11/04/12 - Chinese 6, 7:00 p.m.
11/07/12 - Chinese 1, 1:45 p.m.
By Katie Datko
On a map, the real Pearblossom Highway looks kind of like a scar bisecting northern LA County, a jagged stretch of mostly two-lane highway heading from the suburbs just north of LA east to the high desert. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that PEARBLOSSOM HWY, Mike Ott’s follow-up feature to his multiple award-winning indie film festival sensation LiTTLEROCK (which played at AFI FEST 2010 and won the Audience Award) is about wounds — specifically, the need to heal the fractures caused by denial or neglect and the longing for belonging and acceptance.
Partly based on the real lives of the main characters, Cory (Cory Zacharia) and Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka), PEARBLOSSOM HWY is a humanistic yet barbed tale, darker and in many ways more poignant than its predecessor. The characters may be familiar to Ott fans, but both Cory and Atsuko have been given new back-stories. Cory is an unemployed whippet-huffing, orphaned rockstar-wannabe who longs to make it on reality TV. Atskuo, Cory’s friend and videographer who’s also an urchin of sorts, has been sent by her Japanese grandmother to live in Antelope Valley with her uncle’s family while trying to pass the U.S. citizenship test.
In PEARBLOSSOM HWY, Ott pushes the envelope on all levels. The intertwining narrative threads of the two main characters’ rites of passage mirror each other: Cory makes tapes for his TV show audition and manages to reconnect with his older brother, Jeff (John Brotherton); Atsuko raises money to go back to Japan to visit her ailing grandmother the only way she knows how — by selling herself — becoming increasingly more detached as the film progresses.
It might seem as though Cory’s story is front and center, but it’s really Atsuko’s journey that commands the viewer’s attention. Even though it’s unnerving on many levels, we get a clear sense of her slow unraveling — framed through mirrors, windows and montages of highways and truck stops. Atsuko’s first scene with a Japanese client shows her standing against a curtained window, her client’s voice off-screen. While she may seem childlike and innocent, she nevertheless stands her ground, asserts herself and, interestingly, speaks back to him not as a coy, deferential call girl, but using an informal, familiar tone. Even though Atsuko’s image becomes increasingly refracted, it is through her language that she seems to hold onto her sense of ‘self.’