Today we delve into the soul of a strange and sweet Japanese manga, Umimachi Diary, which became a movie in 2015 under the title Our Little Sister.
The story revolves around the three girls of the Kôda family, living together in Kamakura City years after their father left with another woman and their disappointed mother abandoned and left them alone.
If nothing else, they still have the family’s ancient home, a beautiful mansion with a lush garden overlooking the sea.
The three young women lead independent lives, although they remain united by the deep bond that has linked them since childhood and meant to fend for themselves.
In order of age, these sisters are Chika, a 20-year-old sporting goods store clerk; Yoshino, on the other hand, is 23 and works in a bank; and finally, the oldest and leader of the group, Sachi, a 29-year-old nurse.
Upon hearing of their father’s death, they go to his funeral, where they meet their 14-year-old half-sister, Suzu, for the first time.
Going for a walk together, they discover the little girl is in a difficult family situation, so Sachi invites her to live with them at their Kamakura home.
Suzu’s arrival brings new dynamics and challenges for all of them, who must learn to welcome the newcomer and make her feel part of the family unit.
Initially shy and reserved, Suzu gradually gains the hearts of her older sisters and new friends at school, where she becomes an excellent soccer player.
However, a shadow lies over the girl’s heart after she assisted her dying father in his last years of illness. Moreover, she always felt sad and guilty, being the daughter of a relationship that broke the sisters’ family apart.
The beauty of pure simplicity
I admit to usually being accustomed to movies with very different adventurous pacing, but Our Little Sister captivated me when I saw it in 2015.
With careful delicacy, director Kore-eda Hirokazu selects highlights from the nine volumes of the original Umimachi Diary manga with the help of author Akimi Yoshida.
Of course, some characters and situations are missing from the nearly two-hour movie, preferring to focus on these sisters’ figures and the balance between their relationships.
For anyone who fears a great drama that aims to wring as many tears as possible from the audience, you can rest assured.
The story always runs on the edge of cheerful, youthful irony, effectively telling the epic tale of these little girls who left alone by their parents, must become women before their time.
Yet there is room for play, fun, and romantic love, especially for the two older sisters, Yoshino and Sachi.
The former seems to continually leave one relationship to start another, failing to find a suitable mate but never giving up and continuing to hope.
In contrast, the more adult Sachi is in love with fellow Dr. Yasuyuki Inoue, who, unfortunately, is married to a very sick woman whom he does not want to abandon.
The situation, of course, always reminds the girl of the story of her father, also married and having a secret affair.
Even worse is when the doctor then asks her to move to America, something she would gladly accept but would involve forsaking her young sisters forever.
Technically, the movie is essential but graceful, with bright photography that enhances the beauty of these young girls and the charm of the natural landscape around their mansion.
What could be more beautiful than the naked truth surrounding us, and sometimes we forget to appreciate it?
The talent and charisma of these radiant sisters
Regarding the cast, the plot features mainly female protagonists, carrying the facets of the character’s personalities to the big screen with authentic and intense performances.
The father figure physically disappears from the protagonists’ lives, but his memory and past choices continue to influence their existence.
In this sense, Haruka Ayase, with her extraordinary performance, gives life to the most complex and fascinating character and the constant focus of the many events narrated.
It is no accident that her bond with Dr. Yasuyuki Inoue, a married man, mirrors the family drama experienced by the sisters.
Ryōhei Suzuki, an actor with solid and measured acting, gives a sad portrayal of this tender but also tormented lover.
As the family dreamer, Masami Nagasawa lives in search of love, often coming into conflict with her older sister.
Her character deals with romantic disappointments by taking refuge in homemade liquor, offering moments that are at once angry, sad, and amusing.
Kaho, with her cheerful, peacemaking spirit, plays what is almost a mediator between the sisters, untangling tensions to maintain harmony within the home.
Her presence does not always balance the family dynamics; if nothing else, she limits the damage by providing a light and pleasant touch.
Finally, Suzu Hirose stars as the sensitive young newcomer to the household. Although she receives a warm reception, her character constantly engages with doubts and regrets.
The young actress successfully conveys the nuances of a girl trying to rebuild her life after struggling to give up the joys of adolescence because of a selfish father and a distant mother.
Each of these women is a piece of a puzzle without a solution, with that spontaneous energy uncontaminated by stylistic excesses that closely reminds me of early Italian neorealist cinema.