Sony Pictures Classics usually comes to Cannes with future Oscar submissions in mind. Maybe that’s the case for Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s manga-inspired sibling drama “Our Little Sister,” picked up by SPC despite mixed reception.
It is the story of three sisters — Sachi, Yoshino and Chika — who live together in a large house in the city of Kamakura. When their father – absent from the family home for the last 15 years — dies, they travel to the countryside for his funeral, and meet their shy teenage half-sister. Bonding with the orphaned Suzu, they invite her to live with them. Suzu eagerly agrees, and a new life begins for the four siblings.
Last year, SPC scooped foreign Oscar nominees “Wild Tales” and “Leviathan” out of the competition, as well as foreign Oscar snub “Saint Laurent.” This year, the company brings Woody Allen’s hot-buzz “Irrational Man” out-of-competition.
Kore-eda’s last film, moving 2013 competition entry “Like Father, Like Son,” took the festival Jury Prize. No word on release date yet for “Our Little Sister.” But here’s a sampling of reviews.
Nearly all the conflict is in the film’s past tense as it observes three grown sisters (played by Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa and Kaho) welcome their teenage half-sibling (Suzu Hirose) into the family fold after the death of their common father. The result is an episodic, generous-spirited, pristinely shot and, quite frankly, somewhat dull effort which will probably play well in Japan where the leads are big stars and the graphic novel it’s based on is well-known. However, it’s unlikely to have the same appeal to audiences offshore except for hardcore Kore-eda fans and committed Japanophiles.
Deep down, Kore-eda perhaps recognizes that the characters he chronicles aren’t stunningly original creations. They’re not meant to be: They’re supposed to be folks like any of us. By keeping “Our Little Sister” intimate but unassuming, he’s made yet another film that washes over you, warm and refreshing, and then dissipates just as quickly.
Marking the subtle transitions in the lives of three sisters after they take under their wing a teenage half-sibling they never knew, “Our Little Sister” is so meticulously shot and gracefully orchestrated that it can be considered a worthy contempo successor to Kon Ichikawa’s masterpiece “The Makioka Sisters.” Yet, in attempting to evoke an overwhelmingly femme-centric universe for the first time, Hirokazu Kore-eda adopts an approach so serene that his protagonists’ pain as well as their personalities remain largely muffled as they drift soulfully through the seasons. While gently engaging throughout, the pic nonetheless doesn’t reverberate as deeply as the helmer’s 2013 Cannes jury prizewinner, “Like Father, Like Son,” but Kore-eda’s standing among the worldwide culturati will ensure a warm response at festivals and arthouse cinemas.
Nothing is emphasised too much, voices are not raised very greatly, even in moments of great stress; nothing in the drama or the direction is very strenuous, and yet it accumulates in power, like a crescendo in chamber music. There are some swooningly lovely touches: such as Suzu’s ecstatic ride on the back of a bicycle, turning her face to the sunlight: Kore-eda boldly keeps the shot on her until we too have felt the warmth.