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New Release Review - OUR LITTLE SISTER

Following the death of their father, three siblings take their step-sister into their home.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda

Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose



I can't recall a single line of dialogue from Our Little Sister, but I remember every scene vividly, and I know exactly how each one made me feel. This is the mark of a truly great filmmaker, and Koreeda may be the greatest orchestrator of quietly conducted human drama working in cinema today.



When we think of comic book movies we inevitably picture slam bang Hollywood blockbusters, but two of the best of recent years have been low key, female-centric affairs - Lukas Moodysson's We Are the Best! and now Hirokazu Koreeda's adaptation of Akimi Yoshida's serialised Manga Umimachi Diary.

The film introduces us to three twenty-somethings still living together in their late grandmother's house in an idyllic seaside town. The eldest is Sachi (Haruka Ayase), a serious-minded nurse who acts as a mother figure to her less mature younger siblings, Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), a bank clerk with a bad record of falling for no good men, and Chika (Kaho), a flighty sports store worker who seems the most grounded of the three.



When news arrives of the death of their estranged father, the trio couldn't be further from distraught. At the funeral they're introduced to their 14-year-old stepsister, Suzu (Suzu Asano), who is caught between two stools, as her birth mother, the second wife of the girl's prolific father, is also dead, and she doesn't get on well with her stepmother. Instantly falling for her charms, the girls invite Suzu to live with them, an offer the teenager enthusiastically accepts.

What follows is two hours of sheer cinematic feel-good bliss, as Koreeda wraps us up in a warm blanket and feeds us the story of four thoroughly charming women. The lack of any explicit 'drama' might be offputting to some viewers, but approached as a 'hang-out' movie, Our Little Sister is one of the best of its kind.



There's no discernible narrative arc; Koreeda simply lets us spend time with his quartet over roughly the course of a year. There are side plots, such as the heartbreaking deterioration of a local café owner diagnosed with cancer, but most of the film's drama is kept confined within the psyches of its protagonists. Sachi despises her father for walking out on her mother, but she now finds herself in the role of would be 'homewrecker', as she's fallen for a married doctor at her hospital. Suzu is constantly worried that her presence may remind her newfound siblings of their father's indiscretions, and while she tells others details of her father's life, she feels unable to mention him in her sisters' presence.

The closest the film comes to traditional sentimentality features Suzu's wannabe boyfriend taking her for a cycle through a lane blanketed by cherry blossom trees, her father's favourite plant, but it's a moment that's earned, and it gains extra meaning due to Suzu's hidden feelings and secret release of emotion.

Koreeda jerks the tears at several points, but in the most understated fashion. The arrival of the girls' mother sparks much passive aggression, leading to the quietest of confrontations between the woman and her eldest daughter. No voices are raised, but the subtle alteration of the scene's light as Sachi's mother closes a door behind her offscreen is emotionally devastating.



I can't recall a single line of dialogue from Our Little Sister, but I remember every scene vividly, and I know exactly how each one made me feel. This is the mark of a truly great filmmaker, and Koreeda may be the greatest orchestrator of quietly conducted human drama working in cinema today. At the conclusion of Our Little Sister I felt like the little boy from Shane, begging for these women to stick around a while longer. The end credits create an almost tangible sense of loss. Sachi, Yoshino, Chika and Suzu are off to live the rest of their lives, but I'm thankful they leave behind this two hour snippet to cherish forever.
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