Veteran director Yôji Yamada (The Twilight Samurai) brings us another in his esteemed series of poignant period films focusing on key eras in Japan’s historical past. Here, in The Little House (Chiisai Ouchi, 2014), the time frame is 1931-1945, as Japan drifts towards war – but while the sociopolitical aspects make an important backdrop, Yamada zeros in on a deeply personal story: the doomed illicit love between a married matron (Takako Matsu) and her husband’s artistic colleague (Hidetaka Yoshioka), as observed and later recalled by an innocent servant girl (Haru Kuroki). Shot by Masashi Chikamori, and featuring a lovely score by Joe Hisaishi.
Japanese director Yoji Yomada is most known for his incredible samurai trilogy known as 'The Twilight Samurai'. The director also has an extensive list of melodramas that deal with multi-generational families in Japan. In 2014, the director made a film called 'The Little House', which was more or less his wink to the iconic film 'The Joy Luck Club', which tells the tale of a multi-generational family in two different time lines.
This is a very subtle film that never picks up much speed, but rather relies on the characters and story to fuel this slow burn drama as it goes back and forth between present day and WWII Japan. We start out with the death of Taki, a fun and spunky elderly lady who had quite the story to tell. Luckily, she had a diary, which her great nephew Takeshi helped write and was willed to him after her death.
Here is when the time jumps come into frame. One time jump is fairly recently as the elderly Taki tells her great nephew her life story, to which we time jump back to the WWII era of Japan, which was at a time of major political and social change. When Taki was young, she moved from her small village to Tokyo and went to work as a maid for a toy manufacturer named Masaki, where she cared for him, his wife Tokiko, and their son. She earns their undying respect when she basically cures their son of polio in some ancient fashion.
Things start to go awry with the arrival of a young, handsome man named Itakura. Itakura is the young employee that works with Masaki. Due to Itakura's charm and wit, this draws the attention of Tokiko and Taki both, as an affair begins. All of this takes place in the beautiful cottage on top of a hill, hence the title. Again, this is a very slow moving film with a ton of longing stares and melodramatic moments.
I think Yomada could have explored a few other themes here, since he lived during this WWII time frame in Japan, but he focused on the relationship with Taki and the family she took care of, while jumping back to the present where she becomes a feisty old lady with her great nephew. More often that not, this movie plays out like a soap opera, but with a bigger purpose and impact than the ones we know about that air during the day here in America.
Joe Hisaishi provides a sweeping score that compliments each scene and all of the performances are decent if not a tiny bit overly done. I don't see this hitting all demographics on the nose, but there will be a few of you who will take a liking to this sweet little film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Little House' comes with a 50GB Blu-ray disc from Twilight Time and is Region A Locked and limited to 3,000 copies. The disc is housed in a clear hard plastic case with a fully illustrated booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. There are no trailers that open the disc up here.
'The Little House' comes with a very good 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image overall looks great with excellent detail, specifically in closeups that reveal facial features, textures in the costumes, and details in the background items. Colors are where the issues come up with this release.
The color tone seems to have a yellowish if not greenish hue to it. This happens through the entire film, which makes the skin tones unnatural at times at bright whites seem muted. Other than that unfortunate problem, this video presentation is solid. Black levels are deep, and there was no instances of banding, aliasing, or any other form of compression related issues.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 option in Japanese with English subtitles. There isn't a whole lot of action, explosions, or gun fire here. This is a rather elegant and delicate audio track with excellent directionality, sound effects, and ambient noises to keep the atmosphere of the film up front.
The score is sweeping and always adds to the emotional tone in each scene without drowning out any dialogue or noise. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow along with the subtitles. The LFE is excellent and the dynamic range is wide here, leaving this audio presentation with solid marks.
Isolated Score Track- You can listen to the score of the film only in DTS-HD 5.1 by selecting this option.
Trailers (HD, 3 Mins.) - A teaser trailer and the original theatrical trailer are presented here.
'The Little House' isn't so little in the grand scope of things, as it tells the tale of a women who worked as maid, was part of an affair, all of which took place during WWII in Japan. It's a slow burn for sure, but in the end is fairly satisfying if you like these types of melodramatic films. The video and audio presentations are both good, but the lack of extras is very underwhelming. My advice is that you rent this one before you purchase.