A bittersweet drama about a low-income family that secretly adopt a young abuse victim, Shoplifters became the most acclaimed film of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s distinguished career when it won the top prize at Cannes earlier this year.
Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) is a petty crook, a scheming, benevolent man who supplements his wife (Sakura Andô) Nobuyo’s paltry income by shoplifting supermarket goods with his boy Shota (Kairi Jyo). Living with them in a cluttered house is a young woman called Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), whom we presume to be Nobuyo’s sister, and a grandmother (the late Kirin Kiki, a Kore-eda regular in her last screen role). The family dynamic is warm and compassionate, although the specifics of lineage are ambiguous. For instance, it is implied that Shota is adopted through his reluctance to address Osamu as ‘dad’. It seems fitting, therefore, that when Osamu and Shota walk past a cold, hungry young girl, they happily welcome her into their home. But the legal ramifications of this act, which amounts to kidnapping in the eyes of the law, put the sanctity of their family unit in jeopardy.
Kore-eda has won comparisons to Yasujirō Ozu, the great humanist of Japanese cinema, and rarely has this comparison felt so earned as in Shoplifters. The performances are all pitch-perfect, the characters complicated and engaging. As in the rest of his oeuvre, the director shows a particular flair for quiet moments; the keenly observed beats of life in gentle stasis. Shoplifters also reveals a profound understanding of passing time, of the transience that underpins every moment of soft happiness.
A third act twist pulled straight from a newspaper headline threatens to undermine the subdued family drama that preceded it, but Kore-eda has enough deftness and control over the tone to style it out and Shoplifters finishes on a fine and deeply moving note. Kore-eda has cemented his position as one of the world’s foremost filmmakers and Shoplifters is a beautiful piece of work, balancing social commentary and family drama with rare and delicate skill.
Shoplifters is out in UK cinemas now.