We hear a lot about American cultural hegemony, but seeing it through the eyes of two Japanese tourists (brother and sister) makes for a fascinating study. Making it that much more unique is that neither of the two Japanese speak much English. The sister none at all and the brother just enough to get by. This makes for some interesting conversations.
They’ve arrived here in Littlerock, a northern exurb of Los Angeles, on their way to somewhere else, which seems appropriate. Their rental car has broken down, so they have a few days to kill while their rental is repaired. Tthey encounter racism (though surprisingly not directed at themselves), homophobia, and the basic human difficulty of honest communication, here shown in the extreme.
They are befriended by a would be artist/model/poet by the name of Cory who introduces them around. The sister (Atsuka) is open to the experience, and wants to spend some extra time with her new friends, so her brother reluctantly takes off (he’ll be back he tells her). Atsuka hangs around with a group of kids, goes to parties, goes biking, watches a parade and fireworks, has sex with a boy she likes and even gets a job to earn some spending and subsistence money.
Ultimately she’s betrayed by her new boyfriend, so when her brother comes back she continues on the trip they had planned. They visit the site of a Japanese WWII internment camp and memorial at Manzanar. Suddenly it feels like a different movie. We begin to see the connections between ‘otherness’ and latent to overt racism.
Littlerock is a slight film, but the scene of Atsuka telephoning Cory to thank him and say a proper goodbye is sweetly sad. Cory suffers more for being different than does Atsuka, and she seems to realize this after her visit to Manzanar.