Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister)

One day left to see this, Boston, as it leaves Kendall Square after Thursday night's screenings. Sorry for being so late to let you know that it's one of my absolute favorite movies of the year, but, folks, you shouldn't need me to tell you that an ensemble film by Hirokazu Kore-eda is kind of terrific. That's just about a given, although this one is a particular favorite. I probably could have caught it in Montreal - it was playing for a good chunk of the time I was up there - but I was kind of overloaded on movies enough, right?

(Although, as an aside, given the amount of theaters that are going to be built near Boston Common in the upcoming years, I am really hoping that it continues to become more like the one at the old Forum in Montreal which, because it has 22 screens and has to split films with a fancier place two stops up the Metro, has a lot of foreign and independent stuff.)

This film may actually have started playing both Montreal and Boston on the 21st, which is interesting because the second Japanese two-parter to play the festival that year was Chihayafuru,a shojo manga adaptation that I punted because the second part overlapped something I wanted to see (directly or via domino effect). Now, though, I see that those films starred Suzu Hirose, who is absolutely fantastic as the title character in this movie. I'm not exactly regretting those decisions now - as I'll post before too much time is out, Holy Flame of the Martial World is great, insane stuff - but it would be great to see what else she is capable of.

She plays the youngest sister; the oldest is played by Haruka Ayase, and seeing her name in the advertising for this movie made me wonder if I was remembering a certain actress's name wrong. In 2009, it seemed like every non-art-house movie I saw from Japan had the same actress - she was in Cyborg She, The Magic Hour, Ichi, Happy Flight, and she was unavoidable - I saw two at Fantasia, one when a Japanese airline rented out the Coolidge to hold a free movie screening at which they pitched their services, and one that played a single screening at the Kendall that apparently only I noticed. It was weird. I didn't mind - she was really pretty if not exactly suited to some of her roles - but what were the odds?

Same actress, and it's pretty cool to see that she has grown to the point where she's actually excellent in here. Checking that led me to something else, too - earlier this year, she apparently starred in a miniseries version of Never Let Me Go, and now I really need to see it. I loved the movie and am very curious how giving the story a little room to breathe and moving it to Japan rather than England might change it. I'm afraid I'm going to have to find a torrent site or something, because it doesn't seem to be on Crunchyroll and I don't know where else you would find Japanese TV in America.

Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

There probably won't be a sweeter movie this year than Our Little Sister, and not just because few filmmakers aim for that. It is wonderful to see something like this appear, though, because it is a joy to sit down in the theater and see people at their best without ever feeling like they've been made overly simplistic or the situations less honest. It's two hours that few people could do nearly as well as Hirokazu Kore-eda.

There's a house in Kamakata where the three Koda sisters live. Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the oldest, is a nurse and a sort of den mother; Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) is a couple years younger and likes her alcohol and men; Chika (Kaho) is just out of high scool and a bit of an eccentric. They're a tight enough family unit that when the news comes that their father has died in Yamagata with his third wife, they aren't too concerned about going; they haven't seen him since he left fifteen years ago. Yoshino and Chika do, and that's where they meet Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose), the fourteen-year-old daughter of the woman for whom their father left their family. Seeing that Suzu is not especially close to her stepmother, the sisters ask if she would like to move in with them, an offer she eagerly accepts.

At this point, something like ninety percent of the narratives based upon this concept would focus on the Suzu being taken in out of a reluctant sense of duty, or hidden resentments coming out. Instead, Kore-eda (adapting the manga Umimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshida) quickly establishes that the Kodas connect with Suzu out of a sense of empathy and seem puzzled in a genuine way when someone in their lives suggests that they might or should harbor hard feelings toward Suzu. It's actually an exciting development despite appearing to be the very opposite of dramatic, both because it feels like the opposite of what always happens (and thus uncharted territory) and because, in doing so, Kore-eda is clearly setting up for a number of smaller, but no less intriguing, ways of looking at the situation.

Full review on EFC.

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