Review: Oh Lucy! dir. Atsuko Hirayanagi (SGIFF 2017)
Oh Lucy! is a road trip film with an improbable premise – middle-aged office worker Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima) agrees to her niece Mika’s (Shioli Kutsuna) request to take over her position at an English class, only to fall in love with the charming American English teacher John’s (Josh Hartnett) unconventional methods. But her happiness is short-lived when both Mika and John elope to America in a secret relationship, and Setsuko is joined by Mika’s exasperated mother Ayako (Kaho Minami) in a quest for love and truth.
Director/screenwriter Atsuko Hirayanagi has a wry sense of humour throughout the film, leading to plenty of giggles and genuinely hilarious moments. These are perfectly encapsulated in the multifaceted facial expressions of Terajima, who goes from ash-faced and sharp-tongued as she shoots the occasional deathglare, to soft and flirtatious, testing her English like an excited child as she opens her mouth wide and caresses each word lovingly while clad in an audacious blonde wig, the two contrasts creating humour from their extremities.
But Oh Lucy! is also an incredibly dark film, one even the humour cannot lighten completely. In the hands of Hirayanagi, Tokyo becomes a site of claustrophobia and mental distress. At the very beginning of the film, Setsuko bears witness to a man jumping off a train platform to commit suicide one morning, before heading to work to find out one of her oldest colleagues (42 years at the company) has been let go of. Although her colleagues mourn her leaving to her face, they’re celebrating behind her back, a fact that Setsuko makes blatantly clear to the older woman. Almost every single character in Oh Lucy! is hanging on to life by a thread, the slightest hit able to drive them to suicide.
Yet, despite the many suicide attempts witnessed in Oh Lucy!, it is ultimately a film about hope. Watching Setsuko find the light and will to carry on with a simple hug from John is enough to make anyone who’s had a brush with depression feel incredibly moved, and in that moment, Terajima’s face completely lights up, renewed with life. It’s a doomed romance from the get go, but we find ourselves rooting for Setsuko despite the inevitable, a modern tragic heroine who wins us over with her sheer determination.
Terajima isn’t the only highlight of the film. Josh Hartnett is perfectly cast as a charming scumbag, while Shioli Kutsuna does rash, manic youth well. But Kaho Minami truly shines as Mika’s tiger mother and Setsuko’s sister – tight-lipped, strict and stereotypically Japanese to a fault, bringing many of the comic moments besides Terajima and stealing many of the scenes she appears in.
Oh Lucy! is the kind of film that brought us on a true wild ride – teetering between laugh out loud moments to crushing, emotionally devastating ones. Relatable and genuine, while being simultaneously outrageously entertaining, Oh Lucy! is an incredibly reassuring film that successfully finds its heart by the end, leaving audiences with a warmth in their hearts and hope that nothing is ever completely lost, a newfound belief in a world where love is always just around the corner to catch you when you fall.
SGIFF 2017 runs from 23rd November to 3rd December across various cinemas and venues. More information and ticket sales available from their website.