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Shoplifters (2018) written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

A new family member

This Japanese drama takes a look at an impoverished family who share a cramped home and rely on various sources of income (legal or otherwise) to make ends meet. Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) resorts to going out shoplifting in various local grocery stores with the assistance of his son Shota (Jyo Kairi). His wife Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) works in a dry cleaning shop and helps herself to any items which she happens to find inside customers’ clothing. His sister Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works in an erotic chatroom. His mother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), meanwhile, contributes to their collective income via her pension.

One day, they decide to take in a young girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) who is abused by her parents. Osamu decides to use her alongside Shota in his shoplifting excursions. Meanwhile, Nobuyo, who empathises with her as she suffered a similar pattern of abuse while growing up, takes it upon herself to assume the role of the loving mother whom she really should be blessed with.

Miyu Sasaki and Sakura Andô in Shoplifters

The surrogate family keeps going from day to day until a dramatic event forces them to confront their legally and morally questionable behaviour.

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Low-key but rewarding social realism

Despite its title, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters isn’t really about shoplifting at all. Okay, so there certainly are scenes where characters pilfer items from shops without paying for them (tut, tut). However, at the heart of the film lies the matter of family - be it real, surrogate, or a mix of both - and the necessity to be part of it when one has little else to fall back on. There’s a bond of interaction and interdependency here between six people as they inhabit a cramped and squalid living space.

It’s a naturalistic, non-judgemental and low-key piece of social realist cinema which relies far more on its performances than it does on slick audience manipulation devices. It’s a true ensemble piece with each cast member given plenty of moments to shine, sometimes of the humorous variety but more often laced with pathos. The standouts, however, are Lily Franky as the sly old dog of a father and Kirin Kiki as a crotchety, doddering and occasionally coarse grandmother. Sadly, Kirin recently passed away on September 15th 2018, at the age of 75. This is the last of her films to have been released prior to her death (there are two others forthcoming) and makes for a fine epitaph.

In typical Japanese style, there’s a focus on nature here which serves as an occasional relief from the relentlessly grimy and joyless environments in which the characters usually find themselves. The two children follow a cicada as it slowly makes its way up a tree. The family enjoys the lapping tide during an otherwise overcast day out at the seaside. By including these brief moments, we see this group of people being able to appreciate these small droplets of pleasure simply because their bonds enable them to be shared.

Shoplifters is a touching, modest movie. While some viewers may find it to be a little lacking in real dramatic fireworks (at least until the third act), it’s rewarding for those who take the time to let its bittersweet depiction of those living on the margins of society soak in.

Runtime: 121 mins

Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Script: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring: Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka, Sakura Andô, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

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