Film Review: Our Little Sister (2015, Hirokazu Kore-eda) – Simple drama, deeply felt

original title: Umimachi Diary
directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
written by: Akimi Yoshida (manga), Hirokazu Kore-eda (screenplay)
link to trailer 
(fair warning: the trailer is a bit too revealing for my taste)

There is a special relaxed feeling to the bonds of friendship formed between siblings. Not all siblings are best friends of course, some grow up and are nothing more than passing acquaintances. Some siblings do however come to know the deep friendship that is possible from unintentional genetic ties. It is a friendship forged from familial bonds but which steadily developes into a true relationship of its own making, reaching far beyond blood, genes, upbringing, or shared parental figures. Close sibling relationships are filled with unconditional love, blind faith, fierce protectiveness, and the joyful unassuming company of those who expect nothing more but yourself from you. It can be much more than a familial bond, and reach much deeper than the active choice of friendship.

A quiet, earnest, and truly affecting drama

In the quiet Japanese drama Our Little Sister directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, a choice is made by three sisters to open up their intimate and well-established family group to a fourth sister. Suzu (Suzu Hirose) is the youngest of the eclectic bunch. She is the little sister, the other three never knew. The biological product of their father’s straying eyes and body. The resentment one might expect from the older siblings, if this were a cheap melodramatic drama, is replaced by intrigue, care, and a protective need to include Suzu as an indispensable part of their sibling bond. This is most effectively seen from the responsible and self-sacrificing eldest sister Sachi, breathtakingly portrayed by Haruka Ayase. What follows is a subtle and heartclenching examination of sisterly love, family, and friendship.

As much as Our Little Sister is a story about family it is also a film, which brilliantly depicts four independent women in modern Japan. They are emboldened by their tight-knit bond to each other but also fully formed people with individual hopes, dreams, and views of the world and with distinct relations to the people most important to them. The sisters live together in a traditional Japanese house and the atmospheric mesh of old culture with modern technology and life is an enriching and lively wonder to behold. Every moment of Our Little Sister feels incredibly earnest and true to the young women at the centre of the tale. From the very beginning we are placed in the middle of rapidly changing dynamics between the sisters. The history and personal motivations that inform each sister’s very being are slowly and naturally revealed to us through dynamic character beats and interactions. It is quite simply wonderfully directed, written, and acted.

Beauty in restraint

Our Little Sister truly demonstrates the power of the quiet in great cinema. There seems to be no room for unnecessary hysterics, in order to pump up drama and conflict. The small misunderstandings, lack of communication and gradual awakening to another’s point of view, which governs all people’s lived lives, provide plenty of drama and humour without need for exaggeration, as shown in this tale of four sisters. The drama is powerful in its restraint, the humour effective in its honesty, and the characters distinct, engaging, and the very best company one could dare to hope for.

If you get the opportunity be sure not to miss this pearl of a film!

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