There is a lot of funereal black in Hirokazu Koreeda's lovely, gentle Our Little Sister.
And there is the pink of cherry blossoms, too. In one quietly exhilarating scene, Suzu (Suzu Hirose), the 14-year-old of the title, sits on a bike and sails through a tunnel of blossoming cherry trees, the petals arcing over the road.
Life and death, death and life - they're at the heart of Our Little Sister. And if you succumb to Koreeda's slow rhythms, the climbs up a hill to find a magnificent view, the walks along the beach, the simple peace of a shared meal, this is the kind of movie that will leave you feeling restored, maybe a little misty-eyed as well.
Set mostly in the seaside town of Kamakura, Our Little Sister begins with a memorial service. Three adult sisters who share a house together - the eldest, Sachi (Haruka Ayase); middle sister Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa); and the youngest, Chika (Kaho) - take the train to the funeral for their father. They have not seen him in 15 years. Their parents had divorced. He remarried. Now he is dead.
And left behind is Suzu, a half sister they had never met. After spending the day together, Sachi, a nurse, invites Suzu to come back to Kamakura and live with them. She does, and so a new life - for the girl, for the trio of older sisters - begins.
Like other Koreeda films - Nobody Knows, Still Walking, Like Father Like Son - the Japanese director's latest examines the connections, and chasms, between generations. And it also looks to how siblings can come together, support each other, survive, and thrive, when parents are gone.
Adapted from a graphic novel by Akimi Yoshida, Our Little Sister zooms in close, observing everyday rituals, the commonplace that suddenly turns significant. The sisters' grandmother's stash of plum wine is savored, the proprietress of the seaside diner that has long been part of their lives may be forced to shut her doors.
Sachi's ongoing affair with a doctor at her hospital puts her in an awkward, unsettling place: He is married, and she begins to feel like the stepmother who took Sachi's father away, who wrecked Sachi's family.
And the young, ebullient Suzu has her own worries, woes. The legacy of the father haunts her in different ways. But in Our Little Sister, Sachi and Suzu have each other, and have their sisters. Everything is going to be fine.
Our Little Sister
**** (Out of four stars)
yDirected by Hirokazu Koreeda. With Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Suzu Hirose, and Kaho. In Japanese with subtitles. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. yRunning time: 2 hours, 6 mins.
yParent's guide: PG (adult themes).
yPlaying at: Ritz Bourse.EndText