Our Little Sister

A story that revolves around three sisters who live in their grandmother's home and the arrival of their 13-year-old half sister.

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  • ★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd

    Kore-eda's gentlest (and prettiest) film is a long & lovely tale of family, transience, and whitefish spread on toast.

  • ★★★★ review by Arsaib Gilbert on Letterboxd

    [Favorites—2010s]

    As clichéd as it may sound, for a film that deals with the lives of four women living under the same roof—three sisters and a half-sister who range from mid-teens to late 20s—Kore’eda Hirokazu’s new Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary) is surprisingly devoid of the kind of sibling conflicts and rivalries we have come to expect from such setups. Sure, from time to time there's a spat over clothes and such between the sober eldest sister (Ayase Haruka), who happens to be the de facto matriarch of the household, and the more free-spirited middle one (Nagasawa Masami), but nothing that threatens to unbalance the domestic harmony.

    With his delicate gaze and gentle touch, Kore'eda seems content focusing on life's quotidian moments in an episodic fashion. In this sense, he stands closer to Hou than to Ozu, the director he's compared to the most, whose films were invariably plot-driven; if there's an Ozu comparison to be made, it's due to his penchant for non-traditional family units. Kore'eda even carefully manages to sidestep the opportunity to augment the tone of the proceedings with a dash of vinegar when the long-absent mother drops by with the thought of selling the dilapidating ancestral domicile (which somewhat regrettably plays second fiddle to the picture-postcard perfect surroundings of the coastal town of Kamakura).

    Featuring a number of Kore'eda's trademark themes such as child abandonment and the shadow cast by the death of a loved one, Our Little Sister is a relatively slight but engrossing piece of work.

  • ★★★★ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd

    These quiet Kore-eda domestic dramas are irresistible to me.

  • ★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd

    On a recent vacation flight to London I was gobsmacked that the Air Canada seat back on-flight entertainment system was not only modern, high def 16x9 native, and incredibly responsive, but more so that the huge selection of films was chock-a-block with world cinema. I stepped through a couple of trailers and was astounded at the picture quality and maintaining of the original aspect ratio … yes, they actually maintained a 2.35 aspect ratio for the appropriate films. Big Yay to Air Canada and it’s newish 777 fleet!

    On a similar vacation flight to London a few years ago I chose The Lego Movie from the limited selection; I thought about being all symmetrical and stuff and choosing The Lego Batman Movie, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it considering the wonderful selection and decent screen.

    Sifting through the dozens of pages of films, what caught my eye was Our Little Sister, by acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. My wife introduced me to Kore-eda’s After Life soon after we met, and it remains one of my favourite films. After that, I saw his ‘loosely based on a true story’ Nobody Knows, and loved it too. It was with some considerable anticipation that we snagged premier tickets to his newest film at TIFF some years ago, Like Father Like Son, knowing that Kore-eda would be conducting a Q&A. Alas, I was disappointed. Like Father Like Son was rather cloying and over melodramatic, not what I had expected. It felt more like something Steven Spielberg would come up with. During the Q&A afterwards, Kore-eda actually confirmed that Spielberg had acquired the rights. *sigh*. When the following year he came back to TIFF with a film titled ‘My Little Sister’, I was rather gun shy, and we avoided it. It was only a brief comments conversation here with my long time friend here, ButtNugget, aficionado of all cinematic things Asian, told me my fear was unfounded with this one.

    She was right.

    Being an only child, it’s difficult to completely relate to the bond between siblings, and being male, even more difficult to relate to what I think would be a special bond between sisters. Our Little Sister rang true to me, though. Gone were the melodramatic touches that I thought Like Father Like Son suffered from, replaced by a greater sense of authenticity. What’s particularly interesting is that at the Like Father Like Son Q&A, the director told of that film being a very personal one for him, and reflecting elements of the relationship between he and his daughter. Perhaps he was overcompensating on rendering the two ‘fathers’ as two sides of himself, and went overboard on each side. I was particularly disturbed at the lack of input of the wives. Here, in Our Little Sister, this worldview is turned on it’s head; women have the power, the strength, and they pander to no man.

    Our Little Sister seems more consistent with the gentle touch I’ve seen in the other Kore-eda films I’ve loved, and now I’m less afraid to explore more. Thanks, ButtNugget!

  • ★★★★ review by Melissa Tamminga on Letterboxd

    Seattle at last gets its theatrical release of Kore-eda's beautiful film, and my full review can replace the initial capsule review:

    At the center of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister is a house, and in the garden of the house is a plum tree. It is an old tree; generations of the family have seen it blossom and bear fruit, season by season. It is a tree at the heart of a house tradition, too, the making, storing, and consuming of umeshu, a sweet and sour green plum liqueur that is allowed to ripen to perfection over nine months beneath the floorboards. The family members prick their initials into the plums and these sit, soaking, as uniquely individual parts of the collective brew.

    A family. A messy, powerful organism and a thing that Kore-eda, over the course of his film career, has continued to explore and expose, its raw bitternesses and its loving tendernesses. In earlier films, like Nobody Knows, heartbreak and tragedy are the centers of feeling; in more recent films, like I Wish, buoyant, infectious hope permeates. Our Little Sister tends towards the warmth of these latter films, and like the joyous, crucial moment of the speeding train in I Wish, there is a similarly ebullient defining moment in Our Little Sister, where two children on a bike fly through an avenue of blooming cherries.

    And yet darker or lighter, Kore-eda’s films, so tied to emotional family drama, do not fall into cloying sentimentality. There is sentiment, to be sure, but the specificity of the domestic space and the willingness to embrace the way pain or sacrifice or guilt informs the characters’ lives and psyches fend off any merely trite emotion. Tenderness and sweetness are shot through with a painfully sore undercurrent that removes too easy a happiness. The cherry blossom ride is deeply joyful perhaps only because the blossoms remind the youngest sister of the family, Suzu (Suzu Hirose), of the deathbed of their father and his wish to live until the blooms appeared outside his hospital room window. And when the petals of another year catch the wind and lift off the trees, swirling their way down to the beach, Suzu collects them, pink and soft, their delicate structure now damaged by the rocks, wilted, bruised, and creased in the salty sea waves. The beauty of the blossoms is wrapped up in death.

    Read the rest over at Seattle Screen Scene.

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