Director Mike Ott, co-writing with his star, Atsuko Okatsuka, and his cinematographer, Carl McLaughlin, has found a way to say a lot with a little in "Littlerock," an ethereal and ephemeral musing on the art and artifice of communication.
Which is not nearly as dry as that might sound, though Littlerock itself, a down-market exurb northeast of Los Angeles where the film is set, certainly is. So parched is this bump in the road that any movement sends dust flying in a landscape already saturated in browns. Yet McLaughlin, who has a good eye for the minimal, manages to bring out the haunting beauty of empty places littered with the discards of forgotten lives.
It all begins when brother and sister Rintaro and Atsuko are stranded after their rental car breaks down. They are already uneasy traveling companions, here from Japan on a California road trip and clearly tired of each other. Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) is anxious to get to San Francisco, their next stop on a carefully mapped-out agenda. Atsuko (Okatsuka) would just like to relax for a day or two and drink it all in, even though Littlerock seems to have little to offer.
The idea of communication becomes the central issue because Atsuko doesn't speak English. Instead, she relies on her brother's bare-bones knowledge, then increasingly her instincts and observations, as the siblings get drawn into the local slacker scene of drinking, drugs, occasional sex and lots of aimless hanging out. Cory (Cory Zacharia), a slacker among slackers who has Hollywood dreams and hometown issues, is their guide into this world.