Our Little Sister (4 stars)

Our Little Sister

Typically understated and effective family drama from Hirokazu Koreeda

There’s been a decent helping of films exploring the strength of the sisterly bond of late – including Hollywood comedy Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and the upcoming, Oscar-nominated Turkish drama Mustang. Revered Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda (Like Father, Like Son; Still Walking) adapts Akimi Yoshida’s manga about three sisters, Umimachi Diary, with a tender hand and the result is a quietly powerful and absolutely charming drama.

The Koda sisters live by the sea in the house in which they grew up continuously chomping on snacks and gossiping over food. Eldest sister Sachi (Haruka Ayase) has taken on the responsibility of running the household and the rearing of her siblings Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), who has a penchant for plum wine and poor taste in men, and 19-year-old Chika (Kaho). At their estranged father’s funeral the women realise that 13-year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose), their half-sister, took on the caring duties for their poorly parent – and they decide to repay the favour by taking her into their home.

A getting-to-know-you period washes over the screen like a cool, calm breeze as Koreeda whisks us across picturesque coastal landscapes but, as relationships develop, secrets and emotions rise to the fore. However, the only fireworks to explode are the ones the girls watch together as part of a celebration, with Koreeda instead favouring a typically understated approach over dramatic reveals. Suzu reclaims her childhood in what is a wonderfully judged reverse coming-of-age narrative, and Sachi and Yoshino learn important lessons. Despite Chika being a slightly less developed character, her presence and burgeoning relationship with Suzu prove to be delightful.

It’s a real pleasure to watch all these characters grow as people and search for new shores. Their tight-knit bond and playful interactions are so delicately crafted it makes this thoughtful depiction of an alternative family dynamic seem almost effortless.

Selected release from Fri 15 Apr.

Our Little Sister

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • Japan
  • 2h 8min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
  • Cast: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose
  • UK release: 15 April 2016

Three sisters in their 20s live together by the sea in the house they grew up in, but at their estranged father's funeral they take in their 13 year old half-sister Suzu (Hirose). Understated, quietly powerful and charming drama about sisterhood, adapted from Akimi Yoshida's manga Umimachi Diary.