MIFF Review: Shoplifters (万引き家族)

Whenever you encounter Writer/Director Hirokazu Kore-eda, you’re in the hands of one of Japan’s and, indeed, the world’s finest humanist film makers. With a catalogue that features such sublime films as Like Father, Like Son and Nobody Knows, Shoplifters presents itself as his most fragile and quietly emotional film to date. Deserving winner of Cannes 2018’s top prize, Shoplifters is an experience brimming with life, love, and beautiful human drama.

Offering an intimate portrait of a made-up-of-spare-parts family that lives on the other end of the social specturm in modern day Japan, Shoplifters tells the tale of a poverty stricken ragtag bunch who resort to thieving to stay alive. The direct translation of the title is Shoplifting Family, which is exactly what they are.

Osamu, Nobuyo, their son Shota, daughter Aki, and maternal grandmother Hatsue live on the fringes of Japanese society in this cold night where we lay our scene. On an escapade to steal some goods, Shota espies Yuri – a four year old girl – freezing on a balcony and convinces her to come home with him.

Against the muted protestations of Nobuyo, its not too long before the abandoned Yuri ingratiates herself into this loving family unit. So, as we journey through this world that has been built on a foundation of petty crimes and trying to survive on a single pension, how does this unit function where criminality is essential for survival?

What works so beautifully about Shoplifters, as in Kore-eda’s other films, is that the narrative speaks and doesn’t scream. Ripe for conflicting melodrama, and easily pliable to fall into manipulative emotive cues, Shoplifters avoids all of them yet still manages to pass social and political comment in the framework presented.

This is about people. Marginalised, impoverished people, who eek out a living by any means necessary and, as we all know, when you have nothing to give, it’s when you are at your most generous. Shoplifters is brimming with humanity, hope, love and resonance that’s there’s a home for all lost souls.

Performances are all top notch and, given such well rounded material to work with (Kore-eda is a lover of character), there’s grand weight carried through very intimate scenes.

Shoplifters is a truly human experience in cinema. By keeping the drama contained within these voices, not resorting to bombast or excessive action, it’s a quiet evocation and personal journey. For those of us who admire life’s fragility, sincerity and humanity, Kore-eda’s delivered something quite special.