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Our Little Sister review: assured, elegant family drama

April 14, 2016

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Dominic Preston


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Our Little Sister is a film about a trio of sisters whose lives are changed when their estranged father dies. He left their mother for another woman 20 years ago, and upon arriving at his funeral they meet the daughter that his affair produced for the first time. As the women grow closer to their half-sister, Hirokazu Koreeda’s film asks whether anything good can come from such a destructive affair.

Koreeda wrote, directed, and edited this latest effort in a long line of critical successes, all to great effect. His direction is assured, displaying confidence and elegance in its blocking and a crispness in his editing which moves this domestic epic along boldly.

The plot develops so meticulously in large part because of Koreeda’s direction. His restless camera is nearly always drifting sideways into a scene, its lateral movement coming to represent the constant deepening and development of the plot. Every cut is a reveal, peeling away another layer in the complex relationship between these four women.

They form a fascinating and complementary group: Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the sensible, serious eldest sibling forced into adulthood too soon by her parents’ abdication of responsibility; Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), fun-loving and emotional; Chika (Kaho), somehow laidback and lively at the same time; and Suzu (Suzu Hirose), their half-sister, an intriguing mix of all the above. Ayase and Hirose are the stand-outs, doing justice to the juiciest of the roles on offer, but everyone in this cast is on song. Watching this unconventional family unit build their new life together is a heart-warming sight.

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The performances are as subtle as the direction, but both occasionally come into conflict with the broader, more melodramatic tone of the script. It’s the weakest of the three roles Koreeda performs, but that’s barely a criticism when the standard is so high. A surplus of false endings try patience in the final minutes, but otherwise, the personalities of and conflicts between the four main characters are so superbly realised that it’s no wonder Koreeda grew up wanting to be a novelist.

Our Little Sister is the kind of film where the heroes face difficulties which only serve to make them stronger and happier. Every obstacle is just a stepping stone to a better life. The result is often a little saccharine, but it’s a hard heart that would fail to be warmed by its serene beauty.

The best films show life so truthfully you can’t quite put it into words any other way. At the same time, they beatify those little moments that escape narrative or drama – laughing with your siblings as you eat dinner, or walking home from school with someone you like. These moments, however mundane, find a place in your memory and in your heart. So will Our Little Sister.

Words by Tom Bond