Let’s begin with Giovanni Marchini Camia at the Film Stage: “Those who fault Hirokazu Kore-eda for retracing largely similar territory with each consecutive film will find their criticism corroborated by Our Little Sister, the Japanese director’s follow-up to his 2013 Jury Prize winner Like Father, Like Son. Adapted from Akimi Yoshida’s highly successful manga Umimachi Diary, Our Little Sister is once again an examination of the dynamics amongst the members of a damaged family. In attempting to tackle four protagonists, however, Kore-eda seems to have bitten off more than he can chew, delivering an uneven and ultimately superficial story of emotional maturation.”
“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,” suggests Maggie Lee in Variety. “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.”
At RogerEbert.com, Barbara Scharres introduces us to the sisters: “Sachi, the eldest, and a nurse for terminal cancer patients, has a grave responsible air and the biggest heart. Middle sister Yoshino, a bank teller, is a die-hard romantic with bad taste in men, and Chika, the youngest, is a flake in boho-chic outfits who works in a sporting goods store. The news of the death of their long-estranged father brings with it the news that they have a fifteen-year-old half-sister. With sympathy and curiosity they invite young Suzu to come and live with them.”
“There are rural train journeys, group meals, and discussions linking family and food, thoughtful bucolic walks uphill—denoting humility and patience—melancholy funerals and memorials and some superb autumnal scenes.” The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “The film is quiet, understated and gentle, allowing the audience to take pleasure in teasing out its narrative subtleties, and presented with wonderful freshness and clarity…. It is impossible not to be touched and beguiled by it.”
“If Our Little Sister has a signature shot, it’s a near-imperceptible, slow, horizontal track that lends an even more romanced feeling to the little vignettes that unfold within the frame,” writes the Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang. “And it’s indicative of the feel of the film overall—here, Kore-eda does not dive in. He glides gently past these lives, slowly and gracefully, so we can get a good look, but only ever at the pretty surface of things, the serene faces of his cast, whose infrequent frowns pass as quickly as clouds on a windy spring day. Kore-eda’s trademark humility and humanism is here, and we do get glimpses, even stretches, that suggest the piercingly bittersweet vitality of his best work. But Our Little Sister feels like ‘Kore-eda lite.'”
“Yasujiro Ozu hovers all over Our Little Sister,” finds Screen‘s Dan Fainaru. “[T]he subtle, unprepossessing storytelling, the profound humanity of all the characters and the emotional undercurrents hidden beneath the calm, composed surfaces, suggest the master is here in spirit.” But for the Hollywood Reporter‘s Leslie Felperin, Our Little Sister is a “generous-spirited, pristinely shot and, quite frankly, somewhat dull effort.” And to Ioncinema‘s Nicholas Bell, “the film feels like a sight trifle from Kore-eda.”
Gavin J. Blair interviews Kore-eda for the Hollywood Reporter. And Variety reports that Sony Pictures Classics has acquired US rights.
Updates: From Notebook editor Daniel Kasman: “The best shot in the film, containing secondary characters crucial to the film’s compassion, of a restaurant owner behind her counter and her beau relaxing in front of her, is characteristic: we get a very modest but nevertheless quietly precise feeling of how these people live their lives, work their jobs, relate to one another, of their routine and their everyday emotions—this all in their posture and faces, the oblique angle of the framing, the clean, cloudy whites and grays of the cinematography, Kore-eda’s even, considerate attention. All in one unshowy shot…. The film is wise; it feels wise, especially with its welcome languor, an unconcerned pacing that seems to slide forward in time without much friction.”
For Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun, “there’s a meandering, extremely personable charm to this film that means that even its more soppy moments—such as when two characters cycle through an avenue of cherry blossom—feel well-earned and entirely fitting. Deeply charming and quietly moving.”
