Sunday, May 17, 2015

Umimachi Diary Review

'Suzu-chan, why not come to Kamakura? We could live together, the four of us?'

Three sisters, Sachi, Yoshiko and Chika, live together in Kamakura. When their estranged father dies, they must prepare a funeral. At the funeral they meet their teenage half sister Suzu for the first time, and invite her to live with them due to her rocky relationship with her stepmother.

In Hirokazu Kore-eda's beautiful examination of a broken family trying to make a life for itself, we get a glimpse at both Japanese tradition and culture, as well as the humility and kindness human beings are capable of. Umimachi Diary or Our Little Sister is almost classically Japanese in its admiration of the beauty found within the changing of the seasons, which mark the passage of time throughout the film like chapters, as well as its appreciation of good food, and the traditions that bind family life.

It's also a film about women, their tenderness and their strength, with Kore-eda paying the utmost respect to the intricacies of their characters. The connection between the sisters is real, believable, but what lets the story down is the seamlessness of the events that occur. Suzu naturally fits into the Koda family household like a missing puzzle piece, and quickly makes friends at her new school. The only real threat to the harmony of the household is when the girls' mother arrives, dubiously threatening to sell their house. However even this falls flat. There are some pristine shots and the four girls have an undeniable bond of sisterhood with one another that's very believable, but somehow everything seems too perfect, and you may find yourself searching for something deeper amongst all these very light moments, exchanged smiles and falling cherry blossom petals all making for beautiful imagery with very little substance. The girls manage to forgive a father they either haven't met, or seen for 15 years, and spend their time eating and merrily making mostly superficial conversation discussing romance and food, which is all very interesting, but may leave you feeling a little hollow.

As such, the melodrama you'd expect from such a story is lost and replaced instead with happy moment after happy moment, trivializing and diluting whatever message the film set out to put across. Though the characters are likeable, and their chemistry palpable, frustratingly they don't particularly progress. By the end, they're happier, though still in almost exactly the same place as when their stories began. Their unconventional family unit works out and everyone is happy, but their story could have easily been told in less than 2 hours. If you can appreciate the simplicity of what this film has to offer, Umimachi Diary is a delight to behold, though as charmingly optimistic and aesthetically elegant as it is, it reeks of untapped potential.