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Sunday January 22, 2017 4:00pm
Rainbow Theatre, Northiumberland Mall, Cobourg

our little sisterThree sisters Sachi, Yoshino and Chika live together in a large house in the city of Kamakura. When their father absent from the family home for the last 15 years dies, they travel to the countryside for his funeral and meet their shy teenage half-sister. Bonding quickly with the orphaned Suzu, they invite her to live with them. Suzu eagerly agrees, and a new life of joyful discovery begins for the four siblings.

Leads: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho,  Suzu Hirose
Directed By:
Hirokazu Koreeda
Genre: Drama  Language: Japanese with English Sub-Titles
Runtime: 128 minutes   Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief language)

Review

by Andrew Parker

Following the death of their absentee father, a trio of Japanese women - living together at the home they inherited from their grandmother - decide to take in the teenage half-sister they never knew they had. Abandoned by their mother at an early age, eldest Sachi (Haruka Ayase), middle child Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and the still youthful and jubilant Chika (Kaho) take the young Suzu (Suzu Hirose) under their wing the best they can while continuing to struggle with adult issues of their own.

our little sisterBased on the serialized manga Umimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshada, Our Little Sister is the latest effort from renowned Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, and while it might be the auteur's most palatable and crowd-pleasing work yet, it eschews stereotypes in favour of a complex study of four strong and uniquely flawed female characters. Koreeda takes a nuanced look at the emotional stunting left behind in the wake of parental abandonment and inattentiveness. It's the rare example of a family drama that's devoid of unnecessary emotional manipulations. Feelings run at a fever pitch throughout, but it all feels reasonable and earned. It feels like being let into the family instead of merely watching one from a distance.

Nurse Sachi carries on with a man she knows is married. Lovelorn banker Yoshino constantly finds herself heartbroken, and Chika is fun loving, but irresponsible. Together, they create an enclave of love, respect and animosity that would make Louisa May Alcott proud, all of them retaining unique identities and fears while still having the capacity to come together when it matters most. So rarely are sisterly dynamics depicted in such a way. Each woman is a unique individual, with their own sets of strengths and neuroses, so clashes between the siblings are inevitable. But in the hands of Koreeda, those moments of tension never lapse into melodrama and they never feel monotonous or boring to behold.

our little sisterSuch subtlety is a change of pace for Koreeda, especially since his more recent efforts like I Wish and Like Father, Like Son dabbled in fence swinging emotional theatricality and were in danger of coming down on the wrong side of precocious. That subtlety allows for the family's history to gently take hold instead of obviously running their lives. It's a film that offers an invitation to get to know the characters while retaining some sense of mystery and trauma to be doled out whenever warranted. It's a film about people who are constantly learning and redefining what it means to care and love for one another, and in that respect, Our Little Sister is a gently transformative experience.

With the exception of several needlessly drawn out dénouements, everything else about Koreeda's film strikes as comfortably resplendent. The cinematography from Mikiya Takimoto and the score by Yôko Kanno are accomplished technical additions to the film that never distract. The performances are exceptional across the board, with Nagasawa leaving the most indelible impression. On the whole, it's a wonderful work from a wonderful filmmaker.

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