VOD film review: Our Little Sister
James R | On 13, Apr 2016
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Cast: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Suzu Hirose
We live in an age where divorce and broken families are far from uncommon. Between old partners and new kids acquired through marriage, it’s easy to imagine these lives as episodes from EastEnders, full of bickering and bad table manners. Not so, if you live in a Hirokazu Koreeda movie. Our Little Sister follows the surprise union of three sisters with the hitherto unknown fourth child of their father: Suzu, conceived with another mother. You’d expect shouting matches and melodrama to fill the screen, but the Japanese director’s eye for human relationships has never been more tender.
Koreeda, whose last film (Like Father, Like Son) explored a similarly complex tangle of family bonds, is a master of everyday detail – the kind of filmmaker who doesn’t wallow in the kitchen sink so much as run a bath in it and enjoy playing with the bubbles and Marigold gloves. In his hands, even the most mundane of activities can become uplifting. For Suzu, that routine is crucial to her slow assimilation into the family unit – in between going to school, running late and dressing up for business, the group (played with easy chemistry between the girls) always find time for communal dinners, which look as delightful as the bond they represent.
All this takes place in the shadow of grief and uncertainty over what their father was like – combined with the appearance of a mother from the past, Hirokazu quietly draws the lines between each character’s memory and perspective of the loved ones around them – but the script (based on the manga Umimachi Diary) allows that to inform their behaviour, rather than be the driving force of events. The most dramatic things that occur are one sister wearing another’s blouse, or Suzu struggling to stomach the plum wine. The response to that key plot point? They promise to make non-alcoholic version for her – a simple gesture, but one that carries with it a substantial element of love. The resulting film completes a series of deep explorations of parenthood, absence and inheritance, but it’s so lightly handled it could almost blow away in the breeze like a cherry blossom. Marvellous.