There are many things I don't like about the Japanese but Japanese films don't figure amongst them. Japan has produced many excellent film directors. One of the directors I love best is Yasujirō Ozu (小津安二郎)（1903-1963). He does not appear to be particularly fascinated by big epic heroes. He interested himself in the ordinary folks, the kind of people we meet in fast food shops, in the neighborhood coffee bar or some out of the way little towns, the kind of people we meet in buses, trams, undergrounds and ferries, the kind of people who don't normally attract a lot of attention to themselves. But they do not on that account appear any less real. Perhaps precisely for that very reason, we feel there's more flesh and blood in them and somehow we feel that they are much closer to us, each with our own petty hopes, fears, quirks and foibles and our little successes and failures. I believe that I have just discovered one of Ozu's possible successors. He is Hirokazu Kore-eda(是枝裕和) (b. 1962) and last weekend, I went to his latest film, "Little Sister" or "Umimachi Diary" <海街日記>(2015.)He directed and co-scripted the film with Akimi Yoshida (吉田秋生) a female Japanese Manga (漫画) artist.
It's a perfectly ordinary story: three sisters Sachi Koda(幸田) (Haruka Ayase) (綾瀨遙), a nurse, the eldest Yoshino Koda (佳乃田)(Masami Nagasawa)(長澤正美), a bank clerk, the elder, Chika Koda(千佳田)(Kaho) (夏帆), a shoe shop assistant and the youngest, living in the house left behind by their grandmother in Kamakura(鎌倉市), suddenly received news that their father, whom they have not met for 15 years, was dead and they had to attend his funeral. They went and was met at the small and deserted railway station by a smart and pretty teenage girl in school uniform Asano Suzu(淺野鈴)(Hirose Suzu (廣瀨鈴) who led them to the inn and restaurant run by their deceased father. There they met their father's sister and their uncle, their own natural mother and their father's third wife and her son of 4 or 5. When it was time to go back to Kamamura, Sachi was overcome by a pang of pity for Suzu, now without both her father and her mother and burdened with the prospects of having to look after an obviously incompetent step mother and her young step brother, asked Suzu if she would like to come live with them. Without a thought, Suzu nodded. The film is about the trivialities in the lives of these four orphans, united in the beginning by little more than an absent and now deceased father.
Very skilfully, Kore-edashows us snippets of how Suzuzano adjusted to her new life with her half sisters, at school and at home, how she learned about the personalities of the tough, responsible, sensible and loving Sachi, who took up the role both as sister and mother, and "warden" of their ancestral home, the love-crazed romantic and absent minded Yoshino, and the childish, unpredictable but kind hearted Chika by observation and through their day to day family conversations around the dinner table and often through her eyes too, we learned about various tit bits of their personality and their family history. They got on remarkably well and in the process, the Koda sisters learned much more about the kind of person their father was through the mouths of Suzu, their aunt who runs a tiny neighborhood restaurant by the seaside of Kamamura left by her paternal grandmother and their uncle. Upon the anniversary of their father's death, Sachi was reconciled with her own mother, whom she hated all through those years she thought she deserted them for another man after their father got to know Suzu's now deceased mother. We learned about it when she gave to her mother the best prune wine from the tree their grandmother planted in their family garden just before she died, nicely packed in a brown paper envelope after they visited her father's tomb together.
When the film ends, we see the Koda sisters and Suzu celebrating the fireworks festival by the sparks flying off from their hand-held firework sticks, with Suzu wearing the yukata, (summer kimono) which had been given Satchi by her own grandmother, and thereafter walking on the sands of the Kamamurabeach and Sachi saying that Suzu is the best gift left by their father to them. Throughout the film, although their father was never shown even once, we seem to see his shadow pervading it and feel how the warm glow of his not always wise love affected all whom his love touched and how he knew exactly where to find such beauty as are allowed to ordinary mortals like ourselves, with our tiny strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps as was said of Shakespeare's King Lear, a larger than life character, we could also say that he loved well, but not wisely.
I love Kore-eda's useof the subtle symbols of quiet seaside for the flow of emotions, flowers for spontaneous natural beauty and the sparks of fireworks for the intimate unity of family bonding and a niche in the mountains, far away from the bustling town below as a hide-away paradise of the human spirit and the white-fish sandwich made by Koda for her daughters as expression of his affection for them. Kore-eda is a sensitive director and tells his story through excellently chosen details in the lives of his characters to reveal the trivial yet emotionally important episodes in their lives, giving us many moments of wordless tenderness, intimacy and quiet idyllic beauty, moments of sadness, of regrets and of nostalgia, never exaggerated, never needlessly dramatic, a Chekhov of the cinema. And all the actresses put in exemplary performances. But if I were forced to choose, I really love the performance of Haruka Ayase who brings out fully the kind of sense of responsibility and even self-imposed duty to sacrifice her own happiness felt by the eldest child of the family in the mess created by his father's impulsive and spontaneous affection for others and that of the lovely Hirose Suzu who brings out fully quiet indomitable spirit of Suzu which refuses to be put down by the impossible difficulties imposed upon her by life and that sense of reality intrinsic in her character when faced with a very tough family situation not of her own making quite early in her life without thereby losing in the process that precious and spontaneous instinct for seeking out such beauty as life may afford us from time to time and for savoring the other little joys of life. For this film, Kore-eda won the award for "best film" at the San Sebastian Film Festival 2015