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Our Little Sister - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Umimachi Diary

Japan 2015

Genre:
Drama

Director:
Hirokazu Koreeda

Cast:
Haruka Ayase
Masami Nagasawa
Kaho
Suzu Hirose
Shinobu Otake
Shinichi Tsutsumi
Midoriko Kimura
Kirin Kiki
Ryo Kase
Takafumi Ikeda
Jun Fubuki
Ryohei Suzuki
Lily Franky
Kentaro Sakaguchi


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Our Little Sister

Our Little Sister - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Sachi Kouda (Haruka Ayase) is a nurse and has raised her two younger sisters more or less completely on her own. Yoshino Kouda (Masami Nagasawa) works at a bank and has problems with her current boyfriend, while the youngest sister, Chika Kouda (Kaho), just enjoys life and earns some money on the side. Together the three live in a house that has been bequeathed to them by their grandmother. However, suddenly they get a call that their father has passed away. Since the day their father left his family for another woman they didn't hear from him. Yet, they decide to attend the funeral. There they meet Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose), their 14-year old half-sister. Without a father there is only a stepmother who could take care of Suzu. So the three sisters offer her to live with them. She gladly accepts the offer and very soon feels at home with her sisters. Even at school she has soon made some new friends and joins a soccer club. Yet, there is one subject that Suzu can't talk about with her sisters: their father. The scar left by him runs too deep within the three women.

Our Little Sister - Film Screenshot 2 Our Little Sister - Film Screenshot 3
Our Little Sister - Film Screenshot 4

Review: With "Our Little Sister" director Hirokazu Koreeda treads in the footsteps of classic family movies when the world was still neat and tidy. With the small difference that the family depicted here isn't classic and things don't unfold without any issues. It's more that the pain which accompanies a family that isn't that perfect stands in the center of events. But to be really considered a drama this movie actually emanates too much warmth. Accordingly, you may not get a perfect little world here, but it's still one that emanates so much coziness and affection that you soon believe to have come home yourself. That there are a few scars buried beneath the surface is obvious, but when the director turns towards them he does so in a very subtle manner. Despite the movie's strengths it can't be denied that concerning its story it actually is merely entering shallow water.

Our Little Sister - Film Screenshot 5

Still, this is made up for by interesting personalities. The four women all have their own personal pecularities and they share a great chemistry, making us have the feeling of observing a real family in all kinds of every-day activities. The conversations, including those taking place in the background, all seem very natural at all times and Hirokazu Koreeda's directing does its fair share of making everything look very much as if you are just coming home. Apart from that the sisters also create a very lighthearted atmosphere which still leaves room for some more serious topics to be dealt with. However, at first there is some obvious reluctance to do so. The sisters' father has shattered the family and the appearance of the mother later on shows that she also did her part for the sisters not wanting to see her in over a decade. Slowly, the skeletons are dragged out of the closet, but it never really gets unpleasant to watch.

Our Little Sister - Film Screenshot 6

There are no real bursts of anger. Everything just remains somewhat muted when it comes to emotions. Yet, the issues at hand are obvious, even though they might fester beneath the surface. For this the director deserves as much kudos as the actresses. Haruka Ayase ("Cyborg Girl") hides her beauty behind a strict hairstyle, looking quite buttoned up in general as well as constantly making a serious face. Sachi bears responsiblity for her sisters, which is also why her private life suffers. And later on it turns out that her relationship with a doctor also reflects important aspects of her family's past. Masami Nagasawa ("Touch") embodies a happy-go-lucky woman, who yet never has any luck in her love life. Yet, Yoshino is the one maturing the most within the story. Chika on the other hand is continuously ignored. She is the youngest sister who isn't really a grown-up yet and gets no real background story.

Our Little Sister - Film Screenshot 7

And this although "Our Little Sister" actually benefits from the fact that there is more color drawn around the individuals, giving them more weight for the story while also transporting the many complex emotions well. With Suzu, played by Suzu Hirose, there is also another sister added to the family, carrying a good amount of emotional baggage and making the issues in the family accessable in the first place, even though this might not have been her intention. We become aware that this drama doesn't have anything else to offer, but approaching the roots of the problems, which resemble a rotten core, also leads to some unpleasant bump-ins with the past. Accordingly, you should exercise patience and not generally dislike this kind of movie. We not only grow fond of the four sisters - men actually don't play any major part in the movie, with the exception of the omnipresent father whom we never get to see, though - but of the rest of the little town as well.

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Our Little Sister - Film Screenshot 10

It's the aforementioned warmth that makes "Our Little Sister" so pleasant to watch, as if taking a trip back to your childhood days. Furthermore, nature is made use of very aptly by director Hirokazu Koreeda ("Air Doll", "After Life") so that the jolly conversations on the veranda, while the cicadas chirr in the background, make you as pleasantly sleepy as do the cherry blossom trees or several other nicely captured nature shots. You actually wish that this film based on a manga by Akimi Yoshida featured a bit more than just the slow unlocking of the family issues, but that way "Our Little Sister" remains subtle and believable. In a very unintrusive way the drama can also be quite touching in the end. There aren't many movies that give you such a summer- and home-like, almost dreamy atmosphere. For this alone the flick deserves to be recommended.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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