Hirayanagi discusses her debut feature Oh Lucy!, a rare film that centres a complex middle-aged woman as the lead.
A film starring Josh Hartnett presented in Critics’ Week was always going to attract our attention. Oh Lucy!, directed by first-time filmmaker Atsuko Hirayanagi, went far beyond my expectations. The film follows Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima), a middle-aged Japanese woman working a boring office job, as the sudden departure of her dashing American English teacher John (Hartnett) sends her into a profound existential crisis.
Like many people learning a language, Setsuko is given a new name in English class, Lucy. Along with the bright blonde wig that John gives her, this name allows Setsuko to adopt a new persona both in and out of the classroom — one that is completely different from her usually quiet, reserved self. A screwball comedy of desperation and displacement, Oh Lucy! offers a refreshing, honest, and always entertaining perspective on characters who are very rarely put in the spotlight.
Back in Cannes, Hirayanagi and I talked about social masks, dark comedy, making films about the underrepresented, and the differences between the Japanese and American film industries.
Seventh Row (7R): The lead character of your film is a middle-aged woman, which is rather rare in cinema. Why did you make this choice?
Atsuko Hirayanagi (AH): Precisely because it is so rare. For a class assignment [at film school], we had to write about someone we knew. I picked this woman because I’d never seen anyone like that in a film before. She’s the kind of person who’s never the main character — neither in film nor in life. She’s on the side, and you don’t usually talk about her.She’s the kind of person who’s never the main character — neither in film nor in life.Click To Tweet
I’m very curious about people who are quiet, because they usually have more to say than those who are loud. In the film, Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima) hides her true feelings. She doesn’t say what she really feels. I was wondering: “How can I make her say what she means and how she feels?” That’s when I thought of giving her a voice through an alter-ego, Lucy.
The idea was also based on my experience as an exchange student in the United States. I was 17 years old, learning English, but unable to speak it that well. It was very frustrating. You try, but don’t want to make mistakes either, so you become quiet. People immediately think that’s just who you are, but I wasn’t like that. I was comfortable with speaking in front of people.I’m very curious about people who are quiet. They usually have more to say than those who are loud.Click To Tweet
It’s even worse in the States, because of the cliche about Asian girls being quiet and demure. But people are usually the opposite of what they show. When someone looks put together, inside they’re often a chaos.