Our Little Sister

30 March 2016 | 9:41 pm | David O’Connell

Enchanting and beautiful, Our Little Sister is a work of gentle wonders.

When their estranged father dies, three sisters (Ayase Haruka, Nagasawa Masami, Kaho) travel to his funeral and meet their younger half sister (Hirose Suzu) for the first time.

Finding her in the care of a negligent step-mother, they invite the young Suzu to the live with them in the seaside town of Kamakura. There the sisters discover how a new member fits into their already established family dynamic, and realise that there is a lot of emotional turmoil that still remains unresolved about their parents' divorce. 

Our Little Sister cleaves closely to its subject matter. Based on the Japanese josei manga ('ladies comic' - conveying a more realistic version of love than its counterpart, shojo manga) Umimachi Diary, it translates elements of the plot and art directly to the big screen. The result is the slightly faded and beautiful covers of the manga are brought to stunning cinematic life, leading to something that is breathtaking to look at.

This also means that the traditional three-act structure is missing from this film. Instead the plot for Our Little Sister meanders. It is a world to be dipped into in a relaxed manner, rather than expecting a strong, narrative drive to drag audiences along. If you can relax into this gentle storytelling, then there is a great deal of reward seeing the growth of these characters. It is an exploration into the importance of family and how these familial dynamics work. Much is slowly teased out, dealing with responsibility and the lost childhoods of Sachi and Suzu, but it all develops organically as the seasons slowly change in the household.  

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Setting and character are what is key here. Both dominate the story, as the audience is given an inside look into the lives of the sisters, in the seaside town. This is a glimpse behind the walls of a house and feels intensely personal, although never intrusive or voyeuristic.

Food also plays an important part, both in the preparation and in the eating. It's emphasised as a communal activity, and often form the basis of social interactions. This may be the most food obsessed Japanese film since Tampopo (do not make the mistake of going into it hungry). It does enrich the 'slice of life' drama that we are seeing, all forming a part of the rich cultural texture of this film. 

Enchanting and beautiful, Our Little Sister is a work of gentle wonders.  

Originally published in X-Press Magazine