A modestly packaged coming-of-ager given some heft by lead actress Sayoko Oho, “The Summer of Stickleback” goes out of its way to downplay sensitive issues like early-teen parentage without alienating viewers. Result marks an OK debut by writer-director Mayu Nakamura, who studied film at New York Univ., but won’t cause many theatrical frissons beyond the festival circuit and occasional small-screen outings.
One of pic’s strongest suits is its unaffected portrayal of ordinary life in Kyoto, 1990. That summer, young high-schooler Mizuho Oshima (Oho) escapes the claustrophobia of life with her drunken mom, whom she despises, by mild flirtation with handsome swimmer Sho and occasional moments with her father, whom she adores.
But he’s separated from her mom, and starting another life, so the lonely Mizuho ends up spending time with Charlie (Kameron Steele, speaking fluent Japanese), a U.S. army vet who’s friends with her mom and has his own troubled background.
A night of (unshown) sexual bonding, led by Mizuho, ends with consequences that makes her grow up rapidly. Pic’s title refers to the one-year cycle of birth, breeding and death of said fish, which Mizuho observes in her home aquarium.