifts its gear to road movie mode as Ayako and Setsuko continue to look for Mika while accompanied with John, who comes to function as a sort of a local guide for them. There is an amusing scene where they try to order at a diner, and the audiences around me had a few chuckles from what Setsuko and Ayako eventually come to order.
Meanwhile, in spite of what was going on between John and Mika, Setsuko comes to desire John more than before. Although he is not that interested in her, John cannot say no to her when she actively approaches to him during their brief private moment at a parking lot, and that later leads to a small bold act she never imagined before.
And then there comes another unexpected narrative turn, and the movie becomes less effective than before, but Shinobu Terajima ably carries the film as before. Thanks to her strong performance, Setsuko is an interesting human character to observe even when she is quite pathetic, and Terajima did a fine job of subtly conveying her character’s gradual changes along the storyline.
The supporting performers surrounding Terajima do not have many things to do in comparison, and they are mostly fine as filling their respective roles as demanded. While Josh Hartnett is suitably cast as your average hunky American English teacher, Kaho Minami functions as a good counterpoint to Terajima, and Shiori Kutsuna is plucky as Setsuko’s precarious niece. Although he is woefully under-utilized in his thankless role, Kōji Yakusho has a sincere scene with Terajima, and Megan Mullally provides a little fun as a passenger who happens to sit between Setsuo and Ayako.
Overall, “Oh Lucy!”, which is the expanded version of director/co-writer Atsuko Hirayanagi’s 2014 short film of the same name, is a conventional comedy drama with some notable offbeat touches. I do not like it enough for recommendation, but Hirayanagi makes a fairly admirable debut with her first feature film, and it will be interesting to watch what will be the next step in her promising filmmaking career.