Our Little Sister: Friends and Family, by David Bax
In films like Nobody Knows and I Wish, Hirokazu Kore-eda has thrived in telling stories that largely separate children from their parents. With his new film, the lovely and moving Our Little Sister, he finds a twist on that formula and the result is an intimately observed, achingly relevant look at the major changes of generations across time and the minor human moments that make them up.
When Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) learn of the death of their father, whom they haven’t seen in fifteen years, they travel to the funeral and meet, for the first time, their teenage half-sister, Suzu (Suzu Hirose). With the girl now an orphan, the three young women invite her to come live with them in the house they share. The film, bookended by funerals, takes place over roughly the next twelve months and incorporates bonding, learning, love, arguments and all of the big and tiny things that make up a person’s life.
Our Little Sister is often preoccupied with social niceties. The bowing, the excuse mes, thank yous and good nights; Kore-eda makes an argument in their favor. These mutually understood rituals are the foundation on which understanding and closeness are constructed.
It helps that Kore-eda records them all with such patience and aesthetic warmth. All of his films–and this one in particular–depict the quotidian with quiet, everyday grandeur. Life in Kore-eda’s films is not defined by huge, emotional crescendos but by the taking of pleasure in moment to moment activities that are shared with other people.
There’s a sensuousness to every little action Kore-eda depicts (with the help of cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto and the sound department). Falling asleep, climbing a hill, waking up from sleep; there’s a precision and care to the depiction of these things that makes each second of the film feel as alive as the next. Nothing is more lovingly illustrated, though, than the food. Our Little Sister may not be a “food movie,” per se, but its portrayal of both cooking and eating as loving and communal acts and experiences is prevalent throughout. These women live in a beach community and the presence of seafood tempura, mackerel (marinated or fried), whitebait on toast and more never lets up. Small glances of the procuring, preparation and consumption of such meals are peppered throughout the film.
Kore-eda seems so preoccupied with such small observations that the viewer may only gradually realize that time is passing and major events are taking place. That’s the point, though, and beautifully illustrated. Time, made up of all these minuscule beats, is gliding inexorably forward. Our Little Sister is a film that gently but powerfully reminds us of the pointlessness, in the face of this, of hanging on to bitterness, resentments and grudges. The world will continue to turn whether we forgive and forget or not so why not let go of our acrimonies and hostilities and move forward with it?