'Our Little Sister' is a graceful and poignant meditation on forgiveness

Posted September 13, 2016

“OUR LITTLE SISTER” — 3 stars — Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose; PG (thematic elements and brief language); Broadway

“Our Little Sister” is a quiet drama about reconciliation. Set in Japan and presented in Japanese with English subtitles, director Hirokazu Koreeda’s film is a subtle reminder of the human frailties that transcend cultures.

The film opens on three adult sisters living together in a family home. Sachi (Haruka Ayase) is the oldest and works in the terminal-care wing of a local hospital. Her sister Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) is working toward a promotion at a large bank, and Chika (Kaho) is dating the manager of a sporting goods store who lost six of his toes to frostbite on Mt. Everest.

The trio travels to a nearby town to attend the funeral service of their father, whom they have not seen in many years. When they were still young, he cheated on their mother, who in turn abandoned the sisters to the family home. His child from the affair, Suzu (Suzu Hirose), is also at the funeral.

Suzu is the living symbol of their father’s infidelity, but the three sisters choose compassion over bitterness and invite her to move in with them. Suzu changes schools, joins the local soccer team and begins to learn about family traditions she never knew existed.

Together, the sisters prepare plum wine and enjoy the delicacy that is whitebait. Bit by bit, Suzu and her half-sisters fill in the gaps of knowledge that slowly bring them together as a family. Even a surprise visit from their mother comes in stride, as she is also able to separate Suzu from the sins of her father.

Eventually, Sachi’s character comes to the forefront. Once the girls were left to their own devices, Sachi assumed leadership of the fractured family. She’s a little older, a little wiser and a little colder as a result, and the drama of her romantic life suggests that history does repeat itself in uncomfortable ways. Yet even though Sachi may have the most justification to resent Suzu, instead she becomes her closest confidant.

With so little to speak of in terms of action — even for a drama — “Our Little Sister” often feels more like a meditation than a story. Sachi and Suzu carry the clearest character arcs, and Ayase and Hirose both shine in their respective roles.

From time to time, even the quiet meditation gives way to more energetic moments, such as one scene where the girls play with fireworks, and especially during a memorable sequence when a friend from school takes Suzu on a ride beneath a row of blossoming cherry trees.

Koreeda’s film is much more interested in exploring the humanity of his characters rather than zipping them through the twists and turns of a plot (even though their pasts have plenty of those twists and turns). As in life, the girls’ journey becomes clearer to see after the fact than it ever does moving forward.

“Our Little Sister’s” low-key mood may keep it from delivering as strong a message as it might have with a little more onscreen conflict, but it is a valuable portrait of a young woman learning to forgive.

“Our Little Sister” is rated PG for thematic elements and brief language; running time: 128 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at


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