One of the greatest Japanese filmmakers presents a tender family drama, showing great cinematic ability and, once again, his great heart.
Loving the Other, despite being able to see clearly all of his weaknesses, insecurities and imperfections, is not a quality distinct from all these that make someone a great filmmaker. And Hirokazu Kore-eda proves film after film that he has a moving natural kindness and a deep humanity, which can not leave the viewer indifferent even if the latter ends up not liking Koreeda’s films.
In the film “Our Little Sister”, the fourth in his filmography (“Like Father, Like Son”, “Nobody Knows”, “I Wish”), Kore-eda adapts manga artist Akimi Yoshida’s novel “Umimachi Diary “ (“Diary of a Seaside Town”), which follows the lives of four sisters that, abandoned (in one way or another) by their parents, create an alternative family.
Sisters Koda (the oldest and wise Sachi, frivolous Yoshino and eccentric Chika) are still living at the family home, the old house of their grandmother, in the historic seaside town of Kamakura – an hour from Tokyo by train. When the news of their father’s death reaches them, childhood traumas are revived: their father had abandoned their mother for another woman when they were very small, and as a result the family dissolved. Their mother also left in an effort to forget and move on, abandoning her daughters to their grandmother, while their father created a new family and had another child – their little sister, Suzu. Sachi, realising that the now thirteen-year old girl is their family and equally left alone in life, invites Suzu to come and live with them in Kamakura. And so begins the course of four girls who are related by more than their common DNA: namely, the promise they give each other to heal, cut the umbilical cord, attain personal happiness.
Kore-eda films the photogenic city of Kamakura in a charming way (once more using his trusted cinematographer Takimoto Mikiya), but his tenderness is more overwhelming every time he captures the daily life of the four sisters. He follows them at their small, subtle movements, their trivial conversations, their extensive group meals, in middle generous shots that seize the chemistry among them, their expressiveness, the little moments that make us humans.
Through his camera that observes, but which at times escalates lyricism (a bike ride under the cherry trees, a night with fireworks, the four girls walking on the beach) Kore-eda invites us to a deep introspection on the human condition – not only on the screen but also in our hearts: how adults can indelibly mark the hearts of the young with a suffering that the children must overcome and find a hope for the future in the love existing among them.
Sisters Koda remind us of the three sisters of Chekhov, but without the heavy atmosphere of a Russian deadend or the melancholy of the great author’s works. Instead, Kore-eda’s cinematography is so gentle, effortless, ethereal that makes you love his girls, want to watch them, staring at the big screen with a smile and an open heart.
The only problem, common in Kore-eda’s films, is that of pace: narrative stalls, felt like superfluous intervals, emotional observations repeated in a loop and which could be done away with so as to to deliver a tight, focused drama whose economy would better transmit his universal message. We forgive him from our heart, which he once again touched.