Master director Hirokazu Kore-eda adapts Akimi Yoshida’s manga of four sisters creating a new family in the wake of a father’s passing. The resulting film is one of his finest to date.
When their father—absent for the last 15 years—dies, three sisters travel to his funeral and meet their shy teenage half-sister. Bonding quickly with the orphaned Suzu, they invite her to live with them. Suzu eagerly agrees, and a new life of joyful discovery begins for the four siblings….
(Picture: Courtesy of TIFF)
Our Little Sister (2015)
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda Starring Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa and Kaho
Screenplay by Hirokazu Kore-eda, based on the manga by Akimi Yoshida
“Kore-eda works his customary magic, drawing out nuanced performances and unforced chemistry from his actors.”
The Toronto International Film Festival presented another great lineup of Japanese films this year, among them the latest by festival favourites Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Naomi Kawase and Mamoru Hosoda. Hirokazu Kore-eda is probably the festival’s most beloved Japanese director—every film in his career since 1996 has had its place in the TIFF lineup. He is back this year with his adaptation of Akimi Yoshida’s bestselling serial manga Umimachi Diary, titled Our Little Sister in English.
In one of the film’s closing scenes at the beach, the sisters agree that a key component to happiness is the ability to see and appreciate beauty. That too is the key to enjoying this film, whether searching Haruka Ayase’s perfect porcelain beauty for ripples of submerged regret and guilt, gazing at Kore-eda’s lovely watercolour photography or appreciating the delicately balanced screenplay that shows us very little yet tells us so much. The film has been embraced by the Japanese film public and rightfully so.
Our Little Sister is about the three twenty-something Kōda sisters who live in Kamakura in a rambling wooden house owned by their great-aunt Fumiyo (Kirin Kiki). Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the eldest sister and de facto head of the family, works as a terminal care nurse; the middle child, Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), has a successful career at a bank; the youngest, Chika (Kaho), is a fun-loving free spirit. Learning of their estranged father’s death—he left 15 years earlier to marry another woman in Yamagata—the sisters travel to the funeral and encounter his widow and his daughter: their 14-year-old half-sister, Suzu (Suzu Hirose). Suzu’s mother is clearly not a competent parent and the sisters, identifying with shy Suzu’s loss, impulsively invite their half-sister to live with them. She accepts and soon joins their household.
The film explores the gentle shifts and evolving alliances within this emerging family, probing the theme of family dynamics, particularly those in fragmented or composite families. As in films like Nobody Knows and Still Walking, it is the absent characters—those separated by death or circumstance—who are of major significance; here too they are very much present. Kore-eda cleverly shows them to us as reflections within the living characters: stern but sensitive Sachi is the shadow of her grandmother, Yoshino is their romantically confused mother and in Chika we see the free spirit of her father. The film also benefits from an unforced chemistry between the sisters, often seen laughing or bickering over a meal. Kore-eda has said that this byplay is genuine as the four leads spent almost a year together making the film and had ample time to get to know one another as well as their characters. Kore-eda has been called the world’s finest director of children, wrapping stories around their unscripted and natural behaviour. It’s clear he has done the same here, capturing unguarded moments from the adult cast.
The film’s pace is slow and it should be: this sumptuous banquet of subtle flavours and rich variety is something to savour. It takes it time and it is certainly worth yours.
Our Little Sister has been picked up for Canadian distribution, so expect to see it in cinemas, and at the JCCC, soon.