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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Mike Ott
Lorber Films 08/11 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) and his sister Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka) are on a pilgrimage to Manzanar, the California internment camp created during World War II to imprison more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans. They also want to visit San Francisco. But when their rental car breaks down in the California desert, they are forced to stay for a few days in the small town of Littlerock while it is repaired.
Atsuko is writing letters to her father who has been in a feud with Rintaro for a long time. When her brother can't sleep because of the noise at a party in the next motel room, he is invited to join the group of drinkers by Corey (Cory Zacharia), a friendly young man. When Atsuko arrives looking for Rintaro, she is introduced to the partygoers even though she can't speak a word of English. Her brother speaks a little English but not enough to go into any depth.
Corey volunteers to take them on a tour of the town and surrounding area. He reveals that he wants to leave Littlerock and become a model and actor in Hollywood. It is no wonder he wants to escape to a new life given the fact that he owes money to a punk who sold him drugs. In addition, he is an outsider who is often ridiculed for his artistic interests. When Rintaro decides it is time to leave for San Francisco, Atsuko tells him that she doesn't want to leave. While he's gone, she goes to bed with Jordan (Brett L. Tinnes) and flirts with Francisco, a Spanish-speaking cook at Corey's family restaurant. As a teenager, Atsuko is just trying to explore all her options. Despite Corey's obvious enchantment with this pretty visitor, she turns away when he tries to kiss her after a Fourth of July celebration. When Rintaro returns, Atsuko must say goodbye and that involves some hard choices. Visiting the museum in Manzanar where their grandfather was imprisoned, this brother and sister see a darker side of America than they experienced in Littlerock.
Mike Ott directs this slow and meandering cross-cultural and character-driven drama. It is fascinating to watch the interactions of Atsuko with the young American men she encounters. Since she can't speak or understand English, listening closely and reading body language is imperative.
Rintaro can't understand why his sister likes this small town so much: "These people just sit around and get high every day. You call them friends?" In her quest for new experiences, Atsuko runs up against one of the paramount lessons of adolescence: the "don't know" nature of relationships and reality. We cannot explain the mysteries of friendship, sexuality, or the bigotry and paranoia of nations during wartime. Littlerock explores these rich and deep themes with integrity.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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