Admittedly I was sacrilegiously unaware of Hirokazu Koreeda’s previous work, before Shoplifters came along into my awareness after winning the Palme D’or at Cannes last June. The journalistic and cinephile twitterati have been singing its praises since, I almost felt obliged to watch it, with its looming UK release. I now truly see what the fuss is all about! This rough-n-ready tightknit family group with their charmingly mischievous thieving ways provide for the most touching, bittersweet story ever and simultaenously give a damning critique of a broken Japanese society
Koreeda contemplates what constitutes a family; featuring a regular of his, Frank Lily as Osamu Shibata, a happy-go-lucky patriarch of what at first appears as a family comprised of his young son Shota (Kairi Jyo) his thieving side-kick who we see smuggling with great aptitude the family’s weekly shop into his backpack. Along with the comically acerbic grandmother figure Hatsue (Kilin Kiki), Osamu’s wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and the young adult Aki (Mayu Matsuoka). All of them, making a living through meanail work, such as construction, laundry mats and strip booths and then supplemented by shop-lifting.
The framework of this familial assemblage is revealed when Osamu and Shota, rescue the most adorable little girl Yuri (Miyu Susaki), who is stranded having escaped her family home, just a few streets down. They bring her back to their tiny makeshift apartment where they cosily abide, discovering various wounds on her body implying that Yuri suffered parental abuse. Soon enough Yuri joins their domestic bliss and learning the tricks of the trade through Shota, spending their days shoplifting; whilst all along there is city-wide police search for her. As yest further insightful glimpses we come to realise each of them are not blood-related and like Yuri they were rescued, saved from troubled predicaments and taken in to this tranquil habitat to find harmonious solace. That is until Shota, eventually gets caught stealing, injuring himself whilst trying to escape, the authorities are alerted and the inevitable happens.
It’s an endearing, heart-felt, adorable film which successfully avoids in trivializing its symbolic importance and the potency of its underlying theme. The cast bring it, making their deliveries appear effortless; hyper realistic portrayals in this scruffy fairy tale. Despite being dirt poor, this familial entity lives in abundance, all their needs met within each other. Each of them choosing to be there; following their innate instincts, away from their subject cruelty or from those who rejected them, finding their place in a more befitting and more loving unit.
In a country that has low levels of crime, through Shoplifters Koreeda challenges the workings of Japan’s strict criminal system, a paradox of rules and regulations, dependent on morals in a society that is ultimately flawed. Its heavy enforcement on the typical blood-related family structure and values with disregard if this is to the detriment of the individual. In the eyes of the authorities Osamu’s and Nobuyo’s actions are deemed criminal but in reality they gave these children a better life than they ever would’ve had. A safe environment full of play, silliness, comfort, closeness, no boundaries, no judgement and above all unconditional love.
Shoplifters is out now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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