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Littlerock (A Movie Review)



Starring Atsuko Okatsuka, Cory Zacharia, Rintaro Sawamoto, Roberto “Sanz” Sanchez, Brett L. Tinnes, Ryan Dillon, Matthew Fling, Ivy Khan, Lee Lynch, Kathleen Maressa, Markiss McFadden, Sean Neff, David Nordstrom and Sarah Tadayon.

Screenplay by Mike Ott, Atsuko Okatsuka and Carl McLaughlin.

Directed by Mike Ott.

Distributed by Variance Films. 84 minutes. Not Rated.

This quiet but insightful little film probably won’t make much of a splash outside the film festival circuit – and that’s kind of a shame.

Essentially, Littlerock is a look at the United States from the viewpoint of its visitors – a fascinating, beautiful place and yet at the same time frustrating and mysterious.

Littlerock tells the story of Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuko) and Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto), a Japanese sister and brother who are taking a short trip through the US. Rintaro speaks a bit of English, Atsuko almost none. They have apparently taken the trip against the wishes of their father from whom Rintaro has become estranged. (Atsuko writes him periodically through the trip, giving dad a rather white-washed version of their adventures.)

The story revolves around time spent when the siblings’ rental car breaks down in the titular town – a small desert dot on the map in the outskirts of Los Angeles. That night when they are stuck in a little motel, Rintaro goes to ask some loud neighbors to quiet down. It turns out that it is a party and he decides to hang and have a few beers with the guys.

His sister shows up too and captures the attention of a couple of the locals. Cory (Cory Zacharia) is a slightly nerdy and slightly delusional wannabe model, who takes Atsuko under his wing – even though they can’t understand each other – and sort of assumes because she doesn’t know how to say no, she must be into him too.

Her brother quickly loses patience for the local guys who have no jobs or ambitions, just hanging out drinking and smoking all the time. (“What’s there to do with these people?” Rintaro asks Atsuko, scornfully.) However, Atsuko is enjoying being the center of so much attention and finds this new world strangely seductive.

Still, the one person she seems to bond with the most is Francisco, an illegal migrant worker from Mexico who also can’t speak the language. In a fascinating scene in which Cory, Francisco and Atsuko work together at a local Mexican restaurant, it is fascinating how Francisco and Atsuko come to understand each other simply through gestures, tone of voice and body language – and how completely that kind of communication is beyond Cory’s grasp.

We eventually learn Rintaro and Atsuko’s real reason for the visit – to see a Japanese internment camp from World War II which their grandfather was held at. It seems like it could be an obvious and heavy-handed ploy, but the scenes when they do visit turn out to be handled with grace and dignity.

That is also something you can say about this film in general. It is quiet and thoughtful, but real life is being lived here.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: September 2, 2011.

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