Coming to America: When Tourists Meet Townies in Littlerock


The sleeper hit of the 2010 film-festival and indie-awards circuit, Mike Ott’s moody micro-budget Littlerock patiently observes the California road trip of college-aged Japanese siblings Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka, also the film’s co-writer) and Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto). En route to Manzanar (the filmmakers leave viewers to draw on their own knowledge, if any, of what that destination portends until the film’s very end), their car breaks down in the tiny desert town of Littlerock, where they soon fall in with a local crowd of young layabouts. They’re swiftly taken under the wing of Cory (Cory Zacharia), a tall-tale spinner too effeminate for small-town America, and maybe too naive for anyplace else (a subplot involving his debt to a local thug is a weak link). Rintaro is impatient for the traditional tourist’s experience, while his sister is happy to waste away a few days on the perhaps-more-genuine American experience of loitering with floppy-haired rocker boys, chain-smoking, and chugging cheap beer. Atsuko the character doesn’t speak English; Atsuko the actress, speaking mostly un-subtitled Japanese when she speaks at all, gives a performance that’s a marvel of nonverbal reaction. Her “new American friends” treat her as a projection screen, leading to quickly formed bonds based on unspoken recognition—which prove to be about as reliable as Atsuko’s letters home to her dad, through which she clues us in on what she’s thinking by telling him the precise opposite.