Kore-eda casts her empathetic gaze on another struggling family in our little sister
In his last family portrait, Our little sister, Hirokazu Kore-eda tells about a year of the life of the Koda clan – or what’s left of it. When, years ago, her father left for another woman and their mother then abandoned the family to live her own life, Sachi (Haruka Ayase) was forced to become a mother figure to younger siblings. Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho). The experience hardened Sachi emotionally, a trait that finds its extreme opposite in the newest member of the Koda clan: half-sister Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose), the 13-year-old daughter of their now deceased father, who [changed “who” to “whom”] the almost 30 years that Sachi invites to live with them – and who exudes all the openness that she lacks.
Kore-eda, however, doesn’t just allow us to observe these character contrasts and draw those conclusions ourselves in his adaptation of Akimi Yoshida’s popular Japanese manga series. Umimachi Journal. Instead, he has characters who directly declaim such sightings for our benefit. “She has such an open heart,” says elderly restaurant owner Sachiko (Jun Fubuki) of the newly arrived young girl; Sachi later concludes that despite his bad feelings towards their unfaithful father, he may have done something right after while giving birth to Suzu. Even a small physical gesture like the random movements of Chika’s fly fishing hand later pays off in a way that feels too well scripted.
More disturbing than that, however, is an emotional reluctance that at times borders on too subtle for its own good. At his best, Kore-eda matches the great Yasujiro Ozu by marrying austerity of style with great depth of sentiment by exploring emotions often repressed in domestic situations. But although deeply universal desires eventually pierce the placid surfaces of Always walking (2008) and Like father, like son (2013) with slow force, Kore-eda’s manner is so serene in Our Little Sister that moments of bitterness and anguish don’t quite have the punch impact they should have. Take Suzu at her word when she tearfully confesses her guilt over how her father’s past sins still haunt her sisters, so passive is [moved “is” here] Kore-eda dramatizing his inner anguish throughout.
However, Our Little Sister often vibrates with such a tenderness of feeling that it is difficult to reject her out of hand. The excellent performances of the four lead actresses help to make up for the occasional heaviness of the script, with Kore-eda alive to their distinctive tics and gestures: Yoshino’s romanticism and Chika’s whimsy counter Sachi’s harshness and Suzu’s innocence. Regardless, the plot here is relatively minimal, with only a temporary return of the mother who abandoned the siblings bringing something like dramatic tension to the film. All needed is a close-up of Suzu’s face gazing euphorically up to the sky with her eyes closed as she rolls down a road surrounded by cherry blossoms to capture the laudable humanity at the heart of the worldview. patient and warm Kore-eda.
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