Our Lit­tle Sis­ter

OUR LIT­TLE SIS­TER, fam­ily drama, rated PG, in Ja­panese with sub­ti­tles, Vi­o­let Crown, 4 chiles

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Our Lit­tle Sis­ter is an old-fash­ioned fam­ily saga, full of feel-good scenes of sis­ters laugh­ing, cook­ing, and com­ing to terms with their dif­fer­ences, which are plen­ti­ful. Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the old­est of the Kôda sis­ters, is a nurse in a lo­cal hospi­tal. For 15 years — since their fa­ther left the fam­ily for an­other woman and their mother ab­sconded in her grief — Sachi has looked af­ter her younger sis­ters, Yoshino (Masami Na­ga­sawa), a party girl who cares more about dat­ing than work, and Chika (Kaho), a free-spir­ited sport­ing-goods store clerk. They live to­gether in their late grand­mother’s ram­bling but com­fort­able old house. The Kôda sis­ters travel by train to a town in the north to at­tend their fa­ther’s fu­neral, where they meet their thir­teen-year-old half-sis­ter, Suzu (Suzu Hirose). Her mother is dead, and Suzu’s step­mother doesn’t seem in­ter­ested in rais­ing her, so on a whim Sachi in­vites Suzu to live with them in what she af­fec­tion­ately refers to as their “girls’ dor­mi­tory.”

Our Lit­tle Sis­ter is such a good-na­tured movie that there is a light air of menace about it at first. Per­haps the lovely but tight-lipped Suzu isn’t who she pre­tends to be, or maybe Yoshino’s bad taste in men will have tragic re­sults. None of this hap­pens, though there are highs and lows to the plot: Sis­ters get their hearts bro­ken by men; beloved friends and neigh­bors get sick; Suzu be­comes a lo­cal soc­cer star and has her first boyfriend. How can a movie made in 2016 hold our at­ten­tion when ev­ery­one is es­sen­tially open-hearted and will­ing to love one an­other? It’s coun­ter­in­tu­itive — even, at var­i­ous points, to the char­ac­ters. Suzu rep­re­sents the de­struc­tion of the Koda sis­ters’ child­hoods, yet the idea of hold­ing it against her, a child who wasn’t even born when their fa­ther left their mother, is anath­ema to them. It takes Suzu a while to un­der­stand that the sis­ters truly ac­cept her, be­cause she as­sumes they must re­sent her, deep down.

The movie is beautiful to look at, with cin­e­matog­ra­phy by Mikiya Taki­moto, and well-acted. It fits in with clas­sic sis­ter movies like Crimes

of the Heart and Lit­tle Women, and though it is sweet and fam­ily-friendly, it is never sac­cha­rine. When their ab­sent mother re­turns and blithely men­tions sell­ing the house, the girls’ sunny dis­po­si­tions are put to the test. Is ev­ery­thing that hurt them re­ally so far be­hind them that they are no longer af­fected? Suzu is a child who can­not yet see the past. For her ben­e­fit, her older sis­ters must learn to face their feel­ings with­out pre­tend­ing they don’t mat­ter. — Jen­nifer Levin

Sis­ter, sis­ter: Haruka Ayase, Suzu Hirose, Masami Na­ga­sawa, and Kaho

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