The characters in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new film “Our Little Sister” are always gentle and courteous with lots of smiles except during a few little rocky moments in their mild daily life. This could be pretty mellow or tedious, but the movie is simple and elegant in its soothing rhythm of life, and I found myself smiling as being immersed into its relaxed mood. I enjoyed those warm, intimate scenes between its likable characters, and I was willing to spend more time with them as their story completed its full narrative circle.
In the opening scene, we meet three sisters who have lived together for many years at their old family house in a rural seaside town. After their divorced parents left them when they were young, Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), and Chika (Kaho) grew up under their grandmother’s care, and they have taken care of themselves pretty well since their dear grandmother passed away several years ago. While Sachi works as a nurse in the town hospital, Yoshino is a local bank employee, and Chika also earns some money at a sports shop in the town.
On one day, they receive the news about the death of their father, with whom they have never corresponded for 15 years since he left them. Sachi, who still remembers well how unhappy their household was due to their problematic parents, is not very willing to attend the father’s funeral, but she eventually comes to the funeral like her younger sisters, and they meet Suzu (Suzu Hirose), an adolescent daughter from their father’s second wife who died before him. Probably because she senses the distance between Suzu and their father’s third wife, Sachi suggests to Suzu that she should live together with her half-sisters, and, after a brief moment of hesitation, Suzu accepts this kind suggestion.
Feeling comfortable at her half-sisters’ home, Suzu quickly gets accustomed to a new environment. She joins a local junior soccer team, and she continues her education at a local junior high school while making news friends. When she becomes acquainted with a boy in her new class, it is pretty obvious from their little Meet Cute moment that they will be more than schoolmates, though they do not like to admit it in front of their schoolmates.
We also observe how life keeps going on for Suzu’s half-sisters, each of whom has her own private matters to deal with. Yoshino feels lousy when her latest boyfriend disappoints her just like the previous ones, but then she feels brightened as working with her new boss, a decent guy who is always willing to help people with financial problems as much as he can. While Chika has been close to her eccentric employer, Sachi has been in the discreet relationship with a nice doctor in the hospital, but their relationship has been going nowhere due to his personal reason – and they both are reluctant to be forthright about their ongoing relationship problem.
Never pushing any of these elements too hard, the movie gently rolls its episodic plot along the passage of the time, and we get some plain but gorgeous shots of natural beauty whenever the camera looks around the town and the peaceful landscapes surrounding it. Forests become colored under the autumn sky, and then we see lots of cherry blossoms as soon as winter is gone, and then there come summer days as everyone in the town is looking forward to the day for fireworks.
While the characters in the film often look a little too neat and clean in their ample decency and kindness, the director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who adapted Akimi Yoshida’s manga “Seaside Town Diary”, doles out small precious human moments under his calm, effortless direction. In its loose plot structure, Kore-eda’s adapted screenplay freely moves back and forth between laughs and tears, and it never feels sappy or manipulative as handling its characters with sincerity and care. When one awkward family meeting is developed into a conflict as expected, this situation is tactually handled while nobody raises their voice, and how it is later resolved has small poignancy. The characters in the movie may just be people who exist only in fiction, but they look believable in their human behaviors, and we come to like and care about them as being amused or touched by their relationships.
It helps that the four main performers play well along with each other as generating enough sense of sisterhood among them. Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, and Kaho feel natural and spontaneous right from their first scene, and they and their co-actress Suzu Hirose are convincing in the gradual development of their characters’ mutual bond. The supporting actors including Ryô Kase, Shin’ichi Tsutsumi, Kirin Kiki, Takafumi Ikeda, and Rirî Furankî are also solid in their respective role, and I was particularly delighted to notice Ohshirô Maeda, who surely grows up a lot since I saw him as one of two little lovable brothers in Kore-eda’s previous work “I Wish” (2011).
“Our Little Sister” is more lightweight compared to Kore-eda’s other family dramas including “Nobody Knows” (2004), “Still Walking” (2008) and “Like Father, Like Son” (2013), but it is simply a sweet, pleasant crowd-pleaser like “I Wish”, and it works well with its mood and performances to be cherished. The movie may be not one of his best works, but Kore-eda shows here again that he is one of the most humane filmmaker in our time, and I must say I felt indeed good after being soothed by his latest work to admire.