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Our Little Sister

December 17, 2016

Our Little Sister (2016)
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Actors: Haruka Ayase, Suzu Hirose, Chika Kouada

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Synopsis: Three grown-up sisters attend the funeral of their estranged father. While there, they meet their younger half-sister, Suzu (Suzu Hirose), who is now orphaned having previously lost her mother too. On the spur of the moment, the sisters invite Suzu to come and live with them….

Review: Underlining his status as one of the pre-eminent contemporary auteurs, Hirokazu Koreeda has crafted a simply lovely ode to the gently regenerative effect an estranged younger half-sister has when she comes to live with her older half-siblings after the death of their mutual father.

It really is filmmaking at the highest pitch of intelligence: a work teeming with skill both cinematographically and dramaturgically. The film’s scenario has all the raw materials of a soap opera, but Koreeda’s genius is in reimagining those elements into something so rich, sophisticated and transcendent. His aim is to frame the story’s personnel and events against a more eternal perspective and rhythm. Thus, there are no major epiphanies nor convenient third-act resolutions: the sisters’ respective life/career dilemmas remain as unresolved at the end of the film as they were at the beginning (underlining an essential truthfulness about our inability to escape our natures and sensibilities), however there is the sense that they have all acquired a greater degree of understanding and love due to the addition of their half-sister over the preceding year.

Talking about a family of sisters charted over a year, a not entirely unintuitive comparison to make with Our Little Sister would be Vincente Minnelli’s rhapsodic Meet Me in St Louis. Both have the significant year-long timeframe and are almost pieces designed to capture through sentiment, time and season the various bonds and ruptures between their respective gaggle of sisters. The panoptic location of the sister’s hometown by the sea is also subtly mined by Koreeda to cast the travails of the sisters against a resonant and reflective backdrop, and the scene where Suzu rides through an avenue of cherry blossoms in full bloom is a beautiful evocation of the gentle buds of joy that spring up in this most reserved and emotionally guarded of girls.

Koreeda’s symmetrical framing and beautiful pans warrant comparison with the great Yasujiro Ozu in the way that technique can subtly develop the intricacies of a story. Koreeda’s skill as master dramatist is also to the fore – especially in the way that various motifs (plum orchards, cherry blossoms, hospital wards, and fried mackerel dishes) all elevate the significance and import of the narrative.

Finally, it would be remiss not to commend the quality of acting on display. Koreeda’s vision would be nothing without characterisation of the necessary subtlety and depth, and he was rewarded with a uniformly excellent set of performances. Special mention must go to Haruka Ayase as the elder sister, Sachi. It is a turn of staggering precision and grace: her face embodies the compassion – yet complexity – of Koreeda’s commentary on human relations, and she is, in many respects, a fitting icon for this most classy of films. (December 2016)

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