Film Of The Week – Our Little Sister (Japan, 2015)

Once a week we choose an Asian film available on Australian streaming services to quash your lockdown boredom!

Given that the previous weeks’ of this series have featured films replete with bloodshed and viscera, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s utterly enchanting Our Little Sister comes as a welcome antidote.

Kore-eda, best known today for his Palme D’Or winning ode to the dispossessed Shoplifters, found his cinematic niche long ago and, for the most part, has remained there. Often dubbed a successor to Yasujiro Ozu, though an alternative comparison might be Edward Yang or (as Kore-eda himself proclaims) Ken Loach, Kore-eda’s formal approach is unostentatious and naturalistic. His narratives expressly evade bombast, and are often preoccupied with the examination of familial ties, as is the case with Our Little Sister

Based on the manga series Umimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshida, the film centres around a trio of twenty-something sisters, named Sachi, Yoshino and Chika, who live together in the small seaside city of Kakamura. The narrative is set in motion by the untimely news of their estranged father’s death; at the funeral, they meet their teenage half-sister, the diffident Suzu, whom they invite to live with them in Kakamura. 

I beg you, as slight or twee as this premise may seem, do not be deterred; Our Little Sister is sublime. Kore-eda denies granting narrative focus to any one of the four sisters, seamlessly weaving between a multitude of subplots across a two hour plus run-time with structural finesse. Cultural rituals pertaining to food preparation are a consistent feature; the sisters pick plums, prick insignia into their flesh, and ferment them over extended periods to yield wine, and local fishermen extract masses of fresh whitebait from the ocean, before teaching the children how to prepare them for consumption. Moreover, characters are deeply invested in the seasonal appearance of cherry blossoms; in perhaps the film’s most gorgeous vignette, Suzu and her doting male friend, sharing a bicycle, speed through a “tunnel” of trees sporting cherry blossoms. What resounds from these moments is a paradisiacal vision of man’s co-existence with nature; Kakamura’s inhabitants revel in the bucolic splendour of their surroundings and seem blissfully detached from the ills of urbanity. 

Many critics have commented on the unassuming nature of Kore-eda’s work, and the oft-parroted cliche of his ability to “make poetry of the everyday.” Such remarks, while well-intentioned, can’t help but trivialise the achievements of an undisputed master. In Our Little Sister, Kore-eda wrings tenderness from languor, indeed attuning us to the minutiae of existence we may commonly ignore, but – more importantly – eliciting a generous, exuberant spirit of universality. The phrase “brings back memories” is uttered by a variety of characters throughout the film. You might find yourself repeating it too. 

Our Little Sister is now streaming for free on SBS On Demand