Q&A: Atsuko Hirayanagi’s ‘Oh Lucy!’ Finds Newfound Confidence

In this offbeat tale, OH LUCY! follows Setsuko Kawashima (Shinobu Terajima)—a lonely, chain-smoking introvert who is wasting away at her office job in Tokyo. Setsuko’s world is turned upside down when she meets a charismatic English teacher, John (Josh Hartnett), who draws her out of her shell with the help of a blond wig and the promise of a bold new identity. When John abruptly departs for Southern California, the newly emboldened “Lucy” sets out to find him on a life-altering journey of self-discovery. Based on her award-winning short film, Atsuko Hirayanagi’s charming directorial debut explores the transformative power of individualism.

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What an amazing story! Please describe OH LUCY! in your own words:

Atsuko Hirayanagi: OH LUCY! is about a woman’s late awakening and self-discovery. Setsuko is an office secretary in Tokyo (aka an “Office Lady,” in the Japanese corporate world), who is considered to be over her “prime.” After an unconventional American English teacher gives her a new persona, called Lucy, she discovers a side of herself that has been dormant for years.

OH LUCY! is adapted from your short film of the same name. What made you decide to adapt it into a feature-length film?

Atsuko Hirayanagi: I started with the feature idea initially, and then condensed it into a short. The short is essentially the first 20 minutes of the feature. The feature picks up where the short ends, with Lucy still in Tokyo, seemingly having lost everything she was attached to. So I always thought of it as a feature, and wanted to explore Setsuko’s journey after the short ends.

What was the biggest challenge of making a feature? 

Atsuko Hirayanagi: The biggest challenge was finding the money to make it, and understanding the balance of artistic integrity vs. commerciality, which no one really teaches you at school.

What was the biggest surprise about the experience?

Atsuko Hirayanagi: The actual production felt so much easier for me than the production of the short. We had more people power and real professionals helping in every department, where I had to play multiple roles when making student films. With the talent the team had, along with the phenomenal cast we were blessed with, I could focus on the story and directing. It was a true collaboration.

OH LUCY! focuses on a character who is not typically the lead in a film: a depressed, single, middle-aged office woman. What inspired the story in the first place?

Atsuko Hirayanagi: The idea itself was born out of a class exercise to write about ‘someone you know’—a simple question. Looking back, it all started from the admissions interview for film school, when I was asked to “describe a person in your life you don’t like,” and then… “now make that person the protagonist in a film, and tell me that story.”

This question spoke to me and made me realize that everyone has a story to tell. Putting our feet into the shoes of someone we may not be able to relate to is very hard, and that is part of the beauty of storytelling. I wanted to see if we could tell a story that shows that we’re not as different as we think. I think it’s important for audiences to see characters that we usually don’t see on the screen.

What are you hoping Hamptons audiences will take away from OH LUCY!?

Atsuko Hirayanagi: People will experience the film differently, and I think that is real great. I hope that for those who were able to empathize with Setsuko in some way can find the ending hopeful—a sense of limitless potential in life, when one decides to be honest to themselves.

What are you looking forward to the most at HIFF25?

Atsuko Hirayanagi: This is OH LUCY!‘s U.S. premiere, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the reaction of US audiences at HIFF25. And congratulations for the 25th anniversary! We’re so honored to be a part of the line-up especially at the HIFF. Thank you so much for inviting us. Can’t wait for the festival.

Catch OH LUCY!‘s US premiere in the Narrative Competition section of HIFF25. Find tickets. Follow OH LUCY! on Twitter.