Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2015 4:36 am 
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Sisterly tranquility

Writing about this film for The Dissolve at Cannes, where it was in competition this year, Mike D'Angelo described it as combining "the abandoned children of Nobody Knows with the minor-key bickering of Still Walking." But the bickering is very minor key, and thinking of Nobody Knows is just a reminder of how vivid and devastating that was. Here we are in the subtle tones of gray of Ozu but without quite his sense of profundity. There is something a little bit saccharine at times about Our Little Sister, underlined by a too-sweet score that happily isn't omnipresent. The narrative begins when three twenty-something sisters living in their grandmother's spacious house decide to take in their thirteen-year-old half sister, and we go through the quiet soap opera developments they experience over the next couple of years lived together, marked by tranquility and frequently declared sibling love. It's taken from a graphic novel that was run serially.

The adopted child, Suzu (Hirose Suzu), took care of their father in his last days; she apparently has gone through a lot though she doesn't speak about it. She's also very pretty and vivacious. The manager of a local restaurant, who will die of cancer, adores her and thanks her for just existing. Her reedy sort-of boyfriend after she's been in school a while feels the same way, and takes her on a memorably lovely bike ride through a "tunnel" of big cherry trees in bloom that's a moving, wordless celebration of life. There's much talk about plum liquor, which is a way for the sisters to recall memories and tell time. There's a nutty sister, Chika (Kaho), who works in a athletic shoe shop. The beautiful older sister Sachi (Ayase Haruka), responsible for the others, works in a hospital. She makes the nun-like decision to pass up marrying an older doctor and going with him to Boston and instead stay and make palliative care her life's work. Sweet Yoshino (Nagasawa Masami) works with a bank and goes around with her young boss to visit failing businesses -- occasion for more pondering about life and death.

What happened to the sisters is that their father ran off with another woman, and their mother, unable to cope, disappeared too. Eventually they meet with her, but while there's a glow of guilt about this lady as there is inexplicably about Suzu, it's just a moment. The episodic, meandering structure keeps the film from acquiring any emotional force, despite the many beautiful "casually lyrical" moments D'Angelo noted, as well the welcomely thoroughgoing immersion he also points to in feminine experience. But the film goes on a half hour too long and needs the hand of a master to whip this bland material into something entrancing and magical.

Our Little Sister/Umimachi Diary, 128 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015, a dozen other international festivals including London. Opened in Japan 13 June, Paris 28 Oct. (as Notre petite soeur). Screened for this review on opening day at MK2 Odeon. French mainstream critical response was good, AlloCiné press rating 3.7.

US theatrical release to begin 8 Jul;y 2016. (Northern California 15 and 22 July.)

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