‘It’s hard for me to talk about my dad to my older sisters.’
Changing circumstances and gentle revelations emerge in the drama Our Little Sister, a film which demonstrates a genuine humanity, a theme that pervades the work of Hirokazu Koreeda – you need only think of the recollections of the dead in the strangely moving After Life (1998) or the emotional idiosyncrasies within the oddly taglined Air Doll (2009), which is anything but strange. Our Little Sister is set in the real world and offers its own natural curiosity, set in a broad social context that is utterly charming.
The Koda’ sisters Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) live together in their ancestral home in Kamakura after their parents divorced following their father’s dalliances with another woman. Their mother now lives in Sapporo and hasn’t seen her daughters for 14 years and, although the three have separate lives, they remain very close. In the meantime it turns out their estranged father has not only re-married and had another daughter but, when his new wife died he married once more, gaining a step-son in the process, with his youngest daughter finding herself living with a step-mother. When their father dies, the three sisters learn about these family ties at his funeral. The sisters meet their terribly earnest and very mature half-sister Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose) and they warm to her immediately. When she later accompanies them back to the train station to see them off on their journey home, the sisters – somewhat impulsively – invite her to ‘come to Kamakura, we could live together, the four of us.’ Suzu emphatically decides that she will and, before the summer vacation is up, moves into her new home and enrols at a new school. She joins the Octopus soccer team and makes lots of new friends. She is growing up fast and her sisters welcome Suzu into their home and their lifestyle, with all its various troubles and charms, just as it had been before the arrival of their new little sister.
A character driven and emotionally powerful drama with its lifelike natural oddities, personal family traditions and humorous segments, Our Little Sister is precisely what a convincing fictional family portrait should portray. The McGuffin here is the central character of the father, whose actions have profoundly affected all the protagonists due to his infidelities, even though he is deceased before the opening credits. Indeed his invisible influence affects so many of the sub-plots, but most notably the developing relationship between the sisters. Suzu, who is significantly younger than her siblings, has more memories of their father, having known him all her life. She knew about his predilection for whitebait on toast and the fried mackerel dish he used to eat at the much loved local diner. Suzu is introduced to the family traditions at home – a heritage that she had previously been unaware of – a multi-generational tradition which involved with picking and pricking plums in order to make plum wine. The sisters even have jars made by their grandmother 55 years previously.
This is a film where the female characters are central and their relationships are solid, this cannot be said (necessarily) for the the men in their lives. Having found a fulfilling family life with her sisters, Suzu declares of her dead mother, ‘Falling in love with a married man – my mother was a bad person,’ which also has implications for the eldest sister Sachi, who is secretly in a relationship with a married colleague. This provokes some soul-searching for Sachi. The film explores the relationships all the sisters have with their respective partners but the most notable, of course, is that of the burgeoning relationship between Suzu and her school chum; their bicycle ride through the sakura (cherry blossom) petals drifting like snow around them inside a tunnel of trees is a magical coming of age visual motif.
Relationships and revelations occur at a languid pace to make for one of the most compelling dramas about sisterhood and relationships. Delicate, delightful film making.