Every now and then an actor comes along with a natural talent who can carry a film that would otherwise not be seen. Not that Candice Mana Ono’s feature film debut “Lovely Little Ai” falls into that category, but this quirky, fragmentary coming-of-age film is a showcase for star Akane Sakanoue, who plays a teenager ten years younger than her 26.
Sakanoue appears in nearly every scene, executing the title character’s transition from a good girl to a free-spirited social butterfly with no signs of suspense, unlike some of her landscape-munching fellow thespians. As the film begins, protagonist Ai could be called a Japanese version of Hollywood’s manic pixie dream girl: cute, strange, and bubbly. But as played by Sakanoue, she begins to develop a will of her own, going beyond stereotypes and never becoming an annoyance.
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