POLITICS OF FOOD | Our Little Sister

Food is the perfect vehicle for the sociable, familial extrospection that Our Little Sister portrays and champions. By Louis Rogers

 

It’s a new year at Suzu’s school and the students are introducing themselves to the class. While Suzu stares dreamily out the window, one boy can be heard announcing the essential facts: “My favourite dishes are stir-fried beef and beef tongue.” Food isn’t just something we consume: it’s a way of defining and expressing ourselves. Our Little Sister is a story of self-discovery, following Suzu and her sisters as they try to make sense of themselves within a nexus of unconventional family ties. It’s no coincidence that food permeates this search, and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film as a whole. Sentiments are expressed and selves scrutinised in seafood curry, tempura lotus root, fried mackerel and jars of plum wine.

Kore-eda’s film is unapologetically scant on spectacle. Instead, it celebrates the resonant experiences of the everyday: a bike ride among blossoming trees; climbing a hill for the view; playing football with school friends. Among them, the rituals of preparing and eating food receive special attention. Suzu is initiated into her new family through sharing meals with them – in a touching reversal of conventions, she sheds the uptight table manners she arrives with in favour of etiquette that’s more familiar – that is, true to family. When Sachi shows Suzu how to make seafood curry, she is acting out of care and passing on a family tradition, albeit a complex one – it’s the one recipe Sachi’s mother ever showed her how to cook, because it’s quick to make. Specific dishes provide the ambiguous but tenacious connective links in the sisters’ dispersed family: a snack of whitebait on toast that Suzu discovers she shares with her late father; jars of plum wine stored beneath the house, whose different ages signify different emotional valencies – and alcoholic potencies.

Kore-eda’s film approaches the complex interior lives of its characters through exultant depictions of exteriority: their interactions with each other and the world, whether sharing a meal, playing a game of football, or hosting an impromptu fireworks display. Food, that part of the world that we ingest and make ourselves of, is the perfect vehicle for the sociable, familial extrospection that Our Little Sister portrays and champions. ​

 

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