Haruka Ayase Masami Nagasawa Kaho Suzu Hirose
I love the sheer humanness of this Japanese film with deliberate exposition and minimal music, which highlights the visual beauty on the screen and eloquent mindfulness of the dialog. Writer of the screenplay and director Hirokazu Koreeda has adapted Akimi Yoshida’s diary into a “moviescape” [I don’t know how else to put it] in which daily living among sisters is put into focus. Our Little Sister is a simple story in a way, about the daily lives of three sisters living alone in a big house, but told with all the depth and complexity that human lives entail. The sisters’ mother moved out when their father had an affair and moved to another town, and neither had much contact with their daughters for years. When they hear of their father’s death years later, the sisters decide to go to the funeral where they meet a half-sister they had not known about. It says something predictable and genuine about Suzu (Hirose) when she meets them at the railroad station and expresses her gratitude for their attendance. They are duly impressed.
Another complexity is introduced when the father’s third wife, Suzu’s stepmother, is introduced, but is so broken up, she is unable to address the people attending. That responsibility then falls to the oldest sister Sachi (Ayase), who is used to it; she had taken over their mother’s role with the two younger sisters, Yochino (Nagasawa) and Koda (Kaho) when their parents moved away. The sisters are so entranced with Suzu and she is so appealing, they end up inviting her to come and live with them, since it’s obvious she is not close to her stepmother. This is against the advice of the great aunt and others.
Unfolding from this beginning is a detailed description of the sisters’ personalities, their relationships with others in the family and their friends, and their individual challenges and struggles at home, school, and work. By the end, we feel we know this family very well. The exposition is so natural, reflecting their dreams, conflicts, and dilemmas in such a quiet way, it seems to be reflecting the lushness and beauty of the landscape surrounding them. The dialog is sprinkled with little gems such as “I’m jealous of your parents; they left a treasure like you behind on this earth”, and “Beauty still looked beautiful to her” (as she was dying).
Our Little Sister was appreciated in Cannes for its quality by being nominated for the Palm d'or. Although probably unfamiliar to American audiences, the main actors are obviously skilled and deliver fine performances, showing ways they are individuals as well as sisters, and the townspeople shown—many of whom are children—come across as realistically natural and appealing. The story has depth in that a number of conflicts arise that put the characters in dilemmas they have to resolve.
A thoughtful, beautiful story about sisters.