Oh Lucy! (2017): Written by Atsuko Hirayanagi and Boris Frumin, directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi. Starring: Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Koji Yakusho, Shiori Kutsuna. Running Time: 95 minutes.
There is a deep melancholy that pervades Oh Lucy! beneath the comedic sheen of its surface. Each of its characters is clearly possessed by a clawing desperation, an inescapable sense of despair about something or other, and it is their despair that drives the plot and sets in motion a largely very funny, but partially incredibly tragic, chain of events.
Setsuko is shaken out of the drab reverie of her perpetually single city life when the antics of her niece draw her into taking English classes from an oddball American named John (it’s he who gives her the American moniker “Lucy”). Something about him reaches her, and after one lesson she’s fallen head over heels for him, so much so that when said niece absconds with John when he heads back to the US, she decides to pursue them and try to win his heart. Her sister (the niece’s mother) comes as well, and soon several huge cans of emotional worms have been opened and dumped out in the open, leaving everyone scrambling to make some sense of the mess they find themselves stuck together in. Shinobu Terajima’s powerhouse performance in the lead role anchors the film, but she’s matched beat for beat by Hartnett’s quiet sadness as John and Kaho Minami’s insistent arrogance as the sister Setsuko has a long, troubled history with.
The movie starts as a cross-cultural comedy of errors, but soon morphs into a family drama, a road trip, and later a profoundly devastating look at loneliness and its bitter effects on people. There are worlds of past hurts and pain left unspoken, but its presence is clearly felt in every word the family members exchange with one another.
Suicide, or at least the idea of self-harm, is a recurring theme. A random train-jumper in the subway opens the film, and there are several other moments involving standing and waiting for trains that echo this opening later on in the film, keeping a sense of danger ever-present in the viewer’s mind. This is contrasted with recurring images and moments that have more positive vibes. Moments when certain characters hug become tiny bubbles of peace and happiness, a chance for the hardness of the world to pause for a second and allow a sense of connection to form, one that may or may not be able to withstand the tribulations of life. But for that moment, at least, there is human touch, and a connection, however transitive.
Postcards play key roles in the second and third acts as well, acting as signposts of how we are able to reach out and touch each other in ways both intentional and accidental, and how it’s more often than not it’s those of the accidental variety that prove most important in shaping the course of our lives. This is a film that may underwhelm for some, but I found its examinations of the pain of not having something to share your life to be the best parts, and as this is concentrated in the third act, the film’s effect only increased as it went on. The last image is dynamite, and left me thinking for some time afterwards as I walked home in the spring evening.