Our Little Sister

I mentioned last post that I saw a wonderful movie at the Victoria Film Fest earlier in February—a movie I had no expectations about and which completely surprised me with its understated beauty.

Our Little Sister is a 2015 Japanese movie by Hirokazu Kore-eda about three sisters in their 20s who live together in Kamakura and take in their 13-year-old half sister after their father dies. In Japanese, it’s called Umimachi Diary which means “seaside town diary.”

It’s a quiet film that relies on subtle storytelling and believable characters to give it it its emotional depth. None of it feels sentimental and none of the four sisters conform to easy stereotypes. Each sister was her own character and got fairly equal screen treatment, which I felt was a wise move.

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The sisters live in their grandmother’s house that they refer to as the “girls’ dorm.” Sachi, Yoshina, and Chika Kouda have grown up in this home by themselves. The eldest, Sachi, inadvertently became the mom to the younger two after their father had an affair and their parents divorced. Their father remarried, having another daughter Suzu. The girls’ mom had some sort of breakdown and left them shortly after their father did.

The three Kouda sisters meet their half-sister at their father’s funeral (whom they hadn’t seen in 15 years). They take Suzu in because her stepmother is not a great caregiver (Suzu’s mom had died earlier), and Suzu is happy to join them. She is a gentle and sweet presence in their lives and they love looking after her, but her addition in the “girls’ dorm” also brings up a lot of memories and unhealed wounds from the past.

I love that the sisters felt so human, so nuanced, so relatable. Having a sister myself, I found a lot to identify with, but you don’t need to be a sister to appreciate this film.

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Sachi is responsible, loving, cautious, lonely, and, as it turns  out, still angry at her mom and still so eager for her love. She is a senior nurse in palliative care at the local hospital, unhappily involved in a relationship with a married man.

Yoshina (Yoshi) is the high-heeled wearing reckless middle sister (not that reckless, she just drinks too much) and isn’t afraid to confront people about their actions (like her older sister’s pent-up anger). She has a decent job at a bank. Her compassion is really poignant closer to the end of the film when she has to consult clients about filing for bankruptcy and asks Sachi for advice about how to do her job well and not bring it home with her so much.

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Chika is the somewhat nerdy and free spirited youngest child who, according to the other two, has “weird taste in men.” She works at a sports store and is the peacemaker when familial tensions get tight. But her depth comes out too, like when she wants to know from Suzu what their dad was like. None of the other sisters ask Suzu this, even though they’re all yearning to know. It’s not surprising that Chika forms the closest relationship with Suzu, being the closest in age.

Suzu is quiet, thoughtful, and wise beyond her years. You feel her tension of being caught between sisterly love and a heightened sensitivity about her very existence bringing pain to those she loves: “Someone is always hurt, just because I’m here.”

This is a movie that made me laugh and made me weep. I was watching a family that was beautiful and messy and full of joy and sadness and everything in between. All those ideas were wrapped up in the recurring motif of cherry blossom trees, symbolic to Japanese culture of the beauty and fragility of life, the acceptance of loss and the hope of new growth.

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Valentine’s in Victoria

Thanks to Miss604 and the Victoria Film Fest, I won a trip for two to Victoria last weekend, which also happened to be Valentine’s Day weekend. I’ve never won something like this before, so that was particularly exciting and it came at such a great time for the Artist and I.

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Part of the getaway package was round trip flights by float plane, which I’ve wanted to do ever since seeing Reese Witherspoon reject her opportunity in Sweet Home Alabama. (what was she thinking?!) This was on the Artist’s bucket list too, and we both loved it.

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The plane fit 12 people plus the pilot. We sat at the back and watched as our beautiful city faded from view—the downtown office towers, Lion’s Gate Bridge, Stanley Park, UBC. And then we oohed and ahhed as we flew low over the Gulf Islands, trying to identify which ones we were looking at. If you don’t like a lot of turbulence, a float plane is probably not for you as you do feel every dip and turn that much more than on a regular plane, but as someone who loves that sinking feeling you get from roller coaster rides, I was totally in my element.

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We landed in Victoria Harbour just 30 minutes from when we left Vancouver. How fast is that?! SO beats taking the ferry. And then we walked to our hotel, none other than the iconic, Edwardian, château-style Empress Hotel built in 1908 and designated a National Historic Site of Canada. To say we were excited was an understatement!

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The hotel is beautiful, inside and out. And the staff there are so delightful. They asked us if we wanted a romantic room in the turret with a round bed, and we were like, “Yeah we do!” Can’t say I’d ever seen or known round beds existed before this trip! We stayed in the turret at the back of the hotel on the 7th floor. The only unfortunate thing was that the Empress is undergoing major construction right now so the central facade that is normally covered in ivy and shows the magnificent letters of the hotel name was hidden under  a large white sheet with a printed facsimile of the exterior.

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love this arched hallway!

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view from the window

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That’s our room up in the turret with the blinds drawn

Staying at the Empress was ideal for walking around downtown because the hotel is situated right there, in the Inner Harbour.

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You could tell love was in the air that weekend, from the decorated lampposts to the rose salads at Wild Coffee and the “kissing bench” that we couldn’t resist 😉

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In the evening, we saw Our Little Sister at the Victoria Film Fest, a simple yet beautiful Japanese movie about sisterhood that was one of the best storytelling I’ve seen on cinema in a long time. (I’ll save my thoughts on that for another blog post because it needs more space than this).

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Before we left on Sunday afternoon, we took a stroll to colourful Fisherman’s Wharf and saw some seals putting on a show for the crowd.

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It was a wonderful way to spend Valentine’s and we are so grateful for the generosity of all who were involved!

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