Our Little Sister


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Three siblings who live in their grandma's home have to cope with the arrive of their 13-year-old half sister in Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary)
"It is in the women's emotions that the heart of the matter lies and Kore-eda, as always, handles them with an elegant lightness of touch."

Hirokazu Kore-eda approaches stories with the open-hearted warmth of a child, which is presumably why young protagonists hold such key roles in his films. Although this is adapted from the manga Umimachi Diary, by Akimi Yoshida, rather than an original screenplay there is no mistaking his touch, as he again explores family dynamics with the same mixture of care and awe as a mother carrying a newborn.

Sisters Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika Kôda (Kaho) live in a large house that once belonged to their now-deceased grandmother. Their father left their mum for another woman when they were quite young and their mother high-tailed it soon afterwards, leaving the eldest Sachi feeling the early weight of responsibility. Now in their late 20s/early 30s, Sachi has taken care-giving into a career, working at the local hospital, Yoshino is muddling along in a financial job, while drinking too much in the evenings and Chika is still playing the baby of the group in her off hours from working in a local sportshop.

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As so often at the movies, it is death that provides a catalyst for change - in fact, the circle of life is at the crux of the film. The women hear that their father has died and, on attending the funeral, meet their chirpy younger half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). Recognising a kindred spirit who has been forced to take on too much responsibility too young, Sachi invites the teenager to stay and so a new family unit is born.

There is life and death, illness and romance in Our Little Sister but though these are all life-changing events they are never sentimentalised and presented as part of its every day, loosely stitched tapestry rather than inserted to move the story along. Kore-eda instead celebrates life's little pleasures, such as the taste of fresh whitebait on toast, the colour of a long-kept jar of plum wine and the exhilaration of scoring a goal for your team.

It is in the women's emotions that the heart of the matter lies and Kore-eda, as always, handles them with an elegant lightness of touch, gradually exploring everything from the sense of loss felt by Sachi to the fear of causing pain that is harboured by Suzu. "He was kind and useless," one of the sister's says about their dad and it just about sums up all the men in the film, floating on the periphery, less decisive, more problematic.

Our Little Sister might not quite have the moving crescendo of I Wish or Like Father Like Son - perhaps because it is so determined to avoid the blame game - but it is has its own, lighter pleasures and the delicate warmth of cherry blossom floating in dappled sunshine.

Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2016
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Our Little Sister packshot
Three sisters take their 15-year-old half sister into their home and hearts.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda, based on the manga by Akimi Yoshida

Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose, Ryô Kase, Ryôhei Suzuki

Year: 2015

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Japan

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