Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Shoplifters, from Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Kore-Eda, won the Palm D’Or in Cannes in 2018, and for good reason; it’s a sad, tender, funny and eloquent rendering of the human condition and the bonds people forge to help them get by.
Drawing comparisons to British director Mike Leigh with his spotlight on working-class Brits, Kore-Eda’s film focuses on an impoverished family living on the margins of Japanese society, outliers in a system as callously indifferent to impoverishment as our own.
Not that the members of this family are paragons of virtue. Osamu (Lily Franky), the dad, is a tall lanky enigma of a man with a face that’s difficult to read and an amoral predilection for petty crime. In the film’s first sequence, he and his handsome pre-teen son Shota (Jyo Kairi) are working a market — collaborating, via secret signals and choreographed moves, to purloin groceries and other household items which they’ll take back to their ramshackle residence. Here they live with Osamu’s wife Nobuyo (Ando Sakura), her younger sister Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and elderly Grandma (Kirin Kiki), whose government pension helps sustain all of them. Besides shoplifting, Osamu occasionally works as a day laborer; Nobuyo is employed in a laundry, while Aki services men over the internet with cooing words and naughty glimpses.
One day Osamu and Shota come upon a little girl (Miyo Sasaki) alone outside in the cold and rain. Osamu, moved by her plight, decides to take her home. There she is fussed over, fed and given warm clothing. Grandma attends to disturbing wounds and scars revealed about her body. The family deliberates what to do; the girl appears abused, but they are afraid to keep her least (being the marginalized and suspect citizens that they are) they be charged with kidnapping should someone comes looking.
When they do try to return her, sounds of violence from inside her living quarters prompt a change of heart. Back home, they cut her hair, steal her some new clothes and change her name to Ren. Soon Ren is tracking Shota like a baby goose after its mother, absorbing the basics of petty theft. Otherwise, feeling loved, safe and protected, the once withdrawn child blossoms. Seasons pass — then, an unexpected event prompts the revelation of multiple secrets and the unraveling of the lives of everyone, with unhappy consequences.
Up until its last 20 or 30 minutes, Shoplifters moves at an unhurried pace, one in which portraiture is more central than plot, while the portrait’s frame — the lot of the underclass in Japan — is its own revelation. It’s an intense glimpse into an unfamiliar tier of Japanese society — all the more compelling because, as we observe this odd fractious collection of individuals, we’re made privy to the depths of generosity beneath the loose-ended chaos of their lives. When the mood of the film shifts, we’re caught up in a gripping scenario, with a catharsis that mirrors an underlying tempest not only for this Japanese family, perhaps, but for dispossessed families anywhere.
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2018 Cannes Film Festival – Winner: Palme d’Or** **OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2018 Telluride Film Festival** **OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2018 Toronto International Film Festival** **OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2018 New York Film Festival**