Littlerock: Mumblecore in the Desert

Two young Japanese tourists get stranded in a sunbaked hamlet far north of L.A. Their destination? Manzanar. So you know from the outset where Mike Ott's desert mumblecore movie is headed. How it gets there is another, more indirect matter. Speaking no English, Atsuko impulsively opts to remain in Littlerock while her impatient brother Rintaro makes a side trip. There she falls under the increasingly creepy, desperate attentions of Cory, a fey outcast with delusions of Hollywood. They hang out, ride bikes, party with other slackers (including one handsome guy more likely to score with Atsuko than the hapless Cory), and develop a friendship of mutual incomprehension ("I wish I could understand what you're saying"). Seen at SIFF last year, with local band the Cave Singers on its soundtrack, Littlerock sensitively depicts the claustrophobia and ennui felt by townies understandably confounded by this alien in their midst. Atsuko's motives for staying, however, are more opaque (also, her Japanese isn't always subtitled). She takes a job in a Mexican restaurant and rather charmingly attempts to live like a local, eating TV dinners with Cory and his disapproving dad. (American actress Atsuko Okatsuka is also credited as a co-writer.) In this dry, dwindling, time-petrified community, it's as if she's trying on an alternate existence—one explained in Littlerock's predictable last scenes. Still, the sadness and yearning are heartfelt, as when Cory—amateur Cory Zacharia, raised in the actual town of Littlerock—confesses to Atsuko "You're my only friend." She doesn't understand him, yet she understands perfectly.

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