There are three sisters: 29-year-old Sachi Kouda, 22-year-old Yoshino Kouda and 19-year-old Chika Kouda. They live at a house in Kamakura, Japanese. Their house was left by their grandmother.
One day, they receive news of their father's death. When the sisters were young, their parents divorced and their father left them. They haven't seen their father in 15 years. Upon hearing the news on their father's death, the younger sisters, Yoshino and Chika, do not feel anything, because they hardly have any memories of him. Oldest sister Sachi is different. She can't forgive her father, because she remembers him clearly. Sachi decides not to attend her father's funeral and asks her two younger sisters to attend.
At the funeral, the two younger sisters meet their stepsister Suzu Asano. She is a middle school student. Yoshino is aware that her father's wife is not Suzu's real mother and Suzu's future is uncertain. Yoshino sends a letter about Suzu to her oldest sister Sachi. After reading the letter, Sachi attends the funeral. Soon, Sachi invites Suzu to live with and Suzu accepts. The four sisters begin to live together.
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.