SUNNY Review: Forlorn American Turns Determined Detective with a Robot in Japan

Rashida Jones, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Joanna Sotomura, Judy Ongg, YOU, annie the clumsy, and Jun Kunimura star in the darkly comic Apple TV+ mystery series.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
SUNNY Review: Forlorn American Turns Determined Detective with a Robot in Japan

The premise sounds very familiar, but Ms. Jones is an engaging fish out of water.

The first two episodes premiere globally on Wednesday, July 10, on Apple TV+. Subsequent episodes debut every Wednesday through September 4. I've seen all 10 episodes.

Frankly, the idea of a foreigner who offers insights into Japanese life and culture is not inherently appealing to anyone with more than a passing interest in Japanese films and television shows. Been there, done that, as we say in English; the gags are old and the premise is shopworn.

As this year's Shogun proved, however, the premise can still be reinvigorated. First published just last year, The Dark Manual, a novel by Colin O'Sullivan, who was born in Ireland but has been living in Japan for some time, serves as the source material for Sunny, written and executive produced by Katie Robbins, whose writing credits include The Affair (2018), a perspective-shifting series, and The Last Tycoon (2017), an ambitious Hollywood historical series.

Robbins and her creative team have broken the novel up into 10 episodes that dig progressively deeper into a near-future scenario in which all kinds of robots have become an accepted part of everyday life, from the household to the workplace. Suzie (Rashida Jones), an American who fled to Kyoto, Japan, in need of a big change, is in a deep funk as the series begins, and understandably so: her beloved husband, Masa (Hidetoshi Nishijima), and their young son have gone missing in an airplane crash and are presumed dead by most everyone.

Without any kind of helpful support system in Japan -- her mother-in-law Noriko (Judy Ongg) doesn't seem to have ever accepted her son's marriage -- poor Suzie has fallen into a common type of depression. To compound the issue, she has never learned more than a few words in Japanese, instead relying upon a translation device that fits into her ear, and has never made any friends, which contributes to her shattering loneliness.

Suzie is gifted with a household robot by Yuki (Jun Kunimura), a work colleague of her husband. She doesn't want it, even when she is told that her husband created the robot, named Sunny (voiced by Joanna Sotomura), which only confuses Suzie, since she thought he worked in his company's refrigerator division. Seeking solace, Suzie returns to the local bar that she and her husband frequented, and sparks with a kind-hearted bartender, Maxxy (Annie the Clumsy).

Before long, though, Suzie finds herself becoming more comfortable with Sunny, to the point that they become 'buddy cops' (almost) and begin investigating what might have really happened to Masa and their son. She also begins bonding closely with Maxxy, who proves to be surprisingly helpful and resourceful.

As with all mystery movies and TV shows with similar premises, success depends to a great extent on the performances. Rashida Jones, Annie the Clumsy, and Joanna Sotomura make for an excellent team of amateur investigators, while Hidetoshi Nishijima is quietly charming as the mysterious Masa, as he appears in flashbacks throughout. Judy Ongg makes for an annoying but relatable mother-in-law, and Jun Kunimura supplies graceful reassurance in his role, which deepens as the series progresses.

Without reinventing the wheel, Sunny creates a near-future scenario that compels interest, chiefly thanks to the sparkling, believable, personable chemistry between Rashida Jones and Annie the Clumsy, with Joanna Sotomura imbuing Sunny with great humanity. The show makes for a good watch and should enliven the season on a weekly basis.

Also, it makes me wish I had my own Sunny.

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annie the clumsyApple TV+Hidetoshi NishijimaJoanna SotomuraJudy OnggJun KunimuraRashida JonesYOU

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