Bleak, hard-hitting and affecting dramas can make for such an absorbing cinematic experience. Though, mostly to avoid falling into a bout of depression and never wanting to step foot outside again, we do need lighter, undemanding and congenial features that we can indulge in, too. It’s an area where Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda thrives in, as following on from the amiable picture I Wish, comes his latest endeavour, the enchanting Our Little Sister. However in between these two productions, was Like Father, Like Son – arguably his finest piece of work to date, and why? Because it had conflict, some bite to it. To be well-meaning and charming is undoubtedly a good thing, but to paint a realistic portrait of family life and to revel in naturalism, there should be an obligation to portray some of the less warm, more venomous aspects to life – a notion Koreeda evidently does’t abide by.

Upon learning of the death of their estranged father, sisters Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) make the journey into the country to attend the funeral. It’s there they meet their 13 year old half sister Suzo Asano (Suzu Hirose) for the very first time. Taking an instant liking to their new family member, they can see she’s unhappy living her step mother, and acting almost like fairy godmothers to this Cinderella figure, they offer her a route out – and the chance to live with them. Timid at first, Suzo eventually settles in well, as suddenly this close-knit group of three, becomes a solid four.

Though offering a naturalistic, kitchen-sink approach to this family dynamic, nothing – including the kitchen sink – is thrown at this quartet of young women. Koreeda may well have captured the nuances and subtleties of everyday life, but there are no antagonists to this piece, no palpable conflict nor malice that poses any real issues for our protagonists. It’s detrimental to proceedings, certainly, but at the same time is a key component in the film avoiding any sense of melodrama, and though complete with a dreamlike ambiance, it’s grounded by the filmmaker’s sincere attention to detail.

What transpires is a film that is remarkably gentle, with an enchanting ambiance prevalent, helped along by Yoko Kanno’s wondrous score. Our Little Sister could be the start of a promising career for the young Hirose too, who shines in the leading role, as her progression into maturity, and coming-of-age, never once feels contrived in its execution. But then she, much like the other three sisters, is blessed with a well-crafted, idiosyncratic role. She’s not half bad at football, either.