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Originally published Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Littlerock': 2 Japanese tourists at a crossroads

A movie review of "Littlerock," independent filmmaker Mike Ott's second feature — a subtle exploration of misconnection and misunderstanding that involves two young Japanese tourists who stop over in a remote Los Angeles County town.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Littlerock,' with Rintaro Sawamoto, Atsuko Okatsuka, Cory Zacharia, Roberto "Sanz" Sanchez, Ryan Dillon, Matthew Fling. Directed by Mike Ott, from a screenplay by Ott, Okatsuka and Carl McLaughlin. 83 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains some drug use, nudity, language).

Grand Illusion.

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For some people, traveling is about seeing what there is to see. For others, it's about seeing oneself in a different light.

In Mike Ott's unexpectedly moving, simmering drama "Littlerock," two young sibling tourists from Japan are briefly separated over conflicting agendas while in Southern California.

Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto), the responsible, itinerary-focused brother, wants to move along after a couple of days of being stuck in Littlerock, a remote town in Los Angeles County. He reluctantly leaves his sister, Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka, who co-wrote this film), there, when she chooses to remain with a group of aimless adults around her age.

The kind of freedom Atsuko finds in Littlerock — among potheads, dealers and jobless partyers — is amorphous, quietly desperate and suggestively scary. But for a girl who writes appeasing letters full of happy lies to a (presumably) disapproving father back home, any kind of freedom will do.

Atsuko and Rintaro reunite for a powerful experience that shows them who they might have been except for a pivotal moment in long-ago history. But before that discovery, Ott has explored his theme — how each person's destiny is propelled by the past but left dangling, isolated in a seemingly formless present — with great subtlety.

Ott also proves particularly attuned to misconnections and misunderstandings, and how relationships can be deepened by reaching around obstacles or left tragic by failing to do so.

The most obvious example on both scores is a language barrier between Atsuko and a fey young man, Cory (Cory Zacharia), who latches onto her as a much-needed friend. Their attachment runs deeper than words but (we can see this coming) can't run forever on patience or transparent assumptions.

The same is ominously true for so many "Littlerock" characters.

Ott's low-key approach to exploratory storytelling — through which an audience can't see that something large is happening until it's happened — is reminiscent of the fine independent filmmaker Victor Nunez. "Littlerock" is Ott's second feature and suggests good things to come.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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