Shoplifters is a heart-warming tale of an unconventional Japanese family living in poverty. Director Hirokazu Koreeda is familiar with tightknit domestic relationships as his craft has grown from Like Father, Like Son and Our Little Sisterwhich he seems to master in Shoplifters. Viewed on the final day of Cornwall Film Festival, I was aware of the critical acclaim that surrounded the film after winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes but not prepared for how Shoplifters emotionally sneaks up on you and steals your heart.
Organized Chaos: The family home is a mismatched hodgepodge of furniture chaotically stacked everywhere with characters sleeping wherever it is most comfortable. Koreeda makes sure that it's messy, not dirty because a magical sense of warmth emanates from the screen. As the most recurrent location, it becomes a haven for the audience (especially Westernized) as we are most familiar with it and lost in the maze-like Japan. Just like the family, we’re aware of the coffee table where dinner is eaten and the cabinet where Shota sleeps. Ultimately, it’s a shelter from the outside world. What I find most interesting is the audience never explicitly see the exterior, only the occasionally wall panel making the location possible anywhere across Japan. Koreeda is giving a voice to those who don’t have it.
Formidable Relationships: Depicting a poverty-driven narrative wouldn’t typically call for comedic elements but the beauty of Shoplifters is that under all the grimy overtones is a loving family sharing banter. Unaware of the actors prior to watching, they share a phenomenal level of chemistry creating a realistic family aesthetic. And, when they bring bruised Yuri into their household, react in a conflicting manner as you’d expect highlighting morals as a major theme. The deepest relationship is between father-figure Nobuyo and Shota as learning to survive becomes a necessity in this world – which is a fascinatingly progressive family portrayal. While the family does work, they call upon Shota to steal the odd grocery. But, even the pettiest of crimes doesn’t remove empathy.
Sibling Rivalry: With unquestionably fabulous performances throughout, newcomer Yuri really shines and holds her own against formidable older actors. Shota reluctantly agrees to pass on his skills to Yuri. Her muteness makes it difficult for her to communicate with the adopted family but slowly breaks out of her shell becoming an adorable figure in the household. It also resonates with the ideas of real family units. This family is more unconditionally loving than her abusive one where she has potential mother, father, and sibling figures but is illegal within society.
A Joyful Hug: Zipping back from character to character, the only downtime in Shoplifters is when they sleep – which Koreeda still manages to film with the utmost spirit. By no means dull, Koreeda is highlighting the minorities in Japan in the most alluring sense with comedic highs and emotional lows delivering such a well-crafted piece of cinema. Over the runtime of the film, you’ll be surprised how personally connected you’ve become to each family member; as if they’ve brought you into their house also.
An emotionally bellowing experience about family, poverty, love, and loss that’s heartfelt in all the right places and politically revolutionary when it needs to be.