Movie review: Our Little Sister

By Peter Calder

Our Little Sister Japanese film.
Our Little Sister Japanese film.

The Japanese master of domestic drama, and heir to the tradition of the great Yasujiro Ozu turns in another of his beguilingly simple family stories.

Its manga (graphic novel) origins explain its episodic structure - which seems frustrating at first - but the chapters gradually cohere into a moving rumination on the nature of memory and the bonds of family.

In a pretty coastal town, the Kouda sisters share a house left to them by their grandmother.

Sachi (Ayase), the eldest, is a senior nurse unhappily involved with a married man; Yoshino (Nagasawa) is a bank teller who drinks too much; and the gooky and childlike 19-year-old Chika (Kaho), who works in a sports-shoe store, is a dreamy slacker, a manga character come to life.

We have only just worked out why the past seems to hang heavy on these three when they hear of their father's death and go to his funeral out of a sense of duty.

There they meet, for the first time, their half-sister, 14-year-old Suzu (Hirose, whose unguarded, wide-eyed performance is one of the film's chief pleasures) and Sachi impulsively invites her to come and live with them.

Needless to say, the move is not without emotional repercussions, though not the kind an aunt warns of when she calls Suzu "the daughter of the woman who destroyed your family". Kore-eda, who wrote the gentle and contemplative screenplay, doesn't have soap-opera tantrums in store.

The film is slow to give up its meanings, which have to do with how love and good will can make it possible to come to terms with the regrets and hurts that we have locked away.

All this is contained in a package of Kore-eda's meticulous film-making, which uses the geometric interiors of the traditional house as the basis of sublime compositions in which characters are positioned as if in a painting, or through which they move in a refined but apparently effortless choreography.

It falls short of the masterly Still Walking and it's less formulaic than the director's most recent film, the swapped-at-birth story Like Father, Like Son, but it's still an accessible piece of work by one of the medium's great masters.

Review: Our Little Sister

Cast: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Running time: 120 mins
Rating: PG In Japanese with English subtitles
Verdict: Meticulous and ravishingly composed

- TimeOut

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