To enjoy Our Little Sister one must make a lot of allowances and enter with a certain frame of mind – don’t expect anything approaching a plot or dramatic tension and instead revel in the small-scale scenes of four women just… living their lives. Those familiar with the works of Hirokazu Kore-eda know that he’s all about the little moments in life – rambling dialogue over long dinner scenes, no resolutions to what problems, if any, crop up – but Our Little Sister takes the biscuit. It doesn’t eat it, though – it quickly puts it back in the jar and wipes the crumbs off. Then it tidies up a bit.
The story, adapted from a Manga novel, presents itself with oodles of potential friction, reversals and unexpected developments, but Our Little Sister is an exercise in how to make a film devoid of drama. Nurse Sachi (Ayase) is the defacto mother to her two younger siblings – flaky bank employee Yoshino (Nagasawa) and goofy sports shop worker Chika (Kaho). When their father, who divorced their mother and married another woman fifteen years ago, suddenly dies, Sachi offers to take his daughter, their half-sister Suzo (Hirose), in.
But any hope in that Suzo’s presence in the house puts the cat amongst the pigeons, stirring whatever buried feelings of betrayal the women might have towards their father, is quickly dashed. No one really holds a grudge against dad (he was a kind man who loaned money to the extent that he would be in debt) and, despite the odd bicker, everyone gets on like a house on fire. No underlying pent up aggressions between the sisters exist and so there is nothing that comes bubbling to the surface as the film reaches its close. Suzo, meanwhile, settles into her new town easily, with even her new classmates welcoming her with open arms. When their mother, turns up, she’s cool with these developments too, going as far as buying Suzo a present. Later, a relationship ends amicably and with a friendly wave.
Kore-eda touches on how a close-knit family can effect each other, how an offhand comment has deep, residual knock-on effects that can dictate life-changing decisions. Their father’s decision to leave when she was just a child dictates how Sachi approaches her staid affair with a married man whose wife is clinically depressed. But, like everything else here, it’s so low key it’s hard to get involved with its ins and outs.
If no one gets fired up, it’s hard for the audience to.