Take two visitors from Japan, drop them into a small town brimming with boredom, throw in some sad, apathetic locals with tunnelvision, stir haphazardly, and you’ve got Mike Ott’s LiTTLEROCK. Billed as an angsty, introspective glimpse into identity and relationships, this movie has potential, but it’s too unfocused to go the distance.
Atsuko (Atsuko Okaysuka) and her brother Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) travel to California with the intent to visit Manzanar, a tribute to Japanese immigrants who were interned during World War I. But along the way, their car breaks down in Littlerock, and they’re stranded with nothing to do. Rintaro speaks a little English, but his sister doesn’t, and we see them struggle communicating, both with the locals and with each other.
Atsuko catches the eye of several men, one of whom may be struggling with his sexuality. But since she doesn’t speak English, she seems to be more of a pretty thing, someone to show off to your dad or take advantage of. And for some odd reason, she allows this.
We never find out why she wants to ditch her brother (who travels off screen to San Francisco–Yay!–and back, leaving her in the care of potentially gay, stealing-money-from-his-employer Cory), and spend her days speaking Japanese to men who only speak English back, often times saying something like (and I’m paraphrasing), “I don’t know what you’re saying” or “Why don’t you understand me?” These communication issues stem farther and at one point, Atsuko writes to her father back in Japan, lying about how they’re having a great time on their trip and San Francisco is lovely (Yes , it is! But she’d actually have known that if she’d actually gone with her brother).
The movie’s biggest fault is the lack of any empathy for the characters. Dear Mike Ott: It’s really hard to want to finish a movie if all I want to do is throw things at my TV screen (I watched the movie on a screener) and fast forward through the movie (but thankfully, I did neither).
By the time the credits rolled, I felt relieved that it was over. Through the film, there wasn’t one main character that I wanted to root for. The locals sell drugs, host keggers at the local highway motel, and aren’t particularly nice or honest. Atsuko revels in the male attention and acts selfish, ditching her brother and part of their trip to get some tail (not to mention the whole part about her not seeming to care about her own personal safety).
And Rintaro? He a blank slate the entire time. The only redeeming character was Francisco, the burrito maker, who teaches Atsuko how to roll a burrito and puts up with Cory’s all-about-me behavior.
LiTTLEROCK isn’t a movie for everyone. Some scenes are a little unfocused and draw out dialogue longer than is needed. The issues hit some hot button topics while maintaining a laidback, hipster vibe, but the direction lacks some well needed gentle care and attention.
You can follow LiTTLEROCK on Facebook to find its next screening near you.