Our Little Sister (2015)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, Slice of Life  |   Release Date - Jul 8, 2016 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 128 min.  |   Countries - Japan  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Violet LeVoit

It could almost be told as a fairy tale: Once there was a house, a very special house, with paper screens and sliding doors and wooden walls as old as time. And in this house lived three grown sisters: sober and responsible eldest sister Sachi (Haruka Ayase), modern-gal middle sister Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), and quirky youngest sister Chika (Kaho). They had no mother, no father, and no husbands in their lives, but all was well in their little world until they learned that their father had died, in a town far, far away. The three sisters attended his funeral, only to discover that their father had remarried and sired another sister, a gracious and mature 15-year-old named Suzu (Suzu Hirose).

Director Hirokazu Koreeda is known for his achingly poignant movies centered on the theme of family connections and loss. But Our Little Sister is decidedly lighter in tone -- in fact, this film could almost be seen as a happy bookend to his 2004 drama Nobody Knows, which focused on four young siblings who were left to fend for themselves in a Tokyo apartment after being abandoned by their mother. These four sisters have also been abandoned by their parents, but they thrive anyway, just like the venerable plum tree still fruiting behind their enchanted family home.

Their lives are content, but far from perfect. One sister is having an affair with a married man, despite her resentment that her father ran off with someone else. Another sister drinks too much. They get in fights over borrowed blouses and whose turn it is to answer the phone. Boyfriends come and go. The seasons turn from a brisk spring to a languid summer, when they watch fireworks and eat tiny fish during the one week when the creatures crowd the river. (And that's not the only local delicacy they sink their teeth into. Our Little Sister isn't a lusty foodie movie in the vein of Eat Drink Man Woman or Chocolat, but enough scenes take place during mealtimes to spark a craving for Japanese cuisine.)

Despite the smattering of adult themes, Our Little Sister has a delicate rural innocence not unlike some of Hayao Miyazaki's animated features. It's no surprise that the film was adapted from a manga series called Umimachi Diary; its mise-en-scène is very much like a Japanese comic, with static frames, lingering pauses, and a stately, page-turning pace. There are no great thunderbolts of emotion as in Koreeda's other work, but fans of the director's more heartrending movies may appreciate this buoyant palate cleanser.