What really makes a family? Type the word into Google and this is the result:Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s newest film, Shoplifters, takes these definitions and explores them in a realistic, heartbreaking and insightful way. Hirokazu Kore-eda also serves as the writer and editor of the family crime drama that stars Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kairi Jō, Mayu Matsuoka, Miyu Sasaki, and the late Kirin Kiki. The Japanese film follows an impoverished family of shoplifters, who take in an abandoned child, as they try to scrape by living in Tokyo. Spoilers after the trailer.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s direction and storytelling is effective because everything in the film has meaning. Most of the framing of the shots in Shoplifters are tight with not a lot of negative space. For a film about people who aren’t living a positive life, this makes sense symbolically. The way that Hirokazu Kore-eda uses tight shots emphasizes the subjects of the film and not the world around them. This ties in with the film’s theme of the family focusing on themselves no matter what the outside world has to think of their situation. The writing and storytelling take this a step further. The pacing of the first two acts was slow, but the third-act payoff made up for it. After spending the first two acts getting to know the members of the family, the third act is a gut punch once we learn who they truly are and how they came to be. Taking the time to methodically breakdown each member of the Shibata clan’s background creates a compelling way to understand their motivations.
The film delves into the bleak lives of Osamu Shibata (Lily Frank), a day laborer and the male head of a household that includes his wife Nobuyo Shibata (Sakura Ando), a young boy named Shota Shibata (Kairi Jō), a teenage girl Aki Shibata (Mayu Matsuoka), and an elderly grandmother Hatsue Shibata (Kirin Kiki). One night after shoplifting from a local store the Shibatas took in an abandoned little girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki). Yuri has been beaten and abused by her biological parents, so the Shibatas decide to keep her, even though they don’t have much to give her outside of love and a caring family. The physical abuse that Yuri has received from her family isn’t ever shown on-screen, but the movie gets psychological trauma across effectively.
There’s a powerful scene where the Shibatas go to the mall and Nobuyo gives Yuri a yellow dress to try-on and the terrified reaction that Yuri gives her is chilling. Yuri quietly asks Nobuyo, “will you hit me later,” when presented with the dress and she replies with a heartfelt “No,” and later on, when Yuri is finally returned to her family, her biological mom is wearing a yellow dress and being verbally abusive. This highlights the theme of the film that it’s better to choose your own family. The relationship that Yuri and Nobuyo develop is more of a healthy mother-daughter bond. The only Shibatas that actually have any sense of familial bond, based on the second definition above, are Hatsue and Aki. Hatsue is the second-wife of Aki’s grandfather and Hatsue’s been receiving money from Aki’s father who is the child of Hatsue’s ex-husband’s second marriage. Once we see Aki’s father cut Hatsue a check that’s when Shoplifters shows us that Hatsue doesn’t really love Aki, instead she loves the money that she receives from Aki’s family.
During the beginning of the film Osamu breaks his leg at his day job which allows him to benefit from workers’ compensation. Since he’s being paid workers comp he continues shoplifting as a second means of income to help the family stay afloat and together. Osamu has taught Shota how to shoplift and live life as a small-time crook. Since the family has taken Yuri in does Osamu change his ways? Reader, he does not. Osamau has taught Yuri and Shota the ideology of a shoplifter, “items in a store do not belong to anyone,” and kids who are not intelligent enough to learn from home attend school. At a young age of around 12 years-old, Shota has embraced the lifestyle that Osamu has taught him. He and Yuri have a system of hand signals they use to assure the coast is clear when committing their crimes. This all changes after stealing from a store that the Shibatas have shoplift from frequently, the store owner catches Shota, gives him and Yuri a toy, and tells Shota not to let the girl live the life of a thief. This is the catalyst for Shota changing his views on the life of a shoplifter.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s writing exemplifies that he took his time to create these characters because they have depth and a complete story arc. Towards the end of the film, Shota gets cornered after stealing oranges from the market and tries to escape by jumping off a bridge, breaking his own leg in the process. Shota told Osamu that he got caught on purpose, which is what ends up tearing the family apart. During the entire film Shota cannot call Osamu “dad” and it’s a theme the film plays with throughout its duration. Osamu isn’t Shota’s biological dad, like Yuri, Shota was abandoned and like an item in a store, Osamu stole him after breaking into the car he was sleeping in.
At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, the Japanese film won the Palme d’Or, considered one of the most prestigious awards in the film industry, and has made the shortlist of nominations for Best Foreign Film at the 2019 Academy Awards. With the film’s success, Magnolia Pictures picked up the film’s distribution rights for its theatrical run in North America. Shoplifters lived up to all the accolades and acclaim it has received so far. This is my personal favorite foreign film from 2018 and it should give the Golden Globes winner some competition this upcoming Oscars season. Lead actor Lily Frank did a phenomenal job bringing out the emotions that a film like this needs. Kore-eda’s approach to realism in the film adds another texture to the viewing experience. The clan of shoplifters only have each other, they may not be blood relatives, but they are a family.
[All Mames Wey]
Shoplifters is currently in select theaters and is scheduled for digital download on February 12, 2019.