Starring: Haruka Asaye, Suzu Hirose, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho
Rated PG for Thematic Elements and Brief Language
"Our Little Sister" is the new film from acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda. I haven't seen any of his other films, but Roger Ebert said that his 1996 film "Maborosi" was one of the best films of the 1990's and James Berardinelli gave his previous film, "Like Father, Like Son," a rare 4/4 rating. There's no denying that Koreeda (who sometimes only credits himself by his last name, has talent for directing actors. But it's his screenplay, based on the manga by Akimi Yoshida, is a mess. It's less than the sum of its parts.
Three adult sisters are living in their late grandmother's house. Their father remarried 15 years ago and they haven't heard from him since, and their mother left some time after that. They are Sachi (Asaye), a nurse that took over parenting duties, Yoshino (Nagasawa), a banker and party girl, and Chika (Kaho), who sells shoes. At the funeral, they meet their half-sister Suzu (Hirose), and they invite her to live with them. Together, the four of them face the realities of growing up, men, and death.
There really isn't much of a plot to this movie. I kind of like that in a movie, provided the characters are interesting enough. Some movies, such as "Whisper of the Heart," this year's "Born Yesterday," or "Win Win," have been interesting because of strong writing and acting. That's not the case with "Our Little Sister." The writing is shallow and character development is almost non-existent. The high quality of the acting soothes the pain, but when you watch a 2+ hour movie with no plot, it helps to know who each character is.
It's actually surprising how good the acting is, considering how little they have to work with. The best performance is given by Haruka Asaye, who at different times looks like Ziyi Zhang or Gong Li. Her performance as the young, surrogate mother is strong in its low-key way. She deserves an Oscar nomination (which she won't get). Her co-stars are just as good, but she has the most rounded character.
It's obvious that Koreeda has something to say with this movie. What that is, I'll never know. It's too messy and oblique. I don't even know the purpose of telling this story. Is he saying something about families? Or is it about the passage of time? If so, what's he saying? The movie is never clear on this.
There is some worthwhile material here. The performances are strong across the board, and there are more than a few scenes that work in isolation (there's also an amusing scene where Yoshino and Chika accidentally get Suzu totally hammered). But, as a whole, the film never comes together.