Movie review: Our Little Sister (2016)

What struck me most about Our Little Sister was how much food was involved. As the movie wound through the lives of four sisters, scene after scene depicted them eating and the centrality of food in their lives.

Our Little Sister is not a movie about food—though perhaps it could have been. The movie follows three sisters who live together and experience the death of their long-estranged father At the funeral, they meet their previously unknown half-sister.

The movie is dominated by women. It is a storyline about women and how women are important in each other’s lives. The three sisters bring home their younger sibling to live with them. Respect is shown at the family shrine, where tales about Grandma are shared. Great Auntie appears and even the long-absent mother who abandoned the sisters years earlier reappears in their lives. A woman business owner of a local restaurant frequented by the sisters during their lives is central too—to their lives and the story.

Men fill supporting roles—from the deadbeat father who is also absent in the movie to the erstwhile boyfriends. Men are of little consequence, perhaps reflecting the relationship dynamics that have been playing out in Japanese society for the last several decades.

The sisters dance around painful truths. In essence, they were abandoned by both parents and learned to live together and rely on each other in a house that their mother owned. As adults, they are strong, independent women though one seems to renounce her boyfriend-seeking obsession later in the movie. Family relationships make things difficult and force negotiations about who can discuss who to whom.

The teenage sibling that the three sisters adopt into their home is the product of their father and the woman he abandoned them and their mother for. At the funeral, the young sibling was living with her step-mother, another woman that their father married after things ended between their father and the woman he left his first wife for. (It’s never explicitly stated that the second wife died but assumed since she never appears in the movie or is discussed.)

The younger sibling knew their father in ways that the older sisters didn’t. She had discussions with him and fishing expeditions. The older sisters express an interest in hearing about their father and learning what he was like.

Her presence though is a painful reminder to everyone about how the father failed them, or as the sisters describe it, was “useless”. He was a kind man, to woman after woman after woman, leaving behind broken relationships. The younger sibling reminds everyone, just by her existence, of the painful reality that he left them—the older siblings and the first wife and mother of the older siblings.

Throughout the movie, the sins of the father are manifest. In a scene near the end, the eldest sibling and the youngest are walking to a secluded spot overlooking a bay. The eldest would go here with the father and then later after he left she would go by herself. She screams into the wind about him.

The youngest follows suit but with a twist. Into the wind she screams about her mother, the woman that the father left his wife and daughters for. The pain that the other woman caused, even carried by her daughter, is finally acknowledged. Not only do the siblings need to talk about the father, but they need to talk about the other woman, Suzu’s mother. That fact is finally acknowledged and invited into discussions.

Family relationships can be messy. Our Little Sister shows that, as well as the bonds among women. Men are almost an afterthought but definitely the source of lots of pain.

TV miniseries review: Empire Falls (2005)

The opening narration seemed promising. This is a film based on a book. Think A River Runs Through It.

And then think again. I am intrigued enough that I will probably hunt down Richard Russo’s book. The cast is top notch, with actors such as Ed Harris, Paul Newman, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gracing the screen. (I would have never suspected that Paul Newman was playing the old family codger.)

However, the script doesn’t seem to always work. Dialogue feels stilted and interactions a bit odd. Perhaps though that is a product of forcing a book into a TV series format. Reading the book will reveal if this is the case.

The story takes place in a small Maine town run by a wealthy family who owned the means of industrial capital through the generations. With the rise of globalization and the sell-off of assets, the population of the town has been thrown out of work and down on their luck for decades.

Against this backdrop, we meet our hero: Miles Roby. At 42, he is stuck managing a local restaurant for the matriarch of the wealthy local family. Dreams long ago dashed, he continues to slowly watch his life ebb away. His wife left their loveless marriage for the local gym owner, only to discover that his real age is at least a decade older than the 50 years he claims to be. Christina, their daughter, has a great relationship with her dad but not her mother and suffers through an abusive ex-boyfriend. A constant burr in Miles’ side is his nev’r-do-well father played by Newman. Others float in and out of the story: a former flame of his, a former childhood acquaintance who is now a cop, the wealthy matriarch’s daughter who always had a crush on him.

The mix of events in this sleepy Maine town is punctuated by flashbacks that Miles has. He remembers scenes from his childhood with his mother: trips to Martha’s Vineyard, his mother’s affair with someone who made her happy, leaving school to be close to his mother as she died. Life is a tangled web that people tend to get stuck in. Miles is stuck despite the poking and prodding of his brother to do something with his life.

I felt like I was watching a traditional mini-series, the kind that one watches on a bad weather fall afternoon. It sucks you in but if the sun was shining you’d be out doing something else. But even so, I am looking forward to watching the next installment.