Based on Akimi Yoshida’s popular graphic novel “Umimachi Diary,” Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Nobody Knows,” “I Wish,” “Like Father, Like Son”) has created a wistful, episodic melodrama about families. When the three twentysomething Koda sisters – Sachi, Yoshino and Chika – travel north to Yamagata for the funeral of their estranged father, they discover that they have a teenage half-sister (Suzu Hirose) from his second marriage. Read on….
Impulsively, Sachi invites shy, soccer-loving Suzu to come live with them in their late grandmother’s dilapidated family house in Kamakura, a small, seaside town, south of Tokyo.
Ever since their mother (Shinobu Ohtake) deserted them, dutiful Sachi has been the matriarch; a dedicated nurse, she’s having an affair with a married pediatrician at the local hospital.
The middle sister, Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), is a hard-partying bank clerk, while kooky, amiable Chika (Kaho) works in a sporting-goods store, flirting with a mountaineering co-worker who lost six toes climbing Mt. Everest.
In addition to the sisters’ romantic angst, there are many culinary interludes, including catching and preparing freshly-caught seafood, along with the multi-generational ritual of making plum wine using fruit harvested from an old tree in their yard.
As seasons pass over the course of a year, the kind and generous sisters bond, relating to each other in different ways, coping with a cantankerous great-aunt, marveling at a fireworks display and relishing the traditional pink cherry blossoms.
As this gradual intertwining occurs, it affectionately reinforces their grandmother’s oft-quoted belief that “every living thing takes time and effort.”
In Japanese with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Our Little Sister” is a slight, serene, sweet 6; it’s a subtle, calming interlude.