Three sisters live in this large house in Kamamura, which they have all to themselves since their mother moved out. Eldest Sachi (Haruka Asaye) is a nurse who is considering where to take her job and her relationship with a fellow doctor, middle sister Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) is more carefree, often to her detriment, and youngest Chika (Kaho) has struck up a relationship with a mountaineer, which seems about right for her as the goofiest of the sisters. However, there is a fourth sibling, a half-sister named Suzu (Suzu Hirose), who is now a young teenager but the father the four of them shared has recently passed away, leaving Suzu's mother reluctant to look after the girl...
Director Hirokazu Koreeda was often described as an heir to Yasujirô Ozu with his interest in the small heartbreaks of the domestic life in Japan that may be more devastating than they appear, but he was more accepting of these and optimistic that his characters could get through them, on the evidence of Our Little Sister at any rate. It was a low key drama almost to a fault, where any frowns and pouts would be replaced with a beatific smile by and by, and while there would be tensions, you could rest assured that they would work out for the best, though even so the tone was well aware that everything happening here would pass into memory, both good and bad, which made it important to emphasise the former.
After all, the death of a parent is a trauma for most people, and though the sisters describe their late father as "useless" (the worst thing a man can be, according to this) it's clear he left something of his personality behind, if only in their minds' eyes. Suzu really has the most to be resentful about, as she is abandoned by both her parents, her father through death and her mother through not being able to cope with looking after someone other than herself, which is why when her half-sisters invite her to stay with them she jumps at the chance, basically because they seem so nice. And indeed they are nice, a sweet natured bunch whose darker sides only reveal themselves occasionally and are always tempered by that benevolence that informs each of them.
Well, apart from Chika who grins her way through the story and acts as the ideal state the other characters should aspire to, that que sera, sera attitude that should see you through life's ups and downs. No matter how bad things could get, the mood always returns to the basis of latching onto the affirmative, and a lot of that is the stability a family can bring; the sisters may argue occasionally, but they only do so when they are fearful about what the future may bring for them, and otherwise they provide the anchor in their lives so Suzu could not have hoped for a better environment to grow up in. By this stage you may be asking, fine, if everyone gets along that's nice, but doesn't drama need conflict to thrive and make its mark on the audience's memories?
Maybe, maybe not: Koreeda's characters make the case that certainly anyone can have traumatic memories, but these should not necessarily overshadow the good times, and those lovely recollections should be the measure of everything else in your life as everything inevitably becomes a memory anyway. In this case those touchstones are almost entirely modest, making plum wine, cooking a favourite dish, gazing at the cherry blossom in the trees, that sort of thing, but are amplified with their essential sweetness as they linger in the mind; sure there is the odd fireworks display to add a bit of oomph, but more or less the rest of it is giving thanks for the little things in life that make it worthwhile as you accept nothing lasts forever and these things too shall pass. Winningly acted all round by the mainly female cast, it risked a soap opera quality to its melodramatic asides, yet continually returned to that need for a stable influence in every life so you too may be that influence for others. No, it wasn't in the least earth-shattering, but it didn't need to be, and on that gentle level it was a success. Rather over the top music by Yôko Kanno, mind you.
Japanese director who has made both documentaries and dramas for Japanese TV as well as turning in some affecting feature films. Maborosi (1995) was a powerful study of a young woman coming to terms with her husband's suicide, Afterlife (1998) took an inventive look at life-after-death, while 2001's Distance deals with terrorism and sacrifice and I Wish a wistful tale of childhood. Our Little Sister gently developed his interest in the power of memories.