by Elizabeth Stoddard
Three young women care for their teenage half-sister in Our Little Sister, the latest from Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda. Koreeda has become a master of intimate family drama, from his Still Walking (2008), 2013’s Like Father, Like Son, to this new story. His works show obvious influence from and homage to late Japanese director Ozu (Tokyo Story, Late Spring) … but Our Little Sister goes deeper into feminine life than any Ozu film I’ve seen.
Adapted from the manga by artist Akimi Yoshida, Koreeda’s film spends time among a family of women living together. Upon news of their long-absent father’s death, eldest sister Sachi (Haruka Ayase), middle sister Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and youngest Chika (Kaho) find out they have a half-sister, Suzu (Suzu Hirose). Realizing she might be stuck living with a stepmother who doesn’t really appreciate her, the women invite her to live with them in a bigger town.
Through still, quiet beauty and moments of day-to-day life, we spend a year amongst the sisters. There are hints and clues as to the failed relations between their parents, but nothing is ever explicitly told. Both the older sisters and the younger know how it feels to lose parents, either by death or long separation. So we see them form their own family relationship.
As in previous works from this director, food is practically a supporting character in Our Little Sister. The girls eat regularly at the cafe of a woman who watched out for them when they were younger. They work or go to school on their own, then gather around the table for meals (or to drink plum wine). Recipes bring memories of other family members.
There is no melodrama or violence, or even much sex, in Our Little Sister. Each woman is a fully developed character, and each reflects on the temporary situation of their life in this moment — especially the older sisters who recognize the likelihood (or not!) of their moving out and getting married. Koreeda’s tenderly sweet film is a celebration of sisterhood, near poetic in its simplicity.
Our Little Sister will start screening tomorrow, Friday, at the Regal Arbor in Austin.