Kore-eda Hirokazu excels as a director of social drama. From such pieces as Our Little Sister and Like Father, Like Son, his films have allowed us an insight into culture of Japan, and a vast strata of its society. His latest looks at a family of outsiders, those that live on the margin committing petty crime to survive, in Shoplifters.
Shibita Shota (Jyro Kairi) has learnt how to shoplift from the training of his father, Osamu (Lily Frankly), and even at a young age is proficient at supplying the needs of his family. However on a bitterly cold night that family increases by one, as Osamu tentatively adopts a young girl (Sasaki Miyu) locked out of her house by abusive parents. As the poor family shelter the girl, they must deal both with the consequences of their actions, and the secrets that bind them as a family.
An incredibly humanist film, Shoplifters concentrates on