Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister) is one of the purest depictions of what a slice of life movie would be. I’m quite a fan of that genre especially when it comes to anime for example K-On!, Hanasaki Iroha and Barakamon. Even then, there were actually some dramatic and exciting stuffs in those shows. In comparison, do not expect anything melodramatic or overly comical scenes in this movie because there are just none. Everything is toned down and very realistic. That said, overacting is zilch which is one of the good things about the show if you want a calm and serene movie to pass time with. This is similar to Like Father Like Son and the most recently, Okashi no Ie autumn drama.
I realize that if I kicked off this review by saying, ‘There’s practically nothing much happening in the movie’ people might shy away from the movie thinking it’s boring. Well, if you’re not familiar with slice of life, then you’re better off avoiding this movie because I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to last an hour of it without hitting the fast forward button.
It begins with a funeral and it ends with a funeral. I counted 3 memorial services in this movie. That’s enough to tell you just how much this movie focuses on the passage of life and time with people coming and going. It is also at one of these funerals that the 3 sisters met their half-sister.
Sachi (Ayase Haruka) is the eldest who works as a nurse and also the most mature of the lot. Yoshino (Nagasawa Masami), a bank employee, is the free-spirited sister who tends to fall in love with lousy men and loves alcohol more than anything else. Chika (Kaho) is the offbeat one with odd hobbies and even her hair gives me slight creeps. Then, at their estranged father’s funeral, they met their half-sister, Suzu (Suzu Hirose).
This is how their family works because I found it slightly confusing in the beginning. Sachi, Yoshino and Chika are sisters from the same mother whom their father left for another woman. So their father remarried and second wife gave birth to Suzu. After that, he married a third wife. When he passed away, Suzu is left with nobody because the third wife is kinda hopeless. So Sachi invited Suzu to live together with them.
In short, Suzu’s mother was the direct cause of Sachi and her sisters’ broken family. Like many others, I am bewildered when Sachi asked Suzu to live with them. On second thought, I suppose Sachi sensed the loneliness in Suzu and reminded her of when she and her sisters were left by their father and mother (their mother ran off with another man too when they were young). Sachi, forced to have an early motherly instinct (since she took care of her younger sisters after their mother left), probably couldn’t help but to lend a hand to Suzu.
To be honest, I can’t recommend this to everyone because if you’re seeking for melodrama or thrills, you’ll not get it with this movie. But if you like slice of life (like I do) with a tinge of human drama, this is perfect. Umimachi Diary is a poignant movie that offers daily family dynamics, forgiveness, acceptance and an insight into life at the tranquil countryside. Plenty of idle chatter between the sisters, sitting and watching the garden at the back of their house, neighborhood banter, making plum wine and enjoying cherry blossoms.
Of all the 4 sisters, I actually enjoyed Masami Nagasawa’s character the most. I know there’s difference between liking a character and actually good in portraying it but I thoroughly enjoyed her in this movie, more so than Ayase Haruka. I still recall Last Friends where I thought Masami was just average but she has shown lots of improvements over the years with various projects (ex: Wakamonotachi 2014, Moteki) especially movies of different genre and I can see how they have benefited her. 5 years ago, I don’t think I’ll ever say I enjoy watching Masami in anything.
Ayase Haruka still leads the show obviously and she’s only second here mainly because her character seems slightly detached with strong self-consciousness and discipline that I couldn’t really relate to her initially. She has this very thick wall that has begun building since her mother left them and harbors a huge sense of responsibility for her sisters (because they’re all she has). I only warmed up to her character halfway through the movie as that wall starts crumbling and I think she shines most during her interactions with Suzu when her tenderness reveals itself. Also the mild bickering between her and Yoshino, puts a smile on my face.
Kaho is delightful to watch and she’s just odd. I don’t know what to say about her but I think she carried that goofy role very well and it suits her. Her hair though makes her look so much older than the other two sisters, most probably deliberate for her character image.
Suzu Hirose is evidently trying to match up to the older actresses and it shows. Now, I’m not familiar with her works, I think I only watched a few episodes of Gakkou no Kaidan but doesn’t leave much impression on me. There are some moments when I can feel like she’s struggling in this movie, surrounded by competent co-stars. But I think for the most part, she did alright with rooms for improvements. Hopefully, she’ll deliver for Chihayafuru movie because I liked that anime and I really want her to do justice to the lead character.
The supporting cast is not to be dismissed because each of them brought something different and special to the plot. We have veterans like Lily Franky, Jun Fubuki, Shinobu Otake and Kirin Kiki. Sakaguchi Kentaro and Ryo Kase have little scenes but they serve their purposes well too.