Mika explains how she recently got scammed out of a couple thousand dollars by a sketchy red-light district English cram school. Playing to the impulsive—and perhaps even selfish— needs of her aunt, she somehow persuades Setsuko not only reimburse her for the school’s tuition, but also to attend English classes in her stead. Enter Josh Hartnett a.k.a. John, the English teacher.
John is probably the last guy you want teaching your teenage daughter. His unusual teaching style gives off heavy American Psycho vibes, and his ridiculous inability to conduct even the most basic of English lessons sends up red flags immediately. Setsuko, smitten by his charms, not only ignores these flags, she rushes full speed past them. John’s up close and intimate instructional techniques are mistakenly interpreted as flirtation by Setsuko, and it’s not long before she finds herself emotionally attached and in love with her instructor. Unfortunately for her, it is a love that is not at reciprocated.
A couple days later, John and Mika run off to the states leaving Setsuko to wallow in the debris of her broken dreams. Never the one to give up easily though, Setsuko teams up with Mika’s Mother and sets off halfway around the world to give chase. What happens next is a wonderful piece of cinematic storytelling about finding love at all the wrong times, and in all the wrong places.
Oh! Lucy original got its start as a short film back in 2014. It was a runaway success, bringing home an astounding amount of nominations and accolades at festivals worldwide—the most important of which, were the Cinéfondation award at Cannes, and the Sundance Short Film Jury Prize. In 2016, Hirayanagi was awarded the Sundance Institute NHK Award for her full-length screenplay of the same name, which meant full funding, and the backing of some superstar Executive Producers by the name of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. It also meant that her project was about to get infused with the Hollywood version of the super soldier serum—we’ll get back to that in a moment.
A bigger budget means a bigger production value, and boy oh boy did Oh! Lucy get an upgrade. For this new beefed up version of her shirt, director Atsuko Hirayanagi brought in the talents of Paula Huidobro as DP—a move that added much needed cinematic clarity to the picture. Huidobro did a good job of helping the film break away from the granular, small budget feel of the original short, and helped bring a lot of life and color into the project. For the editing department, Hirayanagi also enlisted the services of Kate Hickey.
Previous to this film, Hickey spent her time earning her chops working under the tutelage of cutting room pro, Dylan Tichelor. After working with him on films like Whip It, and The Town, she later secured herself a nice tenure editing for the hit TV show Girls. These were all jobs that prepared her perfectly for an opportunity such as this. It’s not often that you get a film devoid of any excess fat, but Hickey cut this film with surgical precision. The soft flowing pace with which she edits could be best compared to a slow moving symphonic suite—always omnipresent but never overbearing. Both Huidobro and Hickey’s work on this film will most definitely but them in high demand for directors moving forward.
The feature length version of Oh! Lucy also features a heavy upgrade in the casting department, the most noticeable of which is the switch of leading ladies from Kaori Momoi, to Shinobu Terajima. Terajima is an absolute joy to watch and even though her character is littered with some inherent flaws, the audience loves her all the more for them. Josh Hartnett—an actor that has recently been all but absent from the limelight— takes on the role of the ladykiller English teacher, John, in a performance that makes has us begging for his Hollywood homecoming. Shioli Kutsuna, a Japanese TV mini-series veteran, is perfectly cast as the innocent yet trouble character of Mika. Kutsuna has secured herself a role in the new Deadpool film, and her career is certainly going to blast off as soon as that hits.
Overall, Oh! Lucy is a film that is beautifully sentimental, yet soberingly bittersweet. It’s a remarkable character piece that is the product of not only a great ensemble cast, but also a great ensemble crew. Director Atsuko Hirayanagi has not only created a film that will last the test of time, but will also cement her status as Sundance and Cannes royalty. Lucy may be her feature debut, but the light of this star appears as if it’s going to be burning for a long time to come.