“IT WAS NOTHING!” declared another critic at the press screening of Our Little Sister. The three-word indictment, given his tone, could only be read as disparagement. But I can say the very same thing of Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda’s new film and mean it as nothing but the highest praise.
Our Little Sister is a slow, quiet, and occasionally very funny and touching movie about a family of women—three sisters in their 20s who’ve been essentially abandoned by their mother, and whose father has just died after abandoning them years before. When they find out he left behind a daughter—their half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose)—Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), and Chika (Kaho) decide to adopt her, bringing her into their household in a gesture that would seem excessively sentimental were it not for some complex dynamics brewing under the surface.
It’s satisfying to watch these play out, and even more satisfying that most of what happens is subtext—Our Little Sister features no knockdown, drag-out fights and a minimum of scenery chewing. Although bad things happen to the family at the center, and there are oblique references to their painful history, these are subsumed into a much broader, hypnotically comforting portrait of everyday domestic life, one that captures Suzu, Sachi, Yoshino, and Chika as they go about daily activities like preparing noodles, running errands, making plum wine, and repairing the paper screens inside the drafty old house they inherited from their grandmother.
Koreeda’s embedment of melodrama within an elliptical portrait of a family’s daily life reminded me by turns of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and the novels of Virginia Woolf. It also captures the (often female) experience of being pulled between post-adolescent freedom and domestic obligation, from the opening scene, when Yoshino wakes up at her boyfriend’s apartment, and, summoned home by her sisters, makes her way back, where she joins them around the house’s central table for the first of the movie’s many quietly pleasant scenes featuring delicious-looking food. These are the small moments Koreeda lingers over, and I already want to see them again.