Our Little Sister

Japan has a long history of touching intimate family portraits that are simultaneously sweet and sad, sentimental and nostalgic and pull at the heart, evoking an emotional heft with just a look between two people or a single note of music.

Many Japanese films especially those directed by Jasujirô Ozu - Late Spring (1949), Tokyo Story (1953) and Hirokazu Kore-eda - Nobody Knows (2004), Like Father, Like Son (2013) have a special quality not often seen in other films. They have this haunting ability to inhabit our subconscious. It’s a primal feeling that seems to touch a chord inside us.

It’s a sensibility unique to this close-knit country, or maybe it’s just the serine blend of ancient and modern landscapes, the way the Japanese revere nature and try to nurture it in every part of their lives. Perhaps it’s also their reverence and respect for tradition and historical places that brings out the sentiment of a lost time and past lives.

Our Little Sister has all these qualities in spades. It feels like a Hayao Miyazaki animated film but made in splendid live-action. There is the idyllic setting of a quaint ancestral maternal home nestled in the natural hillside of a small coastal town, an oasis where the three Kôda sisters live a relatively carefree independent life.

The older sister Sachi is the disciplinarian and care giver who gave up her childhood to look after her two younger siblings and keep the family together while working as a nurse in the local hospital. The middle sister, Yoshino – Masami Nagasawa, From Up on Poppy Hill (2011), is the hopeless romantic who falls in and out of short-lived relationships. And the youngest, Chica is the spirited fun-loving baby of the three.

Many years earlier their father had run off with another woman, leaving them to fend for themselves as the mother abandoned them to find another husband. Living in their grandmother’s ancestral home, the three sisters have had little contact with their estranged father. They get the news of his death in the opening segment of the film. 

Traveling to a remote region of Japan in what looks to be one of Miyazaki’s magical fairy tale trains to attend the funeral, they meet Suzu the young daughter of their father’s affair with another woman, who is also their half-sister.

The thirteen year old Suzu who is mature beyond her years, makes such a big impression on the sisters after learning that it was her who attended to their father in his last years, that they give her an impulsive but heartfelt invitation to come live with them in their home. Suzu is delighted and agrees to move in with the sisters. 

She soon learns about the family’s history and how the sisters have coped with the grief of losing their father. Suzu begins to feel guilty for the pain that the actions of her mother have caused, but the sisters are determined to make her feel at home and we see a montage of happy moments during the lazy days of summer as the sisters begin bonding over daily household tasks.

The ancestral home acts as their sanctuary from the world and their sisterhood bond builds and grows organically while Suzu becomes acquainted with her new surroundings and integrates into the lives of her new family and the community.

Suzu brings a vitality and understanding that changes and enriches the lives of these siblings who strive to honor their parent’s legacy even while struggling to understand their terrible failings.

At its heart Our Little Sister is about love, reconciliation and acceptance. It’s an enriching and emotional must-see film that radiates warmth, penetrating into the subconscious and leaves a lingering longing for childhood innocence. 


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