In my mind, there’s a fine balancing act in film: a perfect sweet spot between entertainment and erudition that must be hit. Aesthetically and subjectively, this is what I want from cinema. There’s a lot of wiggle room in here, with movies that are incredibly brain-dead, yet overwhelmingly fun, being some of my favorites. At the same time, something straight-faced and languid may catch my eye. My film-writing has always been a means of figuring out those pieces that makes something good. It’s a long process of figuring out what I, personally, like and hoping it translates to the reader.
I say this because Hirokazu Koreeda’s Our Little Sister is, on paper at least, not a film I’d be drawn to in a vacuum. I’ve never encountered the director’s work before (a rudimentary search shows that 2012’s After Life and 2014’s Like Father, Like Son are what have played locally out of a long filmography), but Our Little Sister appears to be in step with his previous works. It’s a subtle, quiet meditation on family, and the film’s reviews like to point out the movie’s slow pace and long runtime — things that don’t exactly get my heart rate moving. Plus, the general setup — about three sisters who live together and discover they have a teenage half sister, whom they decide to take in — feels a bit like the pitch for a sitcom.
Going into the film with those modest reservations, I found myself being quickly won over by the innate charms of Our Little Sister. From the onset, the movie sets its generally light-hearted tone. Even with the funeral of the sisters’ estranged father at the beginning and the movie’s overarching themes of dealing with the past, this isn’t a particularly emotionally heavy movie. There’s spirit here that reveals itself with a quiet humanity and a genuine likability. Little happens through the course of the film other than the relationships between the sisters. There is some weight to Our Little Sister, namely their coming to grips with being abandoned by both their mother and their father. But, instead of being a movie about fixating on what you don’t have, Our Little Sister is a film about drawing closer to the things you’ve been given.
Helping matters along is Koreeda’s knack for composition. While the film isn’t aggressively stylish, he knows how to shoot a scene and easily captures the beauty of the Japanese landscape. There’s something very naturalistic about cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto’s approach, with its soft light and grand vistas, and the idea of putting such an intimately human story within the confines of a greater natural world is interesting thematically. You do have to give yourself up to the film, since the ground it wants to cover takes some time (and Koreeda is in no hurry, either). Our Little Sister is a film that requires patience, something that can be difficult since the movie doesn’t feel particularly deep. But, for a film so gently humane and inviting, it’s worth the attention. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief language.
Opens August 26 at Grail Moviehouse.