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San Francisco filmmaker's first feature heading to theaters

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"Oh Lucy!" was directed, written and produced by San Francisco-based filmmaker Atsuko Hirayanagi, who first began playing with the story for a film school assignment: write a script about someone you know. (KGO-TV)

It's not a typical Hollywood movie -- and that may be why it's gotten the backing and attention of big names in Hollywood.

"Oh Lucy!" was directed, written and produced by San Francisco-based filmmaker Atsuko Hirayanagi. She first began playing with the story for a film school assignment to write a script about someone you know. In many ways, the film's main character is the person Hirayanagi knows best of all - herself.

"It was my experience as a foreign exchange student when i was in high school in Los Angeles," she said. "I couldn't speak English."

The film starts out in Japan, where Setsuko, the main female character, enrolls in an unconventional class to learn English, and finds a whole different side of herself along the way.

Lucy -- Setsuko's English-speaking alter-ego -- is the adventurer in all of us, Hirayanagi said.

"My intention was to peel off all these masks we wear in everyday life," she said.

As Lucy, Setsuko has no filter, and no fear -- and takes a journey across the Pacific that's as long and winding as the journey the film itself took to the big screen.

It began as a student-produced short film, and generated enough buzz to garner the interest of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who became executive producers of the feature-length version. Hirayanagi won a Sundance NHK award for the script before production even began.

Now, after theatrical runs in several big cities including New York, the film will open Friday at San Francisco's Embarcadero Center Cinema.

"For a first-time filmmaker to be able to release a film at theaters is, like -- unbelievable," Hirayanagi said.

Though the film is set in Tokyo and Los Angeles, it still has deep roots in San Francisco, where Hirayanagi lives. A good portion of the writing for the award-winning script was done a few blocks from her house, at the Noe Valley public library branch.

"It was easy to easy to get distracted, so I had to find a sanctuary," Hirayanagi said.

With two young children at home, and the hustle and bustle of city life permeating the neighborhood's coffee shops, she came to the library in search of silence -- which she learned is a tough thing to find in a big city.

She says it's no wonder "Oh Lucy!" resonates best with city dwellers.

"There are many more people concentrated, and then maybe feel we have to wear all these masks so we don't kill each other," she said with a laugh.

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