‘Our Little Sister’: A Respite from Summer Superhero Movies

The following is my review of the film “Our Little Sister” by the acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, published in Asian American Press. I thank aapress.com for allowing me to post it here on my blog.

For those who might think a Japanese film would never make it to your local cinema, check this list of U.S. screenings:




Premiering last year at Cannes, and later screened at other international film festivals the world over, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Our Little Sister” finally trickles into the local theatres of North American cities, which is timely. In a world rocked by tumultuous strife and unrests, this latest from Kore-eda makes a quiet solace, offering a taste of the ideal in human relationships and harmony despite brokenness.

“Our Little Sister” is Kore-eda’s most recent work after his 2013 Cannes Jury Prize winning “Like Father Like Son”. Following his usual subject of relationships in various family situations, “Our Little Sister” sees Kore-eda at the helm as director, writer, and editor of this production based on the popular Japanese graphic novel “Umimachi Diary” by Yoshida Akimi.

The three Koda sisters have not seen their estranged father for fifteen years. Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) are now adults, living in the family’s traditional home his father had long deserted in the seaside town of Kamakura. His recent death sends the sisters to his funeral, awkwardly, meeting the woman who had stolen their father’s heart. But it is an inciting incident that changes all their lives. They meet their half sister, 15 year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose). Herein lies the turning point for the four sisters. Moved by her little step-sister’s mature and quiet demeanor, or maybe stirred by her own older-sister instinct, Sachi invites Suzu to come away and live with them in Kamakura. Suzu gladly agrees.

The new Koda household now is a haven of happy sisterhood. Living under one roof, we see minimal conflicts and constant congeniality. Viewers from a different culture may find the saccharine relationships unrealistic. Are there not any conflicts at all? Of course there are. Kore-eda deftly leads us to some slow revealing. After three quarters of the 120-minute film, we begin to see inner turmoil rise to the surface.

Suzu had to take care of her father in his illness and seeing him to his last breath due to the incompetence of her mother; here is a young teenager bearing the burden of an adult. Now living with three older sisters, Suzu can finally enjoy the childhood she has missed. She quickly captures the attention of other students in her new school with her soccer skills, congeniality and maturity.

In the Koda household, Suzu is the angel of harmony, stirring up love and life. Kore-eda may have spent too much time on the leisurely-paced, day-to-day living such that viewers might feel the lack of conflicts to move the story along. I credit the style to Kore-eda’s realism and a candid camera focusing on the subtleties of nuanced interplay among the characters. Like his previous films “I Wish” (2011), the yearning for family connections of a young boy is shown by his actions and not so much by words, or in “Like Father Like Son” (2013), wherein conflicts are portrayed by contrasts and parallels. Here, while still nursing a deep resentment towards her father for deserting them years ago, Sachi struggles with the moral parallel now as she carries on a relationship with a married doctor at the hospital where she works.

Moral dilemmas, what to choose, how to live, and the search for identity are the issues Kore-eda’s characters have to deal with, but in a way that is quiet and gentle. He introduces us to other endearing characters in the town, adding numerous episodes to build up a human mosaic of harmony in the presence of brokenness and even death.

The scenic seaside town of Kamakura provides a beautiful backdrop for cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto (“Like Father, Like Son”) to shoot the film, reflective of the idyllic life that can be had, even in an imperfect world. The arching branches of the cherry blossoms, landscapes and seascapes mark the healing power of nature. But also like the petals of the cherry blossoms, which third sister Chika likes to pick up and gather in her palm, life is ephemeral.

Reminiscent of Ozu’s films, the passing train is a visual metaphor for the passage of time, changes, and the transience of life. To enrich the visuals, Yoko Kanno’s original score sweeps us through with warmth and tenderness, as a supporting voice telling the story. “Our Little Sister” is a heartwarming film for the unhurried heart to savor.


~ ~ ~ Ripples


Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

‘Like Father Like Son’: A Parent and Child Reunion

Yasujiro Ozu and the Art of Aloneness

Saturday Snapshot June 13: Birdspeak

Note: Click on the photo to enlarge for a better view.


Evening. Outside the home of the Starlings.

Home of the Starlings

Junior doesn’t look very happy. I’m hungryyyy!

Junior not happy

Now where is she? What’s taking her so long?

What's taking her so long?

Here you are… fresh worms:

Here you are, fresh worms

Now eat up, chomp, chomp, chomp:

Eat up

What? You want more?! This is my third trip already.

