Hirokazu Kore-eda on Our Little Sister

Feature by Josh Slater-Williams | 04 Apr 2016

With films like I Wish and Nobody Knows, Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda has proven himself the modern master of quiet family dramas. His latest, Our Little Sister, is in a similar mode. He tells us why it’s more than just a film about siblings

When we meet at the London Film Festival, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda expresses an admiration for The Skinny’s iPhone case, which has a design based on the No-Face character from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. After this, though, he admits via an interpreter that he hasn’t actually seen that hugely successful animation, which is something of a surprise – not just because Spirited Away was such a massive hit in Japan, as well as around the world, but also because Kore-eda has in his own way been just as significant a force in Japanese film over the last few decades as Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, albeit in the realm of live-action and in a much quieter fashion.

We’re meeting to discuss his latest feature, Our Little Sister, which begins with three adult sisters attending the funeral of their estranged father and meeting Suzu (Suzu Hirose), their teenage half-sister for the first time. On something of a whim, the eldest daughter of the trio, Sachi (Haruka Ayase), invites young Suzu to live with them in the ancestral home where they’ve fostered an atmosphere akin to a sorority house. Like Kore-eda’s last few features (Still Walking; I Wish; Like Father, Like Son), the new film is a slice-of-life family drama that never veers into especially grand melodramatics or seismic events. It’s just a beautiful story told in a gentle fashion. Where it stands apart in his filmography – which also includes such acclaimed films as Nobody Knows and After Life – is that it's an adaptation of a manga.

“I really felt very strongly that I wanted to do this”

“It’s quite unusual,” Kore-eda explains, “as I don’t normally go for something that isn’t an original story, but I have been a fan of that manga and [author Akimi Yoshida] for years – just as a fan, not with the view to making it into films at all. But when I read this particular one, about abandoned children adopting another abandoned child, it somehow really, really appealed to me. I really felt very strongly that I wanted to do this.”

Our Little Sister is one of the great films about sisterhood, but for Kore-eda the film goes beyond simply observing its central family unit: “The original story is about four sisters and the English title is Our Little Sister, but the original manga translates as Diary of a Seaside Town. I think of the story from the father’s point of view – the father who passed away. It's not just about the sisters but how he regards them. That’s how I regard this film: the father who passed away looking on.”

Did he imbue the film with any element of his own personal life? “Nothing personal like discovering a half-sibling, no. From my own personal life, I had a very negative memory of my own father. But since he’s passed away, and having become a father myself, there are elements where now I can see that maybe he was struggling like this in this situation; I can relate to him a little bit more. And so I have probably influenced Sachi, the eldest daughter, in how she changes her mind about her father.

“This particular film,” he continues, “was about accepting, for me. Especially Sachi accepting her father that she didn’t like. That was the strongest feeling that I wanted to portray in the film.”

Our Little Sister is released 15 Apr by Curzon/Artifical Eye