Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho
Sisters Sachi (Ayase), Yoshino (Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) have lived together in their late grandparents’ house all their lives, and ever since both their father and then soon after their mother left them, the oldest sister Sachi has had to be the matriarch of the house. After learning of the death of their estranged father they attend the funeral and meet their 14 year old half-sister Suzo (Suzo Hirose), and in the knowledge that there is now no one to look after Suzo, Sachi asks her to come and live with the three of them, bringing about changes in each ones outlook on life.
Some film-makers have a gift for making what on the surface can easily be contrived and clichéd plots, and effortlessly turning them into deeply engaging and emotionally involving pieces of drama, and Hirokazu Koreeda has consistently proved himself to be an auteur that has this gift.
Like in so many of his previous films, Koreeda gives us a very simple story that in the wrong hands could so easily be turned into a clunky and clichéd melodrama. Though Our Little Sister certainly contains its fair share of clichés and contrivances, like all so many of Koreeda’s films it depicts so well a point I always emphasise; that fact a story is clichéd is not the problem, but how it is presented. He is a filmmaker that it just seems with seamless effortlessness can give us characters that we can engage with and genuinely care about, and if a filmmaker can do that, then it makes any contrivance or cliché far more forgivable.
Immediately there is of course this huge glaring narrative contrivance assuming that not only the three sisters would ask their younger sister who they have met for the first time to live with them, but the fact a 14 year could just straight away up sticks and allow an adult sister to become her legal guardian. Though I of course have no idea how easy that would be in Japan, it certainly would not be very straight forward here in the UK.
However, as long as this early contrivance can be forgiven, then what ensues is a deeply engaging story that cannot help but produce deep sympathy for all of the characters involved as we slowly get to know them and their backstory, which in turn allows us to fully understand some of the decisions they make, some of which are potentially life changing. As we have got to know these characters and their deeply relatable traits and personal situations we cannot help but truly feel the genuine gravitas of the decisions the narrative then asks them to make.
In the context of the world these decisions essentially mean very little, but in the context of life of these character they can potentially change everything, and Koreeda is a modern master of enabling the viewer to completely appreciate the potentially life changing potential of a character’s decision.
As the narrative develops there a lot of subplots involving not only the four sisters, but also those in their respective lives, and though it does sometimes feel that the narrative tries to bite off more than it can chew and at times loses focus on the main story at hand, it does perfectly fit in with the naturalistic style of Koreeda and the world building that his films produce as well as the themes at the heart of its narrative.
As we get to know the four sisters we gradually get to know their own unique ideologies which have been shaped by their own personal experiences, and all emerge deeply sympathetic for it. As the narrative develops we only become more engaged by the characters and cannot help but genuinely wish for them to find the happiness that they all crave, which is on their own unique terms.
Our Little Sister is not a film of generic character arcs, it is a character driven drama that is far more intelligent than that and it manages to take the viewer on their own emotional journey and arc as the narrative cannot help but make the viewer ask questions of themselves and their own life. With every film he makes, Koreeda seems to effortlessly give us relatable characters and deeply engaging narratives that successfully celebrate the happiness and joy that can come from everyday experiences that in a greater context may seem miniscule, but in the context of the narrative are potentially life changing.
Our Little Sister is also a very culturally specific narrative; many elements are based upon religious and cultural rituals of which its characters live and so it only serves to make the film even more engaging as a fascinating insight into another culture.
At two hours and eight minutes Our Little Sister is a little too long and does sometimes lack discipline and focus, and could have certainly been at least twenty minutes shorter, but there is no denying that Hirokazu Koreeda has once again delivered a deeply engaging and emotionally rewarding character driven narrative.
A genuinely heart-warming and engaging film; Hirokazu Koreeda yet again takes a seemingly simple, character driven narrative and makes Our Little Sister a film that will lift the spirits of all who watch it.