“Don’t make your sister do it”Review by Lily Taylor
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘Shoplifters’ is centred around an atypical family struggling to make a living in the midst of a poverty stricken area of Tokyo, Japan. This far from nuclear family is comprised of grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) who helps to support the rest using her late husband’s pension and allowing them to share her home.
Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) assume parental figures to Shota (Kairi Jō); a young boy who struggles throughout the film with the notion of family and his sense of morality. A young woman Aki (Sakura Ando) has also been taken in by Hatsue and shares her home. The family is completed by the addition of Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a young girl abused by her parents and found by Shota and Osamu left outside in the cold.
The first scene is one of Osamu and Shota shoplifting together at a supermarket but on the way home they decide to purchase croquettes from a street vendor to take home to the rest of the family. The juxtaposition between thievery and then buying something legitimately sparked instant intrigue into the characters lives and the reasons behind such actions. I found the characters likeable straight away despite their immoral lifestyle; this was true of Shota in particular which I felt was a credit to both Kore-eda‘s direction and Kairi Jō’s acting. Subtle humour is littered throughout the film but ‘Shoplifters’ still succeeds in impressing the gravitas of the groups poverty stricken existence to the viewer; a light hearted view on a less than ideal lifestyle. Osamu, Nobuyo and Aki are all employed which made it easier for me to justify their shoplifting as it was needed to supplement a minimal income. Although the household has some modern amenities like a television, the reality of the groups financial situation is impressed upon the viewer in even the seemingly uneventful scenes. My favourite example of this is a scene in which Hatsue is eating an orange and even eats the peel, for me this perfectly captured a waste not, want not attitude.
As relationships develop and shift between the group members I thought the film captured an interesting window into each generation in the family unit. A trip to the beach unites the family and is arguably the most joyous scene in the whole film. One quote that resonated with me and conveys the sentiment behind the film is something Hatsue says during this scene:
‘Better to choose your own family, if only not to have any expectations’.
The film depicts a sort of coming of age for Shota and the shift in family dynamics following Yuri’s arrival prompts him to question the morality of the groups lifestyle. Ultimately this proves to be the family’s undoing as Shota purposefully gets caught shoplifting by police and ends up hospitalised with a broken leg. The atmosphere of the film changes at this point as the groups hidden secrets are exposed to the police. I found the ending to be bittersweet in many ways. Yuri is returned to her abusive birth parents and Shota placed in a care home whilst Nobuyo serves time in prison. Despite this the final scenes of the film reinforce the truth of the relationships built between this atypical family. Nobuyo gives Shota information to help him find his birth parents and Shota calls Osamu ‘Dad’ for the first time after a moment of honesty. Although they may not be a biological family, the bonds between them are genuine.
The direction by Kore-eda absolutely makes this film; I can completely understand why it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. There are so many subtle details that are easy to miss the first time you watch ‘Shoplifters’. The passing of time is conveyed almost entirely through seasonal changes which tells the viewer that these events take place over the space of a year without the need to explain in the dialogue. The score is understated and well complemented by silence which was used brilliantly to create impact where needed.
I found ‘Shoplifters’ to be a beautifully directed film exploring multi-faceted characters in a thought provoking way. There are few negative comments I could make but I did feel that the film was slightly longer than necessary and that more time could have been spent focussing on the breakdown of the family and the exposure of Osamu and Nobuyo’s questionable past acts. Additionally, there were some scenes or conversations that weren’t entirely clear to me, perhaps due to the translation from Japanese to English but the script was lacking very occasionally in my opinion.