Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
Our Little Sister, the latest feature by Hirokazu Koreeda, acclaimed Japanese filmmaker known for warming hearts with touching stories, is a tremendously emotive family drama with amiable, multi-layered characters we truly come to care about. The story follows a family of three sisters, a healthcare provider who acts as the responsible mother figure, an emotionally immature financial advisor who loves boys and beers, and a thoughtful retail store worker with peculiar tastes. They have lived together in dysfunctional harmony since their father left their mother and their mother abandoned them at a relatively young age. Forced to rely and depend on one another, they forge a strong sisterly bond over the years. When their estranged father dies, their bond is tested by a half sister, an innocent girl whose presence reveals fatherly resentment.
The girls accept Suzu (Suzu Hirose) into their family, inviting her into their home. She slowly falls into place there despite the girls’ certain resentment of their shared father and Suzu’s withheld fear of hurting them. But she too faced a troubled and lonely childhood, being abandoned by her mother—the woman who broke up the original family—and being left to an uncaring stepmother. Their shared experience develops a safe harbor for Suzu, especially from the eldest daughter Sachi (Haruka Ayase), who relates most closely with Suzu because of an inexplicable bond with their common father. The other girls were quite simply too young when he left. This leads to a climactic moment when eldest and youngest share a view, once shared with father, and embrace as if kindred spirits finally coming together.
There are many beautiful moments evoking family togetherness, perhaps in the vein of Yasujiro Ozu. While a slightly moving camera rejects Ozu’s signature stillness, the use of tatami and pillow shots recall a similar warmth and convivial spiritedness. For example, a moving four shot of the girls walking on the beach in Abbey Road style spacing conveys their mutual caring and support. Quite clearly, Koreeda more overtly presents tenderness, using a number of motifs and parallel images to express the gentleness of these four sisters. In two particularly affective moments, the three girls are featured in a three shot followed by a point of view of young Suzu. They adore and appreciate the warmth she brings to the family, fulfilling a void originally left by their father. Simply put, Our Little Sister is a highly pleasant film with cinematic and emotional resonance.
Simply put, Our Little Sister is a highly pleasant film with cinematic and emotional resonance.