Last December I went to the special Filmfocus evening from the Filmhuis in The Hague. This is event is held regularly to place a film that has had special attention in the spotlight by viewing at it from a different angle and have a discussion afterwards. This time the theme was the Japanese film Uminachi Diary, also known as Our Little Sister. It is about the last released film by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, also known for emotionally intense films such as Daremo Shiranai (Nobody Knows) and Soshite chichi ni naru (Like Father, Like Son). Umimachi Diary was introduced in 2015 at the World Cinema Amsterdam and a later date at CAMERA JAPAN Festival in The Netherlands, when I saw the trailer it immediately spoke to me and I really wanted to see it. Naturally I was very enthusiastic when I noticed it would be played at the Filmhuis.
The nice thing about this film is that it is a completely different film then expected from this director. When hearing the story and watching the trailer it again appears to be a film that might shock people based on the subject. The story of this film is based on the manga Umimachi Diary from Akimi Yoshida. The 3 sisters Sachi, Yoshino and Chika are living in the house of their grandma when they hear that their father, who they haven’t seen for most of their life, has passed away. Also they hear that they have a 13 year old sister named Suzu, who is basically left all alone because her mother also passed away. When visiting the grave of their father the sisters decide to ask her to live with them.
You would think this would cause friction and awkward situations but the opposite is true. The film shows how great and pleasant the life of the sisters is actually going, even though a lot of things are happening which everyone will go through during their life. Though relations with people, people passing away who are close to the family and of course the relation between the sisters and other family members. Of course there are also a lot of fun moments, for example Suzu’s first love and the tradition of homemade umushu (Japanese liquor made from ume fruits). Very nice to watch are the details that Koreeda-sensei has placed in the film. Subtle hints of things that connects everyone and if you pay close attention you will notice a lot of things come back. Japanese films are not known for their depiction of family relations which is just what stands out about this film.
Another fun thing about the film is that all of the actresses in a lead role; the sisters, are well known people in the Japanese entertainment world. Sachi, played by Haruka Ayase is an actress and singer. Yoshino, played by Masami Nagasawa is a well-known actress. Chika, played by Kaho is an actress and model. Suzu, played by Suzu Hirose is also an actress and model. This is a fun extra for fans of Japanese films and drama series. It is always nice to see a known or your favourite actress on screen.
In my opinion Umimachi Diary is a very nice, sweet and beautiful film that shows different aspects of Japanese culture and also speaks to the conventional parts. Something that makes it even more realistic without it getting too demanding or it gets too hard to watch.