Three Kouda sisters, 29-year-old Sachi, 22-year-old Yoshino, and 19-year-old Chika live at their grandmother's home in Kamakura, Japan.
When the Kouda sisters were young, their parents divorced and they were abandoned. Not having seen their father in 15 years, they receive news of his death. Sachi asks her sisters, Yoshino and Chika, to attend the funeral where they meet 13-year-old Asano Suzu, their half-sister. Yoshino is aware that her father's widow, Yoko, is not Suzu's real mother and finds her to be unfit as a guardian. Concerned for Suzu's well-being, Sachi attends the funeral and invites Suzu to live with them, Suzu gladly accepts.
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Cast & Credits
It's subtle but as with Koreeda, it's nothing new: it's about the little details and the little things. I say that Our Little Sister doesn't come as strong because it's less sentimental and it's less melodramatic. The conflict here is not as jarring as say, Nobody Knows or Like Father Like Son. That's one aspect that makes it seem directionless but if you look at it from another way, maybe that's the intention: not to have such a big conflict (the fact that the sister is another woman's is the central conflict) but to just tell a story. And one that's still touching. As someone who doesn't have a sister (I have two brothers and the middle child), I felt the bonds of sisterhood even just a little.
Koreeda trademarks are still present: music pacing (this time, not much piano), long shots showing the beauty of the setting hence, not much close-up and the little details (e.g. the umerashi). Though this time, we don't have young actors (save for Hirose Suzu who is around 17 years old when she filmed this), but the cast including Haruna Ayase, Kaho, Masami Nagasawa (who was also in I Wish) still delivers incredible performances. All three of them were nominated in Japan Academy Award for their performances.
I actually liked the contrast between the four sisters, Ayase plays the eldest, the mother figure, Nagasawa plays the carefree, stylish one, Kaho plays the oddball, happy-go-lucky and Suzu plays the quiet, simple one. It's such a treat to watch all these different personalities go together and interact. There is undeniable chemistry between the four.
Suzu (who won Breakthrough Star in Japan Academy Award), a current rising young star, whose two TV dramas I've seen, can act but sincerity lacks (like her eyes, it's shallow, it doesn't speak the emotions, you get what I mean? Some call her a deadeye actor but she can cry alright) although here because it's less melodramatic, her character fits her well, comparatively speaking. (But with more roles being given to her currently and working with talented actors, perhaps it's bound to change.)
As with Koreeda, lines are so natural and everything flows so well. The cinematography is so beautiful and the beauty of the countryside has been highlighted in the film. It also competed for Palme d'Or at Cannes 2015 (Suzu at Cannes at 17!!)
Our Little Sister isn't bad, I enjoyed it for its simplicity and beautiful visuals. But perhaps its unsentimental approach makes it a lackluster watch compared to other heavy Koreeda's dramas. Indeed, it doesn't have the feels but it has a calming effect as you watch: the setting helps, and the natural acting helps. It won't break your heart but it will touch your heart.