“Oh Lucy!” is an American Japanese production directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi and based on Hirayanagi’s short film of the same name. Her short film obtained several international awards, leading to her debut feature “Oh Lucy!” This comedy-drama was first finalised in 2016 and it was shown at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival in the International Critics’ Week section. The film is touring ever since, and is currently being displayed in different countries and receiving numerous favourable reviews.
Setsuko Kawashima (Shinobu Terajima) is a frustrated office-worker and single woman. Her niece Mika (Shiori Kutsuna), a rebellious eccentric young lady, asks Setsuko if she wants to take English classes instead of her. Setsuko agrees to her request and soon after, her niece and her English teacher John (Josh Hartnett) leave for the United States. With her niece avoiding her mother and wanting to find John, Setsuko and her estranged sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) set out on a journey to America that will change Setsuko’s life and that of others completely.
Just from the first scenes of the film, we learn substantial information about Setsuko. This information dictates Setsuko’s behaviour of the past 20 years and how she emerges into a new person: ‘Lucy’ – a name that John gave her. This immersive English lesson with a touch of sexual tension grows on Lucy, as she starts to like John, but, foremost, she seems to awaken her true self.
Director Atsuko Hirayanagi splendidly depicts Setsuko/Lucy’s feelings through small details in the mise-en-scene, even in the character’s positioning. The contradictions found in the details, such as someone crying but eating a smiley doughnut, add to the film a bittersweet comical layer that does not go unnoticed. Opposites reign in this movie and acquire different shapes. One of those shapes is the subway station. It is in the subway station where matters of life and death are addressed. For instance, the first scene of the film presents a full station where people are individually lined up waiting for the subway to come. In the last scene, this is the other way around. There is almost no one except ‘Tom’ (Kōji Yakusho), her classmate of English lessons, and her. These details and the protagonists’ behaviour make the situation in which all the characters are a bizarre one.
Although the narration is all about Setsuko, director Hirayanagi provides us subtle information about how the other characters are, which demonstrates the thought behind each character, resulting in a well-developed description of each role. All of their stories make it easy to empathize in one moment with John and with Setsuko’s sister on the other, as all the characters have their own sensitive story.
It is worth mentioning Shinobu Terajima‘s acting, as her face is like an open book in this film. With one look, we know what she is thinking. In “Oh Lucy!” she delivers a fantastic and unforgettable performance that reaches its climax in the final scenes. Of course, we cannot forget about Hartnett’s performance. He delivers a credible portrayal of John, as the role seems to be written specifically for him.
The film addresses loneliness through the perspective of lack of love – lack of human connection – and eventually the touch of another human being. The latter is a motif that echoes in the entire movie. Even the film poster winks at us, exposing Setsuko’s ‘needs’: affection and sexual desire, two basic elements of human nature. Besides this, director Hirayanagi brilliantly connects other themes through loneliness, such as family, love and loyalty.
“Oh Lucy!” shines a light on contemporary issues of Japan, but certainly of today’s modern and technological metropolises, as anxiety about loneliness is one major matter of concern for many societies. “Oh Lucy!” is an excellent modern story that discusses basic desires of human nature that some seem to have forgotten.