Our Little Sister review: a tranquil reflection on the meaning of family

An all-female family finds contentment in discontents and bliss in dysfunction in Hirokazu Koreeda warm-hearted feature

The ties that bond: Masami Nagasawa, Kaho Suzu Hirose and Haruka Ayase in Our Little Sister

Film Title: Our Little Sister

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 127 min

Thu, Apr 14, 2016, 13:34

   

It’s no coincidence that Hirokazu Koreeda, maker of the planet’s most warm- hearted motion pictures, shot the delightful Our Little Sister in Kamakura, an idyllic, cricket-serenaded beach town on the outskirts of Tokyo and the final resting place of the director Yasujiro Ozu.

Despite the warmth director of photography Mikiya Takimoto mines from bright, grey, beach skies and balmy sunshine, Ozu casts a formidable shadow across the film. The modern, entirely female family at the heart of Koreeda’s adaptation of Akimi Yoshida’s gentle manga hit Umimachi Diary, gets to experience far more than many of Ozu’s stifled, stoic heroines. But they are, in many respects, as bound by convention and duty as any character essayed by the late Setsuko Hara during the 1940s and 1950s.

At 29, Sachi Kouda (played by Haruka Ayase, who the director cast for her resemblance to Setsuko Hara) is the serious, responsible older sibling, a nurse, whose demeanour earns her a job offer in a new ward for the terminally ill at the hospital where she works. Yoshino is the rowdy middle sister, who greatly prefers beer to the bank where she works. Chika (Kaho), the perennially unkempt younger Kouda, has a McJob at a sports clothing store.

The triumvirate of sisters, though occasionally pecked at by a great aunt who’d like to see them married off, lives in the large, old-fashioned house bequeathed to them by their grandmother. One day, they receive news of their estranged father’s death: he leaves behind a neurotic widow and a 14-year-old half-sister, Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose), who soon moves in with her sisters on Sachi’s invitation.

This might have occasioned emotional ructions, but even when teenage soccer ace Suzu does let slip about her disappointments, she does so quickly and quietly. Despite occasional personality clashes, bickering over blouses and the odd barb that Only A Sister Could Say, Our Little Sister depicts a family that finds contentment in discontents and bliss in dysfunction. Even their broken romances end with pears. Koreeda slowly teases out parallels and hints at inner turmoil, but where Ozu employed full-blown melancholy, the younger director prefers wistful optimism.

If you’re in the market for a tranquil, meditative holiday but can’t quite pony up the cost, this surprisingly engaging film will do just as well.