Thursday 2 May 2019

Movie Review: Sophie And The Rising Sun (2016)

A slow burning drama and romance, Sophie And The Rising Sun is a well-intentioned but languid story.

It's 1941 in rural South Carolina. A dazed and wounded Asian man arrives on a long distance bus in the tiny fishing community of Salty Creek. Mrs. Anne Morrison (Margo Martindale), a kindly widow, takes him in and nurses him back to health. Once he recovers, Ohta (Takashi Yamaguchi) reveals himself an expert gardener and helps Anne care for her yard.

He also demonstrates an eye for painting, a passion shared by Sophie Willis (Julianne Nicholson), a free-spirited single woman and crab catcher. Slowly a passion emerges between Ohta and Sophie, much to the disapproval of the local society ladies, especially the prudish Ruth Jeffers (Diane Ladd). Then the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour, and an asian man in a small community is deemed a most unwelcome presence.

Breathing deeply from a sense of a small and isolated place grappling with the sudden intrusion of the outside world, Sophie And The Rising Sun never rises much above its modest scale. Writer and director Maggie Greenwald adapts the 2001 Augusta Trobaugh novel with studious respect, and the metaphor for World War Two shaking a clueless nation out of its isolated slumber plays out along elementary lines.

The film unnecessarily extends to close to two hours, and the rudimentary plot simply cannot sustain the length. The pace is distressingly slow, long pauses, aching glances and repetitive scenes transforming the film into a proper test of endurance. The romance between Sophie and Ohta takes a long time to emerge, and once it does the bigoted disapproval of the local prudes commands more screen prominence than the lovers' passion.

And after the Pearl Harbor attack, the film further retreats into a basic hide and seek structure, the community split into enlightened progressives attempting to survive the torches-and-pitchforks brigade.

The absence of star power helps to maintain the largely featureless backwater ambiance, but also hinders the film's appeal. Julianne Nicholson does her best, but she joins Margo Martindale (brusque), Diane Ladd (stereotypically insufferable) and Takashi Yamaguchi (predictably stoic) as a secondary character in her own romance. Lorraine Toussaint as Mrs. Morrison's housekeeper Salome brings some quiet dignity to the cast in an underwritten role.

Sophie And The Rising Sun is pretty to look at, but nevertheless all too dreary.

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