“Because Kore-eda focuses on the minutiae of ordinary lives, his family dramas always risk shriveling into inconsequence, their wistful temperament sometimes hard to distinguish from sappiness,” writes Tim Grierson for Paste. “Composer Yoko Kanno’s piano-heavy arrangements lovingly underscore what occurs onscreen, although the music can occasionally tip over into mawkishness. And those familiar with Kore-eda’s recent films will recognize recurring themes of generational divide and romantic uncertainty. And yet, Our Little Sister moves so intuitively from scene to scene with a natural, inevitable lilt that the film’s echoes to previous Kore-eda dramas simply feel like a director returning to subject matter that intrigues him…. 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.”
For the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey, Our Little Sister is ” full of quiet joy and simple pleasures, the taste of fresh whitebait over rice and plum wine steeped lovingly for a decade. Precisely because it’s less emotionally coercive than Kore-eda’s last couple of pictures, it’s even more moving: rather than lunging full-bore for the solar plexus, the truths it’s telling creep up on you.”
For Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, dispatching to the AV Club, Our Little Sister is just another of “Kore-eda’s latest two-plus hours of pointless lateral camera movements accompanied by twinkly piano…. This sort of idyll could be absorbing, if only Kore-eda hadn’t become such a pedestrian stylist in recent years.”
Nick Roddick for Sight & Sound: “Calling on the audience to travel with it into the warm embrace of its small-town setting, the film richly repays our suspension of cynicism, thanks not a little to Kore-eda’s masterly tweaking of the emotional level and the discreet beauty of the cinematography by Takimoto Mikiya (who also shot Like Father, Like Son). Indeed only when Takimoto allows himself a flourish—as in… an elegant, Ozu-style deep-focus framing of three sisters chatting in the evening, one on the veranda, one in the doorway, one inside the house—does it become clear how carefully controlled the film’s visuals otherwise are.”
“Plotless and episodic, Our Little Sister is light on conflict and heavy on beatific smiles,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve, “and it continues a good 30 minutes past the point where it feels as if it should end. But it’s the kind of movie in which the characters gradually start to feel like extended members of your own family, and it features dozens of moments so casually lyrical… that it’s hard to begrudge the saccharine dialogue in which the sisters talk openly about how much they love each other. It was also shrewd of Cannes, given the (customary) lack of female directors in this year’s lineup, to lead with such a concentrated dose of estrogen. This film couldn’t possibly love women more.”
There’s a “generosity” here “that’s admirable but that also leaves it short on conflict and forward motion,” finds Buzzfeed‘s Alison Willmore.
Update, 5/15: “Our Little Sister is a slow, gentle burn, but beautifully paints a living, vital portrait of a family’s dynamic,” writes David Acacia for the International Cinephile Society. “What stands out most about these four sisters is that, much in the tradition of Ozu’s depiction of women, they choose to remain positive and hopeful in the midst of their personal hardships, while the film accentuates the temporality of such turmoil in lieu of the beauty of nature, and life itself, and affirms that these will endure, regardless of circumstance.”
Updates, 5/19: “For all the film’s quiet loveliness,” writes Donald Clarke for the Irish Times, “even the most fervent Kore-eda fan might find the new picture just a tiny bit short of plot and structure.”
“It’s not surprising, given the nature of his films, that Kore-eda in person is a calm, focused man whose face lights up when a question intrigues him.” Kenneth Turan talks with him for PopMatters.
Update, 5/21: The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw talks with Kore-eda: “Did his parents like cinema? Kore-eda’s eyes light up. ‘My mother loved films! She adored Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, Vivien Leigh. We couldn’t afford to go together to the cinema, but she was always watching their movies on TV. She stopped all family business or discussions to watch these movies.’ … I ask how he reacts to being compared to Yasujiro Ozu. ‘I of course take it as a compliment,’ he replies carefully. ‘I try to say thank you. But I think that my work is more like Mikio Naruse [the Japanese director of sombre working-class dramas]—and Ken Loach.'”
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