Our Little Sister reaction: Cannes 2015

This gentle sibling story was one of the most anticipated films of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival (hence the vast number of journos turned away at the door of the vastly over-subscribed screening). Here’s Jamie Graham’s reaction…

Adapted from Akima Yoshida’s manga, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest only adds to his reputation as a modern Japanese master whose films look back past the eruptions of the Japanese New Wave to the gentle rhythms of Yasujiro Ozu’s domestic dramas. Perhaps a little too tranquil and, on the surface at least, inconsequential to challenge for prizes in this year’s competition, Our Little Sister bewitches from first frame to last, nonetheless.

Living together in the house that once belonged to their long-divorced parents, Sachi (Ayase Haruka), Yoshino (Nagasawa Masami) and Chika (Kaho) travel to their father’s funeral and there meet Suzu (Hirose Suzu), their 15-year-old half-sister. Sensing the discord between Suzu and her mother, the sisters invite their remarkably mature sibling to come and live with them. She accepts, and the women’s already rather insular, emotionally stymied existence is accentuated, though the older sisters find purpose and great joy in supporting the new arrival.

As Kore-eda has previously demonstrated with such enchanting movies as After Life, I Wish and Like Father, Like Son, he is not afraid of making small-scale, big-hearted dramas that border on schmaltz but stay just the right side due to the meticulous control he wields. Our Little Sister is no different: voices are never raised, even in moments of distress or confrontation; much attention is granted to the beauty of nature (a bike ride through a tunnel of blossom trees is nothing short of magical); and family meal upon family meal demonstrates the nourishing love that sustains these sisters.

Suzu, meanwhile, settles into her new family and school without so much as a blip, and any heartache that the sisters carry within (Sachi, the most mature of the three, loves a man who cannot bring himself to divorce his ill wife) is handled with tremendous understanding, with quiet dignity.

But rather than feeling idealised, infantilised or plain syrupy, Our Little Sister instead entices viewers into its becalmed world. Camera moves are barely perceptible; the luminous lensing of bucolic landscapes and homely interiors radiate warmth; and the tinkling score is used sparingly for fear of being intrusive or overly sentimental. This is not a world without pain. It’s just that the sisters choose to cope with it by brushing it to the corners of their minds, be it the desertion of their father and inattention of their mother, Yoshi’s over-fondness of alcohol, or the intimations of spinsterhood that outsiders bring to their doorstep.

With Kore-eda long established as a master director of children and women, it should come as no surprise that the central performances are both faultless and entirely beguiling.

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