Not his very best, but Kore-eda has an intuitive way of working with children, and this ensemble piece illustrates with delicate ease the filmmaker’s longstanding preoccupation with relational dynamics within the family unit.
Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
2018 | Japan | Drama | 121 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scenes
Cast: Lily Franky, Kirin Kiki, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Jyo Kairi, Myu Sasaki
Plot: A family of small-time crooks takes in a child they find on the street.
Awards: Won Palme d’Or (Cannes). Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Oscars)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 11 Jul 2018)
It’s hard to imagine a filmmaker as great as Hirokazu Kore-eda never ever getting one of the top festival prizes, so his recent Cannes Palme d’Or win for Shoplifters is as much a relief as it is a vindication for the auteur’s brilliant body of work. Whether he should have won it for this particular film remains debatable, but at least what has been constantly evading his grasp is now fully within it.
Shoplifters sees Kore-eda returning to what he knows best—kids, family and the larger Japanese society, this after an unexpected detour with The Third Murder (2017), a legal drama centering on a brutal murder.
“If someone hits you and tells you they are doing it because they love you, they are a liar.”
Working with familiar faces, including Lily Franky (Like Father, Like Son, 2013) and Kirin Kiki (After the Storm, 2016), Kore-eda infuses Shoplifters with a deceptively light-hearted tone, mainly as a result of its cheerful original score.
But what delicately cuts through the buoyant atmosphere is an undercurrent of struggle that slowly emerges. Here we have a family staying in a cramped house (feels like a squalor really) owned by an old woman whom they call ‘grandmother’. Within this family unit is a boy named Shota (Jyo Kairi), who finds himself with a younger ‘sister’ after the latter is found freezing and lost.
Together, this ragtag family tries to make ends meet through odd jobs and their frequent habit of shoplifting (an act taught to the kids in light of their financial predicament). Ultimately, like any other family, they just want to have enough to enjoy life as best as they can.
“Sometimes it’s better to choose your own family.”
Far from being top-tier Kore-eda like Still Walking (2008) or Like Father, Like Son, Shoplifters however benefits from the filmmaker’s longstanding preoccupation with relational dynamics within the family unit, a subject matter that he has sharpened and expanded through subtly different narrative forms and contexts over two decades.
In that sense, Shoplifters oozes familiarity, and watching it feels as if one is being embraced again by the warmth of the director’s craft and compassion. Once again, Kore-eda reminds us that he has an intuitive way of working with children (one has to see Nobody Knows (2004) in this regard for arguably the director’s finest hour), with Kairi and Miyu Sasaki (who plays the small girl) giving as natural a performance as you will find.
Fans of Kore-eda should not miss this, while those unfamiliar with the filmmaker’s body of work will find this a fruitful beginning to a beautiful relationship.