A warm-hearted, clear-eyed and often funny study of family dynamics and the plight of Japan’s growing underclass.
© 2018 FUJI TELEVISION NETWORK/GAGA CORPORATION/AOI Pro. Inc.
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Mairi Jo and Miyu Sasaki
Running time: 121 minutes
Screenplay: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Kore-eda’s latest, about a family who relies on shoplifting to cope with a life of poverty, is a tale of desperation told with generosity and humour. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes and nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
“One of Japan’s nest directors, working at the height of his powers, delivers another masterpiece.”
Nearly every year brings a new film from Hirokazu Kore-eda, and this reviewer faces his annual challenge not to run out of superlatives to describe it. This year’s entry, Shoplifters, has generated extra excitement as it comes fresh off winning the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, probably the most prestigious film prize in the world. It has most deservedly appeared on countless “Top Ten Films of 2018” lists and is the Japanese film industry’s chosen candidate for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Believe the hype. With Shoplifters Kore-eda has outdone himself and made the best film of his career.
The Shibatas, Osamu (Lily Franky), Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and their two children, live in cheerful squalor in a crumbling old house surrounded by modern Tokyo condominiums. They work manual jobs, often on shortened “job-sharing” hours, and supplement their meagre wages with the family grandmother’s (Kirin Kiki) pension and with petty crime, mainly shoplifting. On the way home after one such expedition with son Shota (Kairi Jyo), Osamu comes across an abused young girl named Yuri shivering on a balcony. They take her home for a hot meal and quickly fall in love with the nearly mute girl. It isn’t kidnapping, they reason, because they have requested no ransom, her parents do not seem to care—and besides, they can show her the real warmth and caring she needs. This is typical of their carefree, hard-scrabble approach to life but we sense, even in the early happy scenes, that this precarious family existence is doomed. The Shibatas harbour many secrets and it is soon apparent that neither Shota or his sister Aki (the luminous Mayu Matsuoka as a peep show performer) are their actual children. Osamu and Nobuyo’s own relationship is founded on an act of deadly impetuosity they seem pained to confront.
Shota begins to resent the attention Yuri receives from Osamu while, fearing that his actions will bankrupt a kindly shop owner, he feels the first pricks of his adolescent conscience. When Shota finally acts out, the authorities pounce and the entire charade unravels.
Shoplifters is warm-hearted, clear-eyed and often very funny. It is also an indictment of Japanese societal shifts and the plight of a growing under-class. The film combines elements of an earlier masterpiece, Nobody Knows, about children that fall between society’s cracks, with the director’s trademark enquiries into the meaning and dynamics of families.
There are simply too many layers and too much to enjoy here for a single viewing. Shoplifters is full of perfectly realized moments, knowing details and superb performances, particularly by Ando.
Her final speech will break your heart. The scenes between Matsuoka and Kiki too are lent additional poignancy by the fact that this is one of Kiki’s final performances. She died in September, shortly after the film’s release. Smaller roles are populated by a who’s who of top Japanese stars, perhaps looking for an opportunity to step onto the international stage afforded by a Kore-eda film. Among these, Sosuke Ikematsu, as one of Aki’s lonely peep show customers, wordlessly projects a heartbreaking vulnerability. It is a tiny, perfect gem of a scene; a teardrop left glistening on a naked thigh is a masterful touch.
With Shoplifters, one of Japan’s nest contemporary directors, working at the height of his powers, delivers another masterpiece.
Shoplifters will be screened at the JCCC on January 31 at 7 pm. jccc.on.ca