OUR LITTLE SISTER (Japan/TBC/128mins)
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. Starring Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose, Ryô Kase.
THE PLOT: After their estranged father dies, sisters Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) meet their younger half sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). After they discover that Suzu’s mother has also died, the sisters invite their new found sister to live with them, and find their family dynamic changed by her presence.
THE VERDICT: Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest film is a quiet story of family, without the screaming and conflict we have become used to in family dramas to date.
The cast of the film embody the story of the film; the three older actresses, Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa and Kaho use the film as time to examine their relationships with one another and their estranged and now dead parents. The story doesn’t really give the actresses a chance to be anything but kind and gentle with one another, but they do well with what they are given, making the film feel warm and gentle. Suzu Hirose makes her character curious and kind, lighting up the house she shares with her newfound sisters and with many of the supporting cast referring to her as a ‘treasure’.
Hirokazu Koreeda’s screenplay is adapted from Akimi Yoshida’s Manga story Umimachi Diary, and really focuses on the relationships between the characters. Although Suzu got much more time with their father, her sisters never seem to resent her for this, and instead pry her for facts about their father and the man he was. There are times when subplots around the sisters’ work overwhelm the film, and never really seem to add anything to the story, which would have been much more concise if it focused on the lives the sisters live together, rather than apart.
As director, Hirokazu Koreeda has created a warm and engaging film that is not about a family falling apart, but one gently coming together through kindness and generosity. The pacing of the film is sluggish, but this gives the audience more time to spend with the energy between the women, rather than seeking out an all-thrills storyline.
In all, ‘Our Little Sister’ is a sweet and engaging story of a family coming together. There is little happening in terms of pace, instead the film feels like a fly-on-the-wall look at people finding common ground and a way to be together. There are times when a stronger story and faster pacing could move the film along, but as it stands, it is a pleasure to spend time in the company of these sweet and fun women, although the overly sentimentalised music used in the film grates after a while.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Our Little Sister
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Sweet but sentimental
  • filmbuff2011

    Japanese Cinema can be crazy and outlandish, like the cult films of Sion Sono and Takashi Miike. On the gentler, calmer side Hirokazu Koreeda has built up a reputation as a talented director of observing the everyday lives of families – similar to that of the great sensei Yasujiro Ozu. His new film Our Little Sister is a continuation of that trend.

    Yoshino (Masami Nagasaw) is the eldest of three sisters who live together in their grandmother’s house, the other two being Sachi (Haruka Ayase) and Chika (Kaho). Yoshino is a businesswoman who flits in and out of relationships, much to the amusement of Sachi, a nurse who is trying to find stability in her own relationship with a man who has a sick wife. Neither of them can understand the romantic choices of the quirky, younger Chika but she is actually the most responsible of the three. When their estranged father dies, they become acquainted with his teenage daughter and their half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). An immediate bond is formed between the four. Having looked after her father, Suzu is quite independent but still needs a guiding influence in her life. So, the three sisters invite Suzu to come and live with them. Her young wisdom turns out to be a force for change in their lives…

    Adapted by Koreeda from a Manga book by Akimi Yoshida, Our Little Sister is a quietly observed and gentle familial drama that might work just as well as an animated film from Studio Ghibli. Such is the depth of emotion and feeling via well-written characters that it could work either way. In live action form, it ties in nicely with Koreeda’s last film Like Father, Like Son. That film featured two young boys coming to terms with living with new families told from a mostly male perspective. Here, the perspective is shifted to a female one and Koreeda beautifully captures the petty sibling rivalries between sisters but mutual admiration for each other. The arrival of Suzu stirs the sisters’ lives up, bringing back memories of their childhood and the nature of time passing. Memories of their grandmother raising them while their father got involved with another woman – Suzu’s mother. The healing nature of time is a theme, as Suzu mistakenly blames herself for splitting up families. Nothing lasts forever, but human lives do matter.

    That’s the key message of this simple, under-stated but affecting film that achieves a lot with just scenes of people sitting around eating and talking. Don’t bring an empty stomach when watching, as food is a key plot point throughout. The acting is flawless throughout and draws you in to the lives of these everyday characters. It may be a simple story with only minor plot revelations, but there’s an admirable beauty in its simplicity. Few cultures can capture the extraordinary wonder of everyday life quite like the Japanese. Our Little Sister is a charming, heart-felt film that leaves you with a warm glow as the credits roll. Another winner from Koreeda. ****