Three sisters live together in their grandmother's house in a seaside town in Japan. It is a soulful place where they talk, laugh, eat, drink, and pray in front of their ancestral shrine. They are in sync with the natural world and with the seasons. These young women were abandoned by both parents; first their father left home after falling in love with another woman and then their mother (Shinobu Ohtake) walked out on them. The sisters reformed as a new family and have survived by bonding together with subtle grace and supple love.
Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the oldest and most responsible one, has taken on the role of surrogate mother. Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) is the pretty one who dates a variety of men and is a party girl. Chika (Kaho) is the youngest, a happy camper who has a sense of humor and a playful spirit. They all have jobs. Sachi is a head nurse; Yoshino is an officer at a bank; and Chika is a sporting goods manager.
None of them knew their father very well – they think of him as "kind" and "useless." But out of duty they attend his funeral in another city. There they meet Suzu (Suzu Hirose), the adolescent daughter of their father's second marriage. They are impressed with her maturity, sweet disposition, and beauty. They realize it was this younger sister who took care of their father when he was dying, but now is not close to her step-mother. Everyone is happy when Sachi invites Suzu to come live with her sisters and she agrees.
The addition of Suzu to the family works wonders for them all. Sachi, Yoshino, and Chika make her feel right at home. Suzu blooms before their eyes. At school, she becomes a star on the soccer team and makes lots of friends. She is warmly accepted in the community and wins the affection and admiration of the kind-hearted woman (Jun Fubuki) who runs a cafe where the sisters have gone for many years.
In her first encounter with her half-sisters, Suzu leads them up a steep hill and shares with them a panoramic view of the countryside that she used to share with their father. Later Sachi shows her a similar view that she remembers seeing with their father when she was a child. All the sisters have mixed feelings about their parents. The older ones constantly assure Suzi that it is not her fault that her mother destroyed their family.
Suzu's communion with the natural world is an added blessing to the acceptance she discovers in her new community. In the most memorable of the many tributes to beauty in the film, a boy takes Suzu on a bicycle ride under a row of cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Her own private moment of connection with nature comes after finishing a bath when she steps outside and opens her towel to sense the air on her bare skin.
In the six films Hirokazu Kore-eda has directed, he has created an astonishing collection of stories which touch the heart and revere the manifold mysteries of life. Searching for a genre to place his work under, we came up with the idea of calling them "miniature films." These dramas reflect Kore-eda's attention to the little details of everyday life and the minutia of intimate relationships and family interactions. Events move slowly so you have time to notice subtle things that are happening. The director's love of fashioning art in the small has not diminished over the years.
We were moved by Maborosi, a powerful and profound drama about one woman's long and arduous journey through grief's labyrinth.
Our favorite of his films is After Life, an exquisite story in which people who have recently died are given the chance to choose the memory of the best day of their life to carry with them into eternity.
Nobody Knows tells the harrowing story of four children in Tokyo who are abandoned by their mother and forced to fend for themselves.
In Still Walking, the director turns his focus on a Japanese family get-together to explore sibling rivalry, the yearning to be wanted, and the mysteries of death.
I Wish is a charming and inventive drama about wishes, friendship, sibling solidarity, and the wonderful support of grandparents when we need them most.
Like Father, Like Son explores the slow and surprising transformation of a self-absorbed and distant father who comes to see how important it is for both children and parents to be loved and appreciated.
The themes of these earlier Hirokazu Kore-eda films are present in this new one – the importance of family relationships over time, the transformative power of memories, and the yearning for acceptance and love. The three sisters are connected to their late grandmother who looked after them following their mother's departure. They introduce Suzu to the art of making of wine with plums from the old tree in the garden using their grandmother's recipe. Time and tradition can be prisons for many but for these sisters they are reservoirs of meaning and sustenance.
When the moment comes to say goodbye to these four sisters, it is hard to describe our feelings. There is our gratitude for the beauty we have witnessed on the screen in the faces and presence of these immensely talented actresses. There is also the pleasure that is derived from the gentle and caring ways in which the characters do their everyday chores in their home. Here little things matter and the sisters do them with such love that it takes away our breath to see how graceful and natural this lifestyle can be. And last but not least, we recall how in their nurturing of each other and Suzu they heeded the wise words of their grandmother: "Every living thing takes time and effort."