Our Little Sister (Japanese)

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Our Little Sister

There’s a lot of heartache and yearning under the surface of “Our Little Sister” — a strange thing to say about a movie so outwardly congenial and nearly conflict-free, but that’s the pleasure (maybe) of this understated Japanese family drama from director Hirokazu Koreeda.

Three sisters — responsible Sachi (Haruka Ayase), slightly wild Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), and teenager Chika (one-named Kaho) — learn upon the death of their estranged father that they have a half-sister, 14-year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose), who comes to live with them in the house they’ve shared since their flighty mother abandoned them years ago. All four sisters get along swimmingly (the new one isn’t evil or anything) as they go to their jobs or school, find or lose boyfriends, and live their tranquil lives.

Remarkably, without much overt drama, Koreeda and the actresses establish richly drawn characters whose lives feel authentically lived-in. We understand their individual struggles and insecurities without having them spelled out melodramatically: Sachi is seeing a married man; Suzu is aware that her very existence (she’s the product of adultery) is a source of pain. Koreeda’s restrained style and gentle pace may try some viewers’ patience, but if you can roll with it, it’s a lovely, poignant slice of life.

B (2 hrs., 8 min.; Japanese with subtitles; PG, mild thematic content.)