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Modern Family: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister (2015) – Blu-ray review

June 10, 2016 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

A typically contemplative gem from a Japanese director, whose innate warmth sees life’s doubts and insecurities overcome through sisterly love.

1 Our Little Sister

Our Little Sister

(Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015)

The nature of modern families, fuelled by divorces, remarriages and half-siblings is increasingly going to become fertile material for dramatists – but then families always have been.  In Our Little Sister, Hirokazu Kore-eda brings his classical style to crack open layers of hurt and regret in such a contemporary set-up… but also, typically for this warmest of directors, there’s a lot of love too.

The premise is sketched out with such remarkable speed that it requires some suspension of disbelief to accept that three sisters would welcome Suzu (Suzu Asano), the half-sister they’ve never met, after the death of their mutual father.  The situation is so palpably unlikely that Kore-eda engineers a perfect storm of pain to justify it.  Suzu’s mother is also dead, meaning she’s quite happy to get away from a step-mum she doesn’t like; similarly, the elder women are also estranged from their mother, giving them a big house in which the four can live – like one character notes – in something of a dormitory.

Get past these contrivances, though, and Kore-eda has created a fascinating dynamic, in which the four become rippling echoes of the nuclear family they’ve never known.  Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the oldest, is particularly interesting – the surrogate mother, who has given up a degree of happiness and independence, but finds herself emulating the worst behaviour of the previous generation.  In contrast, middle sisters Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) have inherited something of their parents’ lackadaisical attitude to life.  Then Suku arrives, forcing them to confront hidden questions they’ve not dared to ask.

All of this is pitched with a wonderful restraint.  On the surface, everything is lovely and polite in that Japanese way. The four women regularly share the frame, Kore-eda keeping his distance to observe their interplay… but the camera is subtly moving, never fully at ease.  Similarly, astute body language hints at the awkwardness they’d never publically express.  Suku, especially, has the posture of an imposter, full of doubt and insecurity that the others really want her there.

The result is full of gentle ironies and a piercing wisdom about any kind of familial relationship: the sense of shared DNA but individual expression, and the resentments that can build up by expecting blood to flow in the same way from person to person.  It’s a film where the emotions bob almost out of view – there’s so little in the way of dramatic fireworks that Kore-eda eventually adds some literal ones – but his calm, measured style finds plenty of insight in the uniformly excellent performances.  It’s not quite as sharp as some of his other films (it’s baffling, for instance, how underwritten Chiko is compared to the others) but otherwise it’s another gem.

Our Little Sister is released on Blu-ray on Monday 13th June.

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