Cinestudio Preview: "Our Little Sister" is Subtly Beautiful

Trip Slaymaker ’18
A&E Editor

Japanese family melodramas are not known for racking up massive amounts of money at the United States box office. Director Hirokazu Koreeda’s newest film Our Little Sister will be no exception, but it may yet win some hearts and inspire some tears next week at Cinestudio.
Sister tells the story of three young sisters, native to the Kamakura area of Japan. The setting is a gorgeously shot garden full of blooming Sakura trees, and warm sunlight. A relaxed atmosphere is perfect for the women, 29-year-old Sachi Kouda (Haruka Ayase), 22-year- old Yoshino Kouda (Masami Nagasawa) and 19-year-old Chika Kouda (Kaho).They live together in the house of their late grandmother. Sachi is the most mature sister, act- ing as a surrogate moth- er to the younger women. Yoshino is a serial dater who sometimes shocks her sisters with her promiscuity, and Chika, the youngest, is an oddball with a positive outlook.
The three have made a good life together in the wake of their parents’ departure at a young age. Their days are punctuated by simple moments of spirituality and centered around family heritage and a love of food. The three women sometimes bicker, but they need only each other to get by.When the sisters hear news of the death of their father, a man they hardly knew, they decide unenthusiastically that they ought to attend his funeral.
It is here that the three Kouda women meet the daughter of their estranged father, a girl of 14 years named Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose), their half-sister. They had no idea of her existence, but they adjust to her quickly and begin
to feel protective of the young girl. After the fu- neral proceedings have ended, the eldest sister Sachi spontaneously invites Suzu to return to Kamakura with them and live in their grand- mother’s house. This feels a little sudden, but young Suzu agrees and arrives. She quickly changes the lives of the three women with her intelligent shy- ness and infectious smile.
Director Koreeda uses an understated style of filmmaking, which bene- fits from his light touch, and is dedicated to balance and harmony. He places emphasis on the everyday acts of life and navigates them in place of any solid plot. For that reason, it’s difficult to call Our Little Sister a family drama. There is tension between generations, but as the film goes on it becomes clear that the center of movement is Suzu, and her coming of age. As the sisters struggle to come to terms with their parents’ flaws, they work to protect their impressionable half sister from the emotional strain that could potentially be brought about by adoption into a new family. All of this drama
is secondary, though, to the bonds of lightheartedness and love form- ing between the sisters.
It’s a testament to the directing talent of Hirokazu Koreeda that we are able to become so invested in this family. In a film where not a lot happens, every moment is well spent. Sister clearly has an unwillingness to resort to plot twists or excess melodrama. This unfailing gentleness of pacing, performance, and cinematography makes for a beautiful if sometimes less than engrossing film.
The real power of Our Little Sister is in the vivid character portraits and the connection that these sisters build to the audience. When the four sisters are finally settled into their own family, we feel as though we’re ending a brief visit with some very real people.
Our Little Sister prefers to show the world through the de- fining minutiae of life, the little gestures, and associations that only family members can normally discern. It brings us in close, gifts us with moments of real, simple beauty.

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