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.

Miso and potsticker soup

Based on recipe from Real Simple website

Prep time: 10
Cook time: 20
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbps olive oil
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • ½ cup miso (soybean paste)
  • 1 lb potstickers, frozen
  • 6 ounces snap peas, thinly sliced
  • 8 radishes, thinly sliced

Directions

  1. Thinly slice scallions.
    Separate white and green parts.
  2. Thinly slice radishes.
  3. Thinly slice snap peas.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add scallion whites, ginger, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until tender, about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add miso and ½ cup of water. Whisk until miso is dissolved. Use light or dark miso.
  6. Add 7 ½ cups of water. Bring to a boil.

While the miso is coming to a boil, cook the potstickers.

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the potstickers. Cook the potstickers until they are browned on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the potstickers to the soup. Warm for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Serve soup. Add sliced snap peas, sliced radishes, and scallion greens to the individual soup bowls. To keep the toppings crisp, store extra servings separate from the remaining soup. Add immediately to the soup before serving.

 

I was curious about this alternative to the standard miso soup served in Japanese restaurants. The original recipe calls for light miso, but I found that darker miso I had on hand for traditional miso soup worked well.

You can find miso in the refrigerated section of Asian or international groceries. I don’t believe I have ever found it in American groceries.

The potstickers or dumplings can be any kind: pork, chicken, shrimp. You can find them at Asian or international and some American groceries. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s.