23 November 2018
A family of small-time crooks take in a child they find on the street.
Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Moemi Katayama
Does giving birth automatically make you a mother? This is just one of the tough, socially conscious questions Hirokazu Kore-eda’s brilliant Shoplifters explores. By evoking a classic story like Oliver Twist in an impoverished district of present-day Tokyo, Kore-eda has managed to weave a contemporary story of immense power, heart, and tragedy.
We are first introduced to middle-aged thief Osamu (Lily Frankie: Like Father Like Son, Our Little Sister) teaching a young boy to shoplift on a routine run to a local minimart. On their way home, they find a 4-year-old girl left outside her house in the cold. She is underfed and clearly mistreated, so they decide to take her home with them.
Once back in their tiny shack, it’s revealed that this family unit is more than just a man and a boy. There is a grandma figure (Kirin Kiki), Osamu has a wife called Noboyu (Sakura Ando), and there is a half-sister of some kind. You’re not sure how or if they’re related at all, but it’s quickly obvious their home is loving and warm regardless. After some hesitance whether taking the girl was kidnapping, they decide to adopt her, give her a new name and teach her to steal.
Shoplifters is a remarkably gentle and human story revolved around a situation that could easily be played as horrific. Instead, Kore-eda hones down on the meaning of family, and whether we are given one by birth, or we get to choose. He uses his ensemble cast so genuinely to create moments of sweet observation and startling beauty it becomes impossible not to invest some hefty emotional baggage into them. Whether they’re sharing noodles during a humid summer day, or listening to, but not seeing one of Tokyo’s impressive fireworks displays, there are many touchstones to enjoy.
We are never told of the families previous situations, but there is a true sense that each one of these characters has been pushed to the margins of society for various reasons, and have formed a family from what’s available to them. This is a testament to the actor/director synergy displayed in Shoplifters, as both are on their A-game in terms of subtle, suggestive storytelling.
The film continues at a mostly leisurely pace, but between the many heartwarming scenes and soft family drama there comes a threat from increasing news reports about the missing girl they took from the streets. This background suspense eventually breaks through and rocks the very foundations of everything you’ve previously thought, leaving you with no easy answers. But Kore-eda never forces a critical magnifying glass over the proceedings. It is instead up to the audience to make up their mind about how to feel.
The technical qualities of Shoplifters never call attention to themselves, but their restrained nature is the work of a director in full control of his material. The camera captures the intimacy of the makeshift family and transports you into their world, with a sprinkling of long takes as added flair. Music adds mood and enhances scenes without overstepping its mark, and the editing bridges time successfully to make the film easy to follow.
Shoplifters recently won the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and I’m glad to say it lives up to the praise. It’s a smart, expertly judged film with the potential to make you both laugh and cry thanks to its naturalistic performances and the undiluted honesty of its story.
Incredibly truthful performances
Smartly left to audiences interpretation
Both comedy and tragedy