Kore-eda's latest is remarkably angst-free. There are no real villains nor antagonists. School is okay, bad luck happens, some people misbehave, but through weakness rather than evil. Arguments are more likely to be based on misunderstandings than irresolvable differences. The sisters and their loves might hurt each other but without malice and everyone ultimately will seek and receive forgiveness. Sachi is having an affair with a married doctor in a way that dangerously replicates the behaviour of the hated other woman, but the doctor is a well-meaning man whose ambition is to treat children with cancer for crying out loud. And as Suzu's dead mother is the other woman, Sachi and her sisters must now find it in their hearts to forgive her for Suzu's sake. Yoshi is upset by the latest in a string of bad boyfriends, but there is always a welcome at home and we know that it will all be worked out in the end. Yoshi, Sachi and Chika become three surrogate mums for Suzu and she in turn is a rejuvenating presence who adds an unexpected angle to their lives. She joins the school football team and happily joins in the house rituals.
The sisters recognise themselves in her independence and self- sufficiency, but also in her own troubles with her past. All the sisters have lost their childhood, either through death or divorce and in Suzu they have an opportunity to witness the trauma from an opposing perspective, giving them the chance to come to terms with the past. None of this is particularly dramatic and certainly not melodramatic. The humour is as gentle as the girls are and, without sharp edges, the film occasionally veers towards schmaltz, but Kore-eda's deft touch and his eye for a subtle yet precise detail keeps the world grounded and consistently interesting, funny and at times moving. The performances of all the actors are uniformly excellent in that they never strike you as performances. Seasons change and shadows pass overhead and Kore-eda enjoys spending time with his family so much that he can be forgiven for perhaps staying a little too long, yet Our Little Sister remains an intelligent, quiet work from a master filmmaker.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty