Our Little Sister
It is at times like these that we need films to lighten the soul and take us out of our own introspective and selfish preoccupations. Continuing with my Curzon on-line theme, we discover a Kore-eda film we have not seen. I Wish remains one of my favourite 5-star movies ever and I was also thrilled by Like Father, Like Son and Shoplifters. His main themes always centre around families and their relationships. Our Little Sister continues in this tradition – and no one has a lighter touch than Kore-eda.
Made in 2015, this harks back to a gentler look at family life than his more recent Shoplifters with its criminal undertones. Our Little Sister is an adaptation of a manga novel and centres around the lives of three twenty-something sisters who live together in the traditional family home, abandoned by their father and subsequently deserted by their mother. The oldest Sachi (Haruka Ayase) is a nurse, the middle Yoshi (Masam Nagasawa) is a bank clerk who likes the odd drink and the ‘baby’ Chika (Kaho) is slightly zany and works in a shoe shop. None are married although the elegant and restrained Sachi is having an unfulfilling affair with a married doctor in her hospital. Their lives consist of going to work, preparing family meals, borrowing each other’s clothes and squabbling gently.
When their father dies they gather at his funeral. There they meet and are enchanted by their half-sister, 15-year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose); the widow is not in fact her mother, the siren who tempted their father away from the family home. On a whim they decide to adopt her. No wonder – she is perfect: a doll-like creature with a bob, dressed in a sailor suit, manners from heaven, sweet as pie and adorable. What’s not to like? Their lives need a bit of a shake-up from their routines.
Her presence brings the sisters together in the task of looking after their young sibling. Just by being there, Suzu reminds them that the circumstances that brought her to life also tore their family apart and leads them to question their current existence and state of suspended childhood. There is an uncomfortable scene where their mother re-appears for their grandmother’s funeral and a lot of blame is slung about. It forces Sachi to question her morality in having an affair with a married man – is she repeating the sins of the father? Suzu’s presence is a constant reminder.
While Suzu finds success on the soccer field and innocent romance with a boy from her class, the girls are forced to confront their own futures and their life choices. For Sachi, choosing to work in a ward for terminal cancer patients seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy; while Yoshi finds an undiscovered vein of compassion brought about by an unusual work colleague. Nothing much changes for happy-go-lucky Chika who has always been indulged by her order sisters – to be loved is enough.
Our Little Sister is a charming film; beautifully photographed, the camera’s gaze lingers on the actors’ faces especially that of Suzu, whose innocence and girlish and innocent joie de vivre is so vividly expressed by her glorious freewheeling through a tunnel of cherry tree blossom. All sisters relish in nature, their garden, the rituals of making plum wine and cooking, a love of good wholesome food – traditional Japanese activities all recorded lovingly. They take great pleasure out of the little things in life which together add up to a satisfying whole. Just like this film – Kore-eda’s observations of family life and the nuanced bonds between the three sisters, contribute to a glorious sum of the parts as each character deals with bereavement, loyalty and love in their own understated way. Another film to sit back and savour while we isolate ourselves from the outside world.