What? More?

After some time, Mom Starling finally comes back with more.

Ok, here you are, fresh worms! Now where did the monkey go?

Ok here you are, more worms

You want me to bring it to your room?!

Now where did he go?

Get off the computer!

Get off the computer!


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.




Saturday Snapshot May 10: The Owl Family… Moonrise Haven

Here they are, all come out to enjoy the evening sun. In just a few weeks, the Owlets have grown so much they are about the size of their parents. How I tell them apart is by their still fluffy down. Here’s Owlie 1:


Owlet 1


He likes to try out his new wings:

Trying out new wings


Oops, caught in the branches. Flapping and struggling to get untangled:

Caught in the branches


And Mama’s reaction to all the fluttering? Totally unruffled. She’s too busy posing for me:

Mom stays put


Here’s the more quiet Owlie 2:

Owlet 2


And where’s Papa? As always, watching from a distance on another tree, calm and cool. Here he is, hooting away. That’s the first time I actually hear an Owl hoot, rhythmic calls, music for Mama and kids, and me:



Papa Hooting

Who teaches their young to fly and land safely? Don’t look at Mama or Papa, they don’t lift a finger:

Learning to fly and land


Who teaches them to play nice, and hug each other? That too, is instinct.

Who taught them to hug and play nice


Ok, for Mothers Day, let’s have a photo. I’ll entitle this one “Moonrise Haven”, with thanks to Wes Anderson:

Moonrise Haven

Ah… Natural parenting, so simple, almost effortless.


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.




Previous Posts on the Owl Family (In Chronological Order):

The Great Horned Owl (March 2013)

Sign of Spring: Nesting (April 2013)

Spring Babies and Parenting Styles (May 2013)

The Hustle and Bustle of Spring (April 2014)

Within the Budding Grove (April 2014)


Forget About Tiger Mothering, Try Inspirational Parenting

One of the most memorable lines in last week’s Academy Awards is Tom Hooper’s: “The moral of the story is: Listen to your mother.”

What more satisfaction can a mom get than to hear her son utter these words in front of a billion viewers worldwide.

Here’s the excerpt of his speech leading to this final conclusion:

“My mum was invited to a fringe theater play-reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play called The King’s Speech in 2007She came home, rang me up and said, ‘Tom, I think I found your next film.’

I followed The New York Times reporter/blogger Melena Ryzik’s The Carpetbagger on Twitter through the Awards Season. Of all the Oscar interview write-ups I’ve read, and there are numerous, Ryzik’s “A Chat With The Mother Who Knows Best” has left the most lasting impression on me. And it was in that article that I found these two words, “inspirational parenting”. They were nothing short of an epiphany for me, striking a chord instantly.

Photo Credit: Matt Sayles/Associated Press

Ryzik talked to “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper’s mother after her son’s Oscar win, calling her “an exemplar of inspirational parenting”. Meredith Hooper is an academic and author of over 60 fiction and non-fiction works for children. Here are some excerpts from Ryzik’s article:

Did she realize she’d caused worldwide guilt among children for not listening to their mothers?

“I did not!” Ms. Hooper protested. “I didn’t say it. My advice is exactly the opposite — that we should all listen to our children.”

Now isn’t that the kind of talk that can make Amy Chua cringe? The kind of parenting style that prompted her to write about her own school of tough love parenting in her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, now 7 weeks so far on the NYT Bestsellers List. It’s all that debate about teacher-fronted or child-centred learning all over again.

I’ve left comments on others’ blogs about my view of this current hot topic of the “Tiger Mom”, but have not posted about it here on Ripple Effects. The main reason is that I have not read the book, so I should not say too much when I haven’t heard all that Amy Chua has to say, albeit I can understand her perspective since I share similar ethnic and cultural roots.

Nevertheless, I’d rather write about ‘inspirational parenting’. It just sounds… more uplifting. Just savor the two words… aren’t they sublime? I think I just might adopt the first word as a personal axiom, ‘inspirational’ anything… in speaking, thinking, writing, being… mmm, something to aspire to.

Ok, back to “The King’s Speech”. After seeing the play, Meredith Hooper saw a great potential for a film in this story so full of human interest, irony and humor. As an Australian herself, she was bemused by Logue’s task to teach an English royal to speak:

Logue came as an Australian, and taught the king to speak. How incredible! Because we colonials — it’s assumed that the English would teach us how to speak. So I loved this reversal of roles, that this Australian would arrive in England with his democratic attitude, and no assumptions about class and society and status, all of which I’ve experienced.

