Released 2018. Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
THEY SAY YOU CAN'T CHOOSE YOUR FAMILY. TO A LARGE EXTENT, that’s true. For the household in Shoplifters, it’s a little more complicated.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters is an invitation to share in the life of a family with meagre means, abundant affection, and a few secrets.
We first meet Osamu and Shota at a supermarket. This father and son team has an established method of pinching groceries with expert ease. On their way home they find a little girl, Yuri, alone in the cold in a back alley. Failing to coax any address out of Yuri, they take her home.
Home is where we meet Osamu’s wife Nobuyo, grandma and granddaughter Aki. There’s a lot of people sharing a small living space. A tiny house crammed with belongings and hidden behind tenement blocks, their home barely has enough sleeping space for all of them. But it is a place full of chatter and laughter, as they each dip into their steaming bowls of instant noodle dinners and bundle up for warmth.
Osamu and Nobuyo carry Yuri wandering nearby streets, hoping to find her distraught family. After what they see and hear, the couple decide to turn around instead. They may not have much space to spread out comfortably, but they have room in their hearts when they see someone who needs a family. Especially a five-year-old with scars of abuse on her body.
If you’ve seen Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work in the past, notably Nobody Knows (2004) and Like Father, Like Son (2013), you’d know the kind of story he tells. Children feature prominently in his movies, then their parents, and how this core relationship shapes their lives. Kore-eda examines this fundamental social fabric in an everyday domestic setting, in a gentle and often subtle manner, whilst he probes questions that don’t come with easy answers.
The household in Shoplifters appears a happy lot, notwithstanding their economic struggle. Osamu and Nobuyo work low-paying and insecure jobs. Shota doesn’t attend school. Grandma is getting on in age and Aki works as a stripper. Their petty thefts of cheap food and snacks is as much to augment their meals as it is a survival tactic.
By the time the first of several secrets are revealed, the family would have won your heart over. The revelations of the true connections between them take the story to another emotional territory. Kore-eda makes you adjust your perceptions of the characters as the questions of ‘murder’ and ‘kidnap’ surface.
Ultimately it’s a lot about choice. Each of these characters has decided to be a part of this family they make for themselves. These are people who want to be dad, mum, son, daughter, even if they may not be related biologically or in a conventional way one defines a family. They choose one another and the love between them is real.
Just like stealing, they know it’s wrong yet they do it. Being together is wrong in the eyes of the law yet they stick together because it’s the compassionate thing to do.
This is a delicate and careful observation of ties that bind and break. A quietly compelling movie about individuals on the peripherals and the mistakes they make, intentional or not; and their criminal acts, intentional or not. The inevitable separation that comes is truly heartbreaking. In the end they no longer have a choice, to do what’s right by their hearts, or what’s right by the law.