Film review: Hirokazu Koreeda’s “Our little sister”

“Have any tissues?” the woman asked the girl manning the bar. “Don’t think I’ll keep it dry.” Silently, the girl handed a bunch. The woman joined our queue to watch Hirokazu Koreeda’s film. She was right – and not the only one reaching for tissues while watching “Our little sister”.

The film is based on the MangaUmimachi Diary”, focusses on relationships and will appeal more to women than men. So: fan of Rambo, Rocky, Revenant? Skip buying a ticket for this subtle, sympathetic, slow-moving film.

Prefer family dramas, irony, observations, relationships? Grab a ticket fast and don’t forget to take along your hankie! Though do not expect a depressing tear-jerker; this is a film about love and hope!

The plot takes only a few lines. Three sisters share a beautiful traditional home in Our little sister 2a Japanese coastal town. Suddenly, they receive the news their father has died in the remote countryside. It opens unhealed wounds.

Two decide to go to the funeral and on arrival, are welcomed by their younger half-sister. The eldest sister joins them at the funeral at the last moment. She surprises everybody  by inviting their half-sister to share their home. The fourteen-year-old is clearly not wanted by her step-family and father’s widow.

All four women have been damaged by adults who were supposed to care for them. All four have feelings to do with loss, abandonment, hurt, neglect. Despite pessimistic older adtuls, the four manage to forge a close bond over the year or so this film covers.

Eldest Sister Sachi works in a hospital and will be transferred to a cancer ward. She raised her siblings and now their half-sister. She is involved in a relationship with a married man, nearly mirroring the triangle between her father, mother, and half-sister’s mother which broke up their father’s first marriage.

Second sister Yoshino works at a bank, is an ambitious city-slicker career girl, but falls for crooks. Trust her to try and conquer mountains or walk the beach wearing high heels. When she is promoted, she teams up with a manager who left the kind of position at an international bank which Yoshino thinks she craves.

Chika works in a sport shop. Her new boyfriend is a mountaineer. One of the film’s early hilarious scenes takes place when she finally introduces him to her sisters. Do Sachi and Yoshino want to photograph his feet? These lack several toes due to an unsuccessful Everest adventure. He is baffled when the girls politely refuse, but will later help Suzu join the local football team.

When Suzu arrives at the beautiful but unpractical home in Kamakura, she is allocated Sachi’s former room. The film shows how she slowly becomes part of her elder sisters’ life in a town full of her father’s memories – from before she was born.

At first, everybody around Suzu tell her their memories of her father she just lost – regardless of what her feelings may be. Only towards the end do people ask after her personal memories. But by then, she is totally integrated in the family.

The girls share ups, downs, tiffs, food, prepare and get drunk on home-made prune brandy and establish routines. Grown-ups and boyfriends may disappoint and break hearts or may have robbed them of a carefree childhood and threaten to sell their home, they will be there for each other.

Though the four main actresses steal the limelight, there are plenty supportive roles which are acted superbly as well. But this is not just a beautiful film about family relationships, dramas, life. The nature shots are beautiful too and at times, like when Suzu and her friend visit the cherry-blossom tunnel, simply stunning.But then: Kamakura is a popular tourist destination combining beach, beauty spots, interesting sights with a rich history.

The old traditional house and its garden are to die for – though the film makes perfectly clear how difficult and unpractical it is to live in. An apartment would be much more convenient, but oh so terribly bland and sterile! If I knew such a house with garden and next the sea was waiting for me – I’d hop on a plane to Japan. Especially, if there were four such women and their kind neighbours, colleagues – even their mum and awful aunt –  to befriend!

As a few reviewers remarked after watching “Our little sister” at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, or later the same year in London: this is a film which simply ends far, far too soon!

Our Little Sister” is still running in European art house cinemas.
Director Hirokazu Koreeda
Sachi: Haruka Ayase
Yoshino: Masami Nagasawa
Chika: Kaho
Suzu: Suzu Hirose
Based on the manga “Umimachi Diary” by Akimi Yoshida

Youtube trailer “Our little sister”

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