Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) are sisters who live together in their grandmother’s house. They have had to fend for themselves for a while, with Sachi as the oldest acting as a surrogate mother. When they hear that their estranged father died, they decide to go to the funeral where they meet their young half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). The three older sisters are surprised, but after realizing that things are rather dire for Suzu at home, they invite her to stay with them. Suzu accepts, bringing a fresh wind into all of their lives.
Umimachi Diary is a sweet, uplifting film. It’s a film where nothing much happens and at the same time a lot is going on – just as with life, giving it a welcome air of realism, but nicely honed to exclude most of the struggles.
Umimachi Diary is a sister movie and everyone who has sisters will probably able to relate to at least parts of what happens in the film. It’s rare to see four women who are very different but still care a lot for each other come together in a film – more often than not, sister stories are about rivalry and jealousy. But that is certainly not the case here. Sometimes there are slight tensions, but never for long. Since I get along with my sisters pretty well, that is much closer to reality for me than the endless fights we get treated to otherwise.
Fighting, struggles, tensions are a part of life and of any relationship, of course, but Umimachi Diary simply doesn’t want to spend much time on those things. As soon as they arise, they are resolved, all with an undercurrent of warmth and love. It could have become sickly and annoyingly sweet with a set-up like this, but instead it feels simply beautiful and extremely nice.
That’s probably because I very much liked all four of the sisters and just as Suzu is welcomed into the community of the three older ones, so is the audience and somehow you become part of this group. And since I am pro harmony (at least usually), I didn’t mind that some things were glossed over, I enjoyed it.
Koreeda tells his story in beautiful images and with a great cast. It might not be free of kitsch and cliché, but when you use it as well as he does here, that is not a bad thing at all.