Sophie and the Rising Sun

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Set in the autumn of 1941 in Salty Creek, a fishing village in South Carolina, the film tells the dramatic story of interracial lovers swept up in the tides of history. As World War II rages in Europe a wounded stranger, Mr. Ohta, appears in the town under mysterious circumstances. Sophie, a native of Salty Creek, quickly becomes transfixed by Mr. Ohta and a friendship born of their mutual love of art blossoms into a delicate and forbidden courtship. As their secret relationship evolves the war escalates tragically. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, a surge of misguided patriotism, bigotry and violence sweeps through the town, threatening Mr. Ohta’s life. A trio of women, each with her own secrets – Sophie, along with the town matriarch and her housekeeper – rejects law and propriety, risking their lives with their actions.

Sophie and the Rising Sun is a 2016 American drama film written and directed by Maggie Greenwald. It is based on the 2001 novel Sophie and the Rising Sun by Augusta Trobaugh. The film stars Julianne Nicholson, Takashi Yamaguchi, Margo Martindale, Diane Ladd, Lorraine Toussaint and Karen Wheeling Reynolds. The film was released in theaters on January 25, 2017 by Monterey Media.

Film Review for Sophie and the Rising Sun

The veneer of decorum that cloaks the fictional fishing village of Salty Creek, S.C., does little to smother the stink of prejudice in “Sophie and the Rising Sun,” a genteel love story set in the autumn of 1941 during the run-up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

A place of sanctimony and twitching curtains, where the Garden Club and the Missionary Ladies Society occupy idle minds and hands, Salty Creek is a haven for matrons like Ruth (Diane Ladd), who can’t help getting up in everyone’s business. So when a near-unconscious Asian chap named Grover Ohta (Takashi Yamaguchi) spills off the bus one day, beaten and bleeding, the wagging tongues could power several car batteries.

Up steps Anne (Margo Martindale), a stalwart widow and the movie’s moral fulcrum. Soon Grover is settled in Anne’s guest cottage and impressing his benefactress with his impeccable manners and mad skills with begonias. Equally won over is Sophie (Julianne Nicholson), the town spinster, though more by the newcomer’s shirtless physique and way with watercolors. (She paints landscapes; he paints her.) When the canoodling starts and Ruth gets wind of their decorous romance, the onset of war becomes the least of Sophie’s problems.

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Tepid and tentative, “Sophie and the Rising Sun,” based on a 2001 novel by Augusta Trobaugh, is an old-fashioned ode to female solidarity. Romance drives the plot, but women control the narrative — and, by extension, their fates. As such, it fits in perfectly with the best work of its director, Maggie Greenwald, whose 2001 Appalachian drama, “Songcatcher,” also dealt with bigotry and a different kind of forbidden love. That film, and her 1993 Western, “The Ballad of Little Jo,” were deeply feminist, unabashedly provocative stories about singular women battling the prejudices of their times; period pieces with contemporary resonance.

Here, though, the gently nostalgic mood and sleepy pacing effectively erase the movie’s necessary edge. Anne’s garden has more life than the central love affair, and Grover never emerges as more than a collection of traits designed to prove that even a Chinaman, as the biddies unwittingly call him, can be civilized. Adding too much soap — Sophie’s slow-motion walk of shame is especially worthy of an eye roll — and too little acid, Ms. Greenwald neuters some of her characters and blurs others. The history between Sophie and Anne’s African-American housekeeper is particularly fuzzy, though the fabulous Lorraine Toussaint plays her with more majesty and shading than her few lines would seem to permit.

Elevated by fine performances and Wolfgang Held’s lushly sensual cinematography, “Sophie” nevertheless feels over-managed and self-satisfied. With only a little less politeness and a lot more passion, its message of inclusion and resistance might have landed with the force it deserves.

Sophie and the Rising Sun Movie Poster

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Directed by: Maggie Greenwald
Starring: Julianne Nicholson, Takashi Yamaguchi, Margo Martindale, Diane Ladd, Lorraine Toussaint, Karen Wheeling Reynolds, Meredith Jackson, Joel Murray, Sabrina Mayfield, Mickey Dodge
Screenplay by: Maggie Greenwald
Production Design by: Darcy C. Scanlin
Cinematography by: Wolfgang Held
Film Editing by: Keith Reamer
Set Decoration by: Amy Morrison
Art Direction by: Jacqueline Glynn
Music by: David Mansfield
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and nudity.
Distributed by: Monterey Media
Release Date: January 25, 2017