Dir: Kore-eda Hirokazu| Dragons & Tigers | Japan | 2015 | 128 mins
Oct 08 01:30 pm | Vancouver Playhouse
Directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu and based on a famous manga series, Umimachi Diary, Our Little Sister, tells the story of three sisters, responsible eldest sister Sachi (Ayase Haruka), romantically challenged Yoshina (Nagasawa Masami), and free-spirited little sister, Chika (Kaho). They find out that their estranged father has died, and they reluctantly travel some distance to attend his funeral where they meet their 15-year-old half-sister, Suzu (Hirose Suzu). As the sisters leave to go back home, Sachi impulsively invites Suzu to live with them, and we watch as their relationship develops.
Starting out the film as a solemn and serious girl, Suzu makes it easy for us to root for her happiness. We watch as she bonds with her sisters, makes friends at school and begins to heal from her past wounds. Throughout the movie, we are also witnesses to the small ordinary moments that any sister would recognize — borrowing your sister’s clothes without asking, intra-sister gossiping about another sister’s relationship choices (without examining your own) and the eldest scolding the youngest sister for shoveling food in her mouth. The movie also addresses the painful impact of their often neglectful parents on all four sisters. There are collective memories, both good and bad, that sisters can only share with each other. The film shows us the solidarity and love through strong but subtle performances by all four actresses, especially Ayase Haruka as the eldest “dorm mama” sister who still needs to heal from past hurts, and Hirose Suzu as the littlest sister who discovers happiness with a family that loves and cares for her.
Our Little Sister is shot in the beautiful seaside town of Kamakura. At times, I almost felt like the film served double duty as a tourism commercial for Japan. The sisters make plum wine from plums grown in their backyard, spend the day papering shōji windows, and walk along the sparkling beach. In one scene, Suzu takes a magical bike ride through a cherry blossom “tunnel.” In fact, other than the sad circumstances which begin the film and the neglectful parents, for the most part, the sisters lead extremely charmed lives in an extremely beautiful setting. It was sometimes hard to believe how well Suzu was able to adjust to a new school and home life, or how three sisters in their 20s were able to fully love and care for a growing adolescent girl. However, it’s best not to let these thoughts detract you from the charms of this movie. In the end, watching Our Little Sister will make you want to call up a sister you haven’t seen in a while. Or else take the next flight out to Japan.