Now this just might work for parenting as well. A practice of role reversal could bring about more empathy for both parents and children. Only when we listen and try to understand can we begin to deepen a relationship. I know, only as a therapy session, for kids would be more than willing to take back their role after momentary reversal. Who would want a more arduous job than they need to?

A story, a film, real life, it all boils down to…

So here it was, this simple need to communicate, in a play or in a film. Brilliant! Because it’s all about communicating, every piece of dramatic writing is all about communicating, and this was about someone who couldn’t.”

It’s interesting that Tom did not take up his mother’s enthusiasm right away. Convinced of the latent power in the story, Meredith explained to her son how the elements of effective storytelling fall naturally in place. They shared ideas. It was five months later that the initial notion began to take shape as a film project.

I must add too that the inspirational parenting ends where the creative spark ignites. A wise mother knows when to stop and allow the seed to grow into a life of its own. That’s what Meredith Hooper did… and the rest is Oscar history.


Click Here to read Melena Ryzik’s NYT article “A Chat With The Mother Who Knows Best”.

Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Oscar Winners 2011

The King’s Speech (2010): Movie Review

The King’s Speech: Fact And Fiction

Music in my iPod

My son left me his old iPod when he visited me over the weekend. No, he doesn’t get the privilege to enjoy country living because he has to stay in the city for his summer job.  So, technically it’s not my iPod. But just the same. I’ve declared what’s in there my music. He has categorized all music into genres, easy for me to sort out what I like. And, what a pleasant surprise to find so many gems in there, wonderful embellishment for my pristine living out here in the log home.

There are 1,696 selections for me, grouped  into genres. I admit there are ones that I won’t venture into, like metal and rap, but there are enough categories for me to choose from.  Imagine my feeling listening to the music and looking out towards the open, green fields, distant snow-capped mountains underneath a canopy of dramatic clouds, against a big, blue sky…it’s not out-of-this-world, for I’m right in it! Magnificent!

So…what’s in my 18-year-old’s iPod?  Lots I can indulge in.  Here are some samples…


  • Bach’s Partita played by Nigel Kennedy
  • The Complete Goldberg Variations played by Glenn Gould
  • The Art of the Fugue, The Well-Tempered Clavier all by Gould
  • Beethoven’s Symphony #6 Pastoral (For real!)
  • Chopin’s Sonatas, Etudes and Nocturnes
  • Holst’s The Planets  (How cool is that!?)
  • Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos
  • Tchaikovsky’s Cello Concertos


  • ABBA
  • Andy Williams
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Beatles
  • Bette Midler (She’d be happy to be categorized as ‘Classics’)
  • Bob Dylan
  • Don McLean
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Gordon Lightfoot (Yes, Alberta Bound)
  • Joan Baez
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Simon & Garfunkel
  • Van Morrison


  • Art Tatum
  • Dave Brubeck Quartet
  • Duke Ellington
  • Eva Cassidy (Yes, he put her under Jazz)
  • George Gershwin
  • Glenn Miller,
  • John Coltrane
  • Miles Davis
  • Norah Jones
  • Ray Charles

Rock, Pop and Soundtracks:

  • Elton John
  • Jason Mraz
  • Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Amy Adams
  • Broadway Musicals Cats, Les Miserables,
  • The Phantom of the Opera

With this techno luxury of sound bytes, who needs to go to the city!  And…I’m relieved to know there isn’t much of a generation gap here after all…


Smart People (2008)

Smart people is about ordinary people. But unlike the movie Ordinary People, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also about dysfunctional families, but then again, a look around us can testify that the term “dysfunctional’ has more or less become a cliché, or the norm even. So, the story line and characters in Smart People may well be the story about many of us.  We can relate to their situations, or maybe know someone that’s in similar predicament, smart or dumb.

Smart People

The title is an apparent sarcasm. Coincidentally, in my last post I wrote a review on A Room With A View (2007)…imagine the highly-educated but socially inapt Cecil Vyse now a modern day academic, 30 years older, scruffy, paunchy, and ever grumpier… that’s the main character in this movie, professor Lawrence Wetherhold, vividly portrayed by Dennis Quaid. Wetherhold teaches at Carnegie Mellon University, an expert in Victorian literature.  Like Cecil Vyse, he is smart with ideas, but utterly unfit for human relationships. Or, maybe a more accurate way of looking at it is, he has given up being a nice person. He’s self-absorbed, overbearing, and maybe himself a victim too, let us not judge so harshly, for he is a widower drenched in self-pity, who leaves his wife’s whole wardrobe untouched some years after her passing.

