Film & TV

Young at Heart Film Festival Review: Sophie and the Rising Sun

The bombing of Pearl Harbor raises issues of racism against a Japanese-American man in small town in South Carolina, USA in 1941.

The over-60s are the fastest growing sector of the community AND of the cinema-going population. The Young at Heart Festival is aimed specifically at this demographic. This year’s selection is a mixture of classics such as The Third Man, and wonderful, new films, such as Sophie and the Rising Sun.

Based on Southern writer Augusta Trobaugh’s novel, Maggie Greenwald’s feature deals gently and respectfully with an uncomfortable and troubled time.

Japanese-American Grover Ohta, finds himself unexpectedly beaten up, and in small-town South Carolina, in 1941. He is taken in by local matriarch Anne Morrison, who cares for him while he recovers. At first mistaken for being “a Chinaman”, the town soon becomes suspicious of his heritage, and this suspicion turns to fear when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour in December of that year. Adding to the drama is a burgeoning romance between Ohta and slightly eccentric spinster, the eponymous Sophie.

Tagashi Yamaguchi gives a subtle and beautifully-observed portrayal of Ohta. The chemistry between him and Julianne Nicholson as Sophie, sparks off the screen, ably supported by Wolfgang Held’s exquisite cinematography.

Margo Martindale delivers the performance of a lifetime as Morrison, a woman who is the epitome of a Daughter of the American Revolution, yet eschews the small-town hypocrisy and racism. Completing this cast of strong women is the luminous Lorraine Toussaint as Salome and Diane Ladd as Ruth Jeffers, the fulcrum of town gossip and trouble-making.

Greenwald wrote the screenplay along with Trobaugh, and they have produced a text both spare and rich. There is not a hint of over-writing, or underestimation of the audience, both of which are often present in this genre of film.

At its heart, this is an old-fashioned story of star-crossed lovers. Surrounding that heart is a portrayal of the terrible behaviour that fear can breed and, in particular, the way in which that fear played out for Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbour. It is also another, important reminder, of how we so easily judge race before anything else. Witness the news reports that state “a group of Aboriginal youths”, yet there is never a report saying “a group of Anglo-Celtic youths”.

This is not just about a moment in history. It is about all of us and our subtle, often unrecognised, racism.

Sophie and the Rising Sun is a beautiful, riveting, suspenseful and romantic film. A gentle winner.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Rating out of 10:  9

Sophie and the Rising Sun will screen on 10 and 13 April for the Young at Heart Film Festival, running 10-16 April 2017 exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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