Thursday, 11 August 2016

Our Little Sister

Year of Release:  2015
Director:  Hirokazu Koreeda
Screenplay:  Hirokazu Koreeda, based on the manga Unimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshida
Starring:  Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose
Running Time:  126 minutes
Genre:  Drama, slice-of-life

This Japanese film is a gentle, quiet take on family life.  The three adult Koda sisters live in a  large house in Kamakura.  The eldest, Sachi (Ayase) is a nurse, and the de facto matriarch of the clan, Yoshino (Nagasawa) is a bank teller, and has a tendency to get drunk and involved with useless men, Chika (Kaho) is the youngest and works in a sporting goods store.  Their house was left to them by their grandmother.  When the women were children, their father left the family for another woman, and they have not seen him for fifteen years.  Their mother left them shortly afterwards, leaving Sachi to look after her younger sisters, and Sachi still resents her for this.  Having been notified of their father's death, the sisters attend his funeral, where they learn they have a hitherto unknown half-sister, fourteen year old Suzu (Hirose).  Charmed by Suzu's liveliness and responsibility, the three sisters invite her to come and live with them, which Suzu eagerly agrees to.

This is the kind of quiet, wistful film that Japanese cinema does so well.  Very little actually happens in the film.  Sachi strikes up a tentative relationship with a married man, Yoshino gets a promotion at work, and tries to help the kindly owner of a local cafe, Suzu makes friends at school and proves to have a real talent for soccer.  All four deal with complex family ties.  Even the more soap opera elements in the various storylines are very low-key. The characters also eat, a lot, in fact barely five minutes of screentime pass without at least one person eating or drinking, or food being seen or referenced.  Food is depicted as a point of connection.  The sisters eat together most of the time, friendships are forged or solidified with gifts of food, and families are brought together by recipes passed down through generations.                

This is a film full of small delights, which is emotional but largely unsentimental.  There are darker elements that are brought up but, mostly, left in the background.  The film features some fine performances, and is beautifully shot.  The characters are engaging, but often flawed.   However they are likeable, and by and large try to do the right thing.  People are flawed here, but change and forgiveness are always possible.  This is a wistful, gently joyful tale.

Kaho, Haruka Ayase, Suzu Hirose and Masami Nagasawa in Our Little Sister

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