Criterion Prediction #122: Our Little Sister, by Alexander Miller
Title: Our Little Sister aka Unimachi Diary
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Cast: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose,
Synopsis: The lives of three sisters, Sachi, Yoshino and Chika, are upset when they meet their thirteen-year-old half-sister Suzu after their estranged father passes away. At the funeral service, the three sisters invite Suzu to live with them at their rural grandparent’s house in Kamakura.
Critique: Koreeda makes very pure films; his integral themes are weighty—grief, family, loss, love—but his dramatic calibration always yields a smooth, subtly compelling narrative that’s a series of moments tethered together. It’s casual, unembellished and entirely human. Koreeda’s characters are defined by their emotions and personalities; they’re drawn with affection and a penchant for emotional connectivity in the delicate resonance of every scene. We get a rounded understanding of Sachi, Yoshino, Chika, and Suzu, their personalities, quirks, flaws, and lives outside the microcosm of their getaway house in the country.
The film is a deliberate pattern of patient self-discovery. There’s an internalization of emotional growth in the face of bereavement (a common thread in Koreeda cinema) and, instead of excavating the melancholic, Our Little Sister provides a story where endings signify new beginnings. Nothing lands too heavily; the films is an intuitively navigated and thoughtfully felt representation of the minutiae of life, that lets us grow into the setting, the characters and the quiet hum of a director who knows the value and potency of small moments.
His method of ferreting out the tender memories in his films is at its best here. That we can identify the onerous import of lighting sparklers in your backyard, going for bike rides, cooking, or strolling on the beach is the simplest and most affecting way to access a responsive interior essence in anyone attuned to the humbling aesthetic of the film.
It’s not hyperbolic to say that Koreeda is the most viable successor to the seasonal family dramas of Yasujiro Ozu and, while the late master of Japanese cinema worked in a similar genre, it’s impossible to find a shred of imitation in the films of Hirokazu Koreeda. It’s a rare feat to create a stylistic voice that is thoroughly assembled, recognizable and specific without being rigid or disciplined; but as time goes on, with films such as Our Little Sister and 2016’s After the Storm, it’s evident that this a unique and compelling filmmaker.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: For fans of the director, the inclusion of Our Little Sister (or any of the director’s work) and being a relatively new release, Koreeda’s 2015 film will likely catch the eye of any curious cinephile. Our Little Sister is available on Blu-Ray through a region B Artificial Eye Blu-Ray, but regarding a more accessible release in North America, it feels like The Criterion Collection is the most fitting home for the film. At present, the only Koreeda title in the collection, Still Walking, was released within three years of its debut. Maybe the same timeline will be the case for Our Little Sister?