Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Movie Review: Our Little Sister

Our Little Sister
Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda.
Screenplay by: Hirokazu Koreeda based on the book by Akimi Yoshida.
Starring: Haruka Ayase (Sachi Kōda), Masami Nagasawa (Yoshino Kōda), Kaho (Chika Kōda), Suzu Hirose (Suzu Asano), Ryo Kase (Sakashita), Kirin Kiki (Fumiyo Kikuchi), Lily Franky (Sen-ichi Fukuda), Jun Fubuki (Sachiko Ninomiya), Shinichi Tsutsumi (Kazuya Shiina), Shinobu Otake (Miyako Sasaki).
Hirokazu Koreeda’s Our Little Sister is such a gentle film that it seems at risk of simply blowing away. The film runs more than two hours, and yet has almost no plot, almost no conflict between its characters, despite them dealing with some pretty heavy stuff. It’s a quiet film, a hopeful film and a melancholy film. As a consequence for some of this, the film can feel fairly lightweight – Koreeda has certainly tackled some heavy moral dramas in the past – like the switched at birth drama Like Father, Like Son or the child abandonment drama Nobody Knows, which even then he did without false dramatics and with subtly. Here, he’s abandoned even those weighty moral choices – and instead decided to concentrate on a period of time in the lives of four sisters. It’s a film where nothing much is solved or resolved. It is the type of film that almost feels inconsequential when you are watching it, but sticks in your mind afterwards.
The film centers on three sisters, all of whom are in their mid-to-late 20s. 15 years ago, their father left their mother, and they’ve haven’t really had much to do with him since. A few years after that, their mother left them as well – to be raised by their grandmother and Auntie. Now, in the aftermath of their grandmother’s death (which happens before the movie opens), their father has died as well. He leaves behind another daughter – this one only 13 – who now has no one. Her mother has already died, and her stepmother (yes, the father remarried again, and has an infant son) couldn’t care less about her. Now, even though they’ve never met her before, the older sisters invite their half-sister to live with them in the large house their grandmother left them.
If you were to make a list of the things you thought you’d see happen in the film, you’d pretty much be wrong on each one. The youngest sister is quiet and respectful – she excels at soccer, makes a few new friends, and develops an awkward teenage romance – it’s hardly the problem child scenario you’d expect. The three older sisters all have love live of their own – the youngest actually has a steady boyfriend, who seems nice, even if he looks silly with his fro – while the oldest is stuck in something with a married man (whose wife has been institutionalized), and the middle daughter has been dumped again – which always throws her life into chaos. Eventually, their mother will arrive, and the conversation there will be awkward and stilted, until she leaves them on their own again.
It’s tough to know what to say about a film like Our Little Sister. It so slight and subtle, contains so little of what you would normally consider to be drama, that any accurate description will make it sound boring. While I will admit that the film could have been a little bit shorter – it is far from boring. For one, this is a stunningly beautiful film – tranquil and serene. It’s a subtle film, about life little joys and sorrows, even more than about the large ones. It has a rhythm of its own. It’s certainly not one of the year’s best films – nor even one of Koreeda’s best films. But is a beautiful, subtle, melancholy film that was quietly moving – and sticks with you. On that level, it does everything you could want it to.

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