We gave it a C+
The Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda possesses a gentle-as-a-feather style, which in his best movies adds meditative beauty and wistful poetry to subjects as heavy as purgatory (1998’s gorgeous After Life), child abandonment (2004’s Nobody Knows) and babies switched at birth (2013’s Life Father, Like Son). But those three titles have a narrative backbone that engages the viewer’s imagination in a way that his new picture, the extremely soft and airy Our Little Sister, does not. The story, based on the popular Japanese magna comic Umimachi Diary, begins with three sisters (Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho) traveling to the funeral of their estranged father. There they encounter their father’s 15-year-old daughter (Suzu Hirose) from his second marriage, and in quick impulse judgment, the sisters invite the girl to come live with them in seaside idyll.
Anyone with foreknowledge of the director will figure out that the little sister is not possessed by dark secrets or demonic revenge. This is the Japan of Ozu, not Ringu, and the winsome girl easily adjusts into the family and comes to signal a burst of hope-springs within each of her three half-sisters. But except for a small handful of moments—such as a magnificent bike ride through a pink-white dome of cherry blossoms or a fetishized meal of delectable whitebait on toast with plum wine—the story lingers and wanders and meanders with a disappointing lack of throttle. The entrance of the women’s long lost mother at the halfway mark is an attempt to energize the film with some dramatic thrust, but comes too late, especially given the film’s two-hours-plus running time. Despite fine intentions and four lovely performances from the female leads, Our Little Sister is simply too light to be felt. It floats away in the wind—and the memory — like a paper umbrella. C+