Shoplifters: Gentle, Profound, Devastating
Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda is back with another deeply humanistic film that centers around family. With Shoplifters, Kore-eda focuses on the notion of what constitutes a family, and his aimless, yet confident style wraps the viewer up into the lives of the Shibata family, touching on an array of emotions that all hit home.
After one of their shoplifting sessions, Osamu (Lily Franky) and his son (Jyo Kairi) come across a little girl (Miyu Sasaki) in the freezing cold. At first reluctant to shelter the girl, Osamu's wife (Sakura Andô) agrees to take care of her after learning of the hardships she faces. Although the family is poor, barely making enough money to survive through petty crime, they seem to live happily together until an unforeseen incident reveals hidden secrets, testing the bonds that unite them.
The ragtag unit of the Shibata family live on the edge of society, and each day is a struggle just to make ends meet. Those old enough to hold a job do their share to pitch in, and others, like young Shota (Jyo Kairi), do their part by going out on shoplifting runs (the father and son share an adorable fist bump and perform other cute hand gestures to communicate with one another before stealing anything). In addition to their petty crime and menial incomes, the Shibata’s are also mostly getting by — barely — on Hatsue’s (the family’s grandmother figure played by Kirin Kiki) dead husband’s pension.
However, as circumstances become more dire — Osamu breaks his ankle and cannot work, and Nobuyo, Osamu’s wife, gets laid off, amongst other things — the family is slowly forced into turmoil. They also have the added struggle of one more mouth to feed by taking in the abused Yuri (the adorable Miyu Sasaki), who is given a new haircut and name; she quickly bonds with the misfit group and is taught to steal like Osamu and Shota. Living in the cramped quarters of Hatsue’s sardine-can home, the family unit’s struggle is never one filled with outright misery or unhappiness; blood or not, their love for one another shines through their misfortune — one of the many arresting qualities about this casually affecting gem — which fills their household with laughter and happiness.
Surely a film that involves stealing and abduction would not be as full of sweetness if placed in the hands of another filmmaker. More often than not, stories of this nature tend to condemn the characters who do that which is clearly wrong, but for Kore-eda there’s more to the story, and he gives his complex characters nothing but warmth and humanity. He never places any judgement on them, and he gets us to slowly fall in love with them — just as they’ve fallen in love with each other — before he lays the heaviness down, which cause us to reevaluate the family dynamic and their actions.
Its twists and revelations don’t come as a major surprise, but the film is still supremely effective at everything it does. Its success revolves around its array of rich characters, who earn every bit of adoration they receive from the viewer, and the sharpness and poignancy of its script, which smartly chooses to show more often than it tells. Fundamentally, it poses the question, “what makes a family?,” something it leaves to the viewer to ponder and chew over.
Joyful and tragic; the film leaves a bittersweet sting that sticks with you long after its over. Full of beautiful, naturalistic direction, tight editing (also conducted by Kore-eda), and ripe with spectacular performances, Shoplifters is a subtle powerhouse of a drama well worth your time.
Recommendation: Absolutely seek this out — this is one of the year’s best.
Rating: 5 hand gestures outta 5.
What did you think? Were you caught up in Shoplifters? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!