Living with such a character is his teen-aged daughter Vanessa, played by Ellen Page. Repeating her impressive performance as in Juno, Page portrays an over-achieving high school senior, who aims at nothing less than a perfect SAT score. Little does she know that underneath her pragmatic and vigorous academic pursuit and Republican stance are her youthful curiosity and desires. So, when Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), the wayward adopted brother of her father’s veers into their lives, she is whirled into a pool of confusion. Adding to the complexity of the family relationship is Vanessa’s older brother James (Ashton Holmes), who aspires to be a poet but his Dad doesn’t even know it. James lives on campus where Wetherhold teaches. Despite the physical proximity, father and son could never be more alienated and distanced.

Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page

All of their lives begin to take a turn when Wetherhold’s car is impounded for illegal parking and he tries to climb over a fence to retrieve his brief case in the car. His toneless middle-aged physique is no match for the 10-foot wire fence, and so he ends up in the ER with a ‘trauma induced seizure’ after he falls over. That’s where he meets Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker). A former student of his, Janet had a crush on him while a student, but due to his harsh marking and pompous air, decided to change her major from literature to biology. Now years later, Janet has the chance to forge a real and meaningful relationship with Wetherfold, a task she soon finds to be too formidable and senseless for anyone in her right mind.

Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker

But isn’t it true…we’re matched up with impossible people at work, deal with obnoxious clients whom we have to serve, live with incompatible housemates, and stuck with eccentric and embarrassing family members… Smart People’s smart screenplay offers us the chance to laugh at ourselves, and empathize with other’s deficiencies and shortfalls. By learning to put up with them, we might just be learning to live with ourselves. And in the process, as the movie happily winds up, the characters gain a new perspective on themselves and come out as changed persons.

Screened at Sundance earlier this year, the film is teamed up by the relatively new screen writer Mark Poirier and director Noam Murro. It is rated R in the U. S. and 14A in Canada. Certain scenes may be objectionable to some. But with watching any movie or reading literature, for that matter, they have to be taken in context, and the overall spirit considered.

And, for those looking for smart aleck humor, or fast-paced sequences and an intriguing plot are bound to be disappointed. However, I have precisely appreciated (Professor Wetherhold would be quick to correct me, it should be “appreciated precisely” he’d say) the slower paced story lines that are well-developed along the main characters. The witty dialogues and superb acting from the stellar cast are enjoyable and engaging. A delightful 95 minutes of quiet and intelligent entertainment.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Field of Dreams: Baseball for the uninitiated?

Saw Field of Dreams (1989) on AMC last night, and this time, it hit me harder.  Watching the movie again has stirred up some ripples, deeply and belatedly.  To say that Field of Dreams is about baseball is like saying Cinderella Man is about boxing.  Movies like these speak to us not because we are necessarily sport enthusiasts, baseball or boxing fans, but that we, every one of us, belong to a family, or at least in memory, and that we are a part of the human race.

By heeding a voice telling him to build a baseball field in his cornfield, Ray Kinsella unknowingly began a journey of reconciliation.  Using baseball as a springboard, and through the characters and the ingenious twists in the story, the movie leads its viewers, who are as unknowing as Ray, to taste the almost mythical reality of dreams fulfilled, past yearnings realized, and lost relationships redeemed.  The film satisfies by simply portraying the very possibilities that these miracles can happen.

It is because of these universal themes that the film can reach far beyond nationalities and borders.  In fact, the original story is not written by an American.  The movie is based on the book Shoeless Joe, which is written by a Canadian author, W. P. Kinsella.  Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Kinsella used to teach English at the University of Calgary.  (I still remember listening and taping his interview on a CBC radio program…oh, those were the days.)  Among the numerous awards and nominations the movie has garnered including an Oscar Best Picture nomination, it won the 1991 “Best Foreign Film” category in the Awards of the Japanese Academy.

Critics who love to associate Kevin Costner only with Waterworld should at least remember that, he is the man who brought us such American modern classics as Field of Dreams and Dances with Wolves….all other failings are forgiven, easily.

~~~3 Ripples