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Film review: "Our Little Sister" 

From Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda ("After Life," "Still Walking") comes "Our Little Sister," a sweet, sensitive family drama based on the popular manga "Umimachi Diary," by Akimi Yoshida. The story revolves around the lives of three sisters: responsible, motherly Sachi (Haruka Ayase), fun-loving Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), and oddball Chika (Kaho), living together in their grandmother's house. We quickly learn that the girls have been looking after and relying on one another for 15 years, ever since their father left their mother to start a family with another woman, and their mother in turn abandoned them soon after.

One day, the girls receive word that their father has passed away, and decide they'd like to travel to attend the funeral. There, they meet their teenaged half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). Mature and remarkably self-assured for her age, Suzu gets along well with her new sisters, and as they're leaving to return home, Sachi impulsively invites Suzu to come live with them. With her extension of kindness, the door is opened for some long overdue sisterly bonding.

A simple slice of life, the plot of "Our Little Sister" is low-stakes; there's not a lot of incident to be found throughout its (admittedly slightly too long) running time. But the film gradually builds in weight as the sisters open up to welcome Suzu as part of their family. Suzu's presence isn't always easy for the sisters -- after all, the young girl can't help but be a sometimes painful reminder of their father's infidelities.

At times the anger, resentments, and grief the sisters have never allowed themselves to express gradually bubble toward the surface, opening wounds whose existence have never been acknowledged. But Koreeda is quick to emphasis that this process is the critical first step toward healing, never letting those moments upend the delicate mood he's cultivated (a sequence involving two children riding a bike through a "tunnel" made by rows of blossoming cherry trees is one of the most joyous scenes I've seen on screen this year). Instead he focuses on breathing life into a generous, quietly moving tale about family, responsibility, and the ties that bind us together.

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