Review: ‘Our Little Sister,’ or What We Found at Dad’s Funeral


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A scene from Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film “Our Little Sister,” about three young women who meet a teenage half sister they hadn’t known about.

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Sony Pictures Classics

Our Little Sister” begins with a couple waking up in bed. After some morning conversation, the woman dresses and leaves, and as she walks home, the soundtrack swells with string-heavy, melodramatic music. The lushness of the sound seems at odds with the plainness of the images, and this discrepancy establishes a tone that will last through the rest of this delicate and satisfying film. Characters may refrain from expressing the strong emotions that flow beneath the surface of their daily lives, but every so often the music (composed by Yoko Kanno) will remind us of the existence of those feelings.

The effect is sometimes jarring, which is part of the point that the director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, is making about the complex and sometimes invisible cords of affection and duty that bind members of a family. One of the most reliable Japanese filmmakers currently working, Mr. Kore-eda specializes in low-key domestic dramas that take account of abandonment and loss as well as loyalty and love.

Nobody Knows” (2005) is the story, based on news accounts, of a group of siblings fending for themselves in the Tokyo apartment where they had been left by their overwhelmed mother. “Still Walking” (2009) is grounded in the routines of an elderly couple whose surviving children have grown up and moved away. “Our Little Sister,” which is played in a breezier, more comical key than those earlier films, settles in with three adult sisters who live together in the house where they grew up. Their father left when they were young, and their mother seems to have been a marginal presence in their lives. She shows up now and then to dispense irrelevant advice. The main authority figure seems to have been a great-aunt.

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Movie Review: ‘Our Little Sister’

The Times critic A.O. Scott reviews “Our Little Sister.”


By AINARA TIEFENTHÄLER and ROBIN LINDSAY on Publish Date July 7, 2016.


Photo by Sony Pictures Classics.

At their father’s funeral in a faraway coastal town, the sisters — Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) — discover another sibling, 13-year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose), who seems destined for a pre-ball Cinderella existence with her unsympathetic stepmother. Suzu’s half sisters, to stay with the fairy-tale metaphor, do the Prince Charming job of rescuing her from that fate, bringing her to live with them. She enrolls in school, joins a soccer team, and becomes a helpful and cheerful member of the household.

“Our Little Sister,” adapted from a popular manga series by Akimi Yoshida, has a deceptively episodic plot. Seeming to wander through small incidents and mundane busyness, it acquires momentum and dramatic weight through a brilliant kind of narrative stealth. You are shaken, by the end, at how much you care about these women and how sorry you are to leave their company.

It’s possible to discern the ghostly outline of an American television sitcom in the movie’s structure. The four sisters are sharply drawn, their distinctive personalities a few crosshatchings away from caricature. Sachi is the responsible one, working long hours as a hospital nurse and scolding the others when they fall short of her standards. Yoshino, who works in a bank, is a little wilder. She likes to drink and has a history of bad boyfriends, including the good-looking loser she wakes up next to in the first scene. Chika is the kooky one, working in a sporting-goods store and maintaining a low-key relationship with an eccentric co-worker.

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Trailer: ‘Our Little Sister’

A preview of the film.


By SONY PICTURES CLASSICS on Publish Date April 22, 2016.


Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

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Suzu also finds a bit of romance, but the pursuit of love is peripheral to Mr. Kore-eda’s concerns. Sachi’s long, discreet affair with a married doctor is the most serious such relationship in the film — at least to the extent that it injects some complication into the plot — but it hardly represents an ideal of happiness. That is to be found at home, in the rush of breakfast or the weary calm of a late supper.

Food and drink play an important role in “Our Little Sister,” in particular the freshly caught baby eels that are a local delicacy and a link to the absent father. The most vividly drawn secondary character is the woman who runs the sisters’ favorite diner — another potential sitcom element treated with delicate realism.

Janet Malcolm once wrote of Chekhov’s stories that we swallow one “as if it were an ice, and we cannot account for our feeling of repletion.” Something similar can be said about this film, which goes down as easily as a sip of the plum wine the sisters brew and yet leaves the viewer both sated and intoxicated.

“Our Little Sister” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) for grown-up situations. Running time: 2 hours 8 minutes. It is in Japanese, with English subtitles.

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