For lovers of very traditional international film, acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda’s new film, Our Little Sister, originally released in 2015, finally makes it’s way to Vancouver in limited release, a month after his even newer film, After The Storm, played the Vancouver International Film Festival to some mixed reviews. Our Little Sister has earned a lot of high praise but probably won’t play well for audiences looking for more dramatics in their drama films, as Koreeda’s story has more of a quiet bubbling under the surface and really not a lot of burst to those bubbles. It’s actually a quality that, given the grandiose nature of a lot of Hollywood human dramas, comes off as quite refreshing.
The film tells the story of three sisters, who live in the town of Kamakura, residing in their grandparent’s old house. Having lived there since their parents separated and left them, the three travel to where their dad had moved to in order to attend his funeral. While there, they meet Suzu, their half sister who was conceived with the woman their father left their mother for. Rather than carry any ill will towards the young fourteen-year-old and with no one to take care of her, the three coax Suzu to move to Kamakura with them, in hopes to bond as sisters. Suzu quickly finds her role in the sisterly dynamic, with the oldest, Sachi, acting as the hardworking matriarch of the family, Yoshino, the naive romantic, and Chiko, the flighty and imaginative one. All accepting Suzu right away, the only negative thoughts come from a few of those around the girls, questioning her motives.
One thing that I loved right off the bat was the gorgeous and wide cinematography that seemed to give an open air look to every shot. It made every scene feel like it could breathe in its own reality and give the audience a real life feel to this story. The script also served right alongside the camera work, providing a very real and close feeling narrative to these three women trying to bring a fourth sister into the fold. We can palpably feel Suzu’s standoffish at first but her yearning to be part of something filled with life after being the caretaker for her dying father. There is an exuberance as we see her emerge from a dark shell and embrace who she really is, a bright and smiling individual.
This film will be a very hard sell for any casual moviegoer, as the film doesn’t explore any of your usual dysfunctional family traits. No fist fights break out, no door slamming screaming matches or the shattering of broken dishes. Actually, Our Little Sister operates at such a quiet decibel that you need to look deeper for the conflicts, little as they are. Hirokazu Koreeda’s well put together film is more about three very different sisters trying to feel out this new part of their family and maybe press for some information on a father they barely knew. This is a story so human that it could happen to anyone close to us, universal in its scope. 4/5