Film Review: Shoplifters

Film Review: Shoplifters

Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda

© Magnolia Pictures

© Magnolia Pictures

I suspect this Japanese director will be unfamiliar to most, so you are in for a treat and a new discovery. The winner of 2018 Palme d’Or and a huge success in Japan, this story of a uniquely odd dysfunctional family brings you into their hardscrabble life and insinuates itself into your emotions subtly. It then turns the tables with such unexpected events and revelations, that you are left gobsmacked. We are continually being faked out by the director, who presents what appears to be a typical family unit. There is the “matriarch”, Hatsue into whose small house this extended group has crowded themselves. The mother, Noboyu and father, Osamu, a teenage daughter, Aki, and adolescent son, Shota. 

As is so often the case with desperately poor families, they have developed a vibrant, remarkably adaptive design for living more or less on top of each other. It looks fairly normal with typical small squabble, but notably a mutual sense of the responsibility of each member to help with the sustenance of the whole. And there is obvious love and affection which goes beyond pragmatism.They all have their own special skills to augment their legitimate jobs which prove to be the more lucrative activities. The father, Osamu, is the Feigenesque, thief and  mastermind who is training his son Shota, who is already an accomplished shoplifter, in the finer points of petty larceny. Noboyu routinely steals the valuables out of the pockets of the clothes which come into the laundry where she works. Sympathy is due since much of what they steal is food. 

The delicate balance of their ecosystem is upset when Osamu finds Juri, an adorable 6-year old girl outside of her house on a freezing cold night, takes pity on her and brings her home for food and warmth. Afterward, when his wife insists she go home they discover burns and scars and signs that she has escaped from a horribly abusive situation and they agree to keep her with them. As she gradually assimilates into the family, Shota develops a deepening jealousy and resentment, which he hides. The others accept her as a daughter and sister and dote on her.

© Magnolia Pictures

© Magnolia Pictures

The acquisition of Juri into the family begins to cause problems when her family finally reports her missing and the police begin searching for her. As the story goes on and we become more intimate with the various family members it becomes obvious that nothing is as it appears to be and this is a very pragmatic symbiotic organism. They are not a real family, but they have chosen to be together for various reasons and they openly discuss the merits of the chosen family versus the natural one. They make a good case. Their connections to each other are elaborate, convoluted and surprising. But they care for each other and are kind. Although they are all thieves and liars, they are fundamentally decent folks doing bad things for survival.

There is an unexpected incident which creates a cascade of events which brings down the whole house of cards and exposes still more dark secrets and deceptions. And still there are more acts of grace, selflessness and forgiveness. The multiplicity of qualities which exist in these people is presented and accepted without judgement by those in the film as well as the filmmaker. The characters are so well-developed and naturalistically depicted that they will leave an indelible mark. The ending is quietly astonishing and thoroughly thought provoking. It felt quite profound and uplifting to me. Kore-Eda brings to mind DeSica and Yorgos Lanthimos. I look forward to seeing all of his previous and future films.

Watch the trailer here

Written by: Belle McIntyre

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