I find it hard to write something insightful that will do justice to a film as uniquely perfect as ‘Our Little Sister.’ The first moment that brought about high levels of emotion in me was early on when the eponymous young half-sister, Suzu (Suzu Hirose) runs after a trolley car carrying the three older half-sisters she’s just met, and who have just invited her to live with them in their grandmother’s house.
From their first meeting, I so desperately wanted the four sisters to live peacefully together. And then the movie immediately gives us that without conflict. The slight dramatic tensions have to do with family strife just outside the sisters’ purview, but the fact that the movie is supremely entertaining without obvious friction is what makes it such a stunning achievement.
The eldest sister at 29 years old, Sachi (Haruka Ayase) is dealing with the recent loss of her father and the fallout from his past infidelity to her mother. Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho), 22 and 19, respectively, are just starting to find their way in the adult world. At 13, Suzu is almost in a different film – hers is a coming-of-age story – but she becomes the glue that binds them in a trying time.
Suzu, who was stuck tending to her father in his final days, finally finds her place in the world among her new family unit. Sachi sorts out how to be her own person and not so much a mother to her grown-up sisters. Yoshino learns to be a little less selfish when faced with a challenge at work. Chika shelters Suzu and keeps everyone balanced with a warm sense of humor.
Director Hirokazu Koreeda keeps all of this character development out of the after-school-special realm by keeping the family drama in the background and allowing his talented actresses the space to truly discover their characters. We get to know them as friends and not theme hangers.
If this sounds like a quaint and unassuming family saga, that’s because it is. But it’s also so much more. It’s a movie for adults that never once overindulges in darkness. Its pleasantries give way to a stunning finale, echoing redemption, love, grace, and forgiveness.
When Sachi’s mother returns after having abandoned her daughters for more than a decade, she suggests that the house they live in be sold. I almost jumped from my seat because I was so insulted by that suggestion. That’s when I knew that not only had Koreeda subtly managed to make the house a fifth main character, but that he had crafted a masterpiece capable of ripping one’s heart out.
As I mentioned before, there aren’t many words that can qualify a film this beautiful. So I’ll end this review by strongly urging you to see this movie. However you might feel about having to read subtitles, please don’t miss this one. I honestly can’t think of any cinephile I know who wouldn’t fall head-over-heels in love with ‘Our Little Sister.’
‘Our Little Sister’ = A+
In Japanese with English subtitles.
‘Our Little Sister’ is rated PG for thematic elements and brief language.