The serendipity at work in LITTLEROCK is of a profoundly subtle nature. And like the title itself, which refers to a dusty backwash in California rather than the capital of Arkansas, things are never quite what they seem. Expectations are subverted, assumptions exploded, and the meaningless nature of words is replaced by the importance of conversation.
The first image is of a young Japanese couple, impassive, slightly prickly with one another as the woman asks inquires from her companion the whereabouts of the motel. The locale is not promising. The landscape is sere, and barely tenanted. They wander into a low-rent tourist shop, and then wander across a field in search of shelter. They barely speak, and then only in what sound to English-speaking ears as clipped semi-sentences. The woman is more eloquent in the letter she writes home to her father, which reveals the tangled relationship between her, Atsuki (Atsuki Otkasuka) the young man, Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto), and their father back in Japan. The relationship that the couple enter into with Cory (Cory Zacharia) is equally tangled, but without the hostility of long-simmering family tensions. Rintaro speaks a little English, Atskui none, and Cory nothing but English. Nonetheless, when Rintaro goes to complain about the noise Cory and his companions are making in the next room over at the motel, his disappearance is long enough for Atsuki to go looking for him, and then to join the party. Language barriers fall away with the lingua franca of music and alcohol.
The next two days, as Rintaro and Atskui wait for their car to be repaired, become a quietly potent turning point in their lives, as well as that of Cory. Atsuki engages in a seemingly casual hook relationship with a friend of Corys, Rintaro determines to continue with the travel itinerary with or without Atsuki, and Cory, using Atsuki as a combination of best-friend and confessor, talks out what is troubling him most.
Listening as a viable bonding medium has never been better explored than here. Corys babbling takes on a poignant urgency as Atsuki smiles sweetly, reacting to the sounds which reveal more than the words. The smile is equally sweet, but with a trace of pity, as she sits quietly with Cory and the local guys he knows, who make fun of him with condescending deprecation of the alpha male deigning to notice a lesser entity, when everyone knows what is happening, but pretends its all good fun. There is a telling contrast with the conversation Atsuki has with Rintaro, when she lies with stone-faced conviction that fools no one, but demands the convention of pretending otherwise. The wonderful conceit of having subtitles for a foreign language only when there is someone else on screen, or on the receiving end of a letter, that can understand said language.
Why Atskuki prefers the dullness of this town to the trip takes to San Francisco is something that is for her to know and the audience to find out. Writer/ director Mike Ott plays fair, and brings it all home with a denouement that has the slap of a Zen master bringing enlightenment to an acolyte. The deliberate blandness of young people gathering around the beer keg that will liven their existence takes on an almost mystical significance, not unlike the dust floating in the air that Ott catches in his camera just as the light is rendering its glint into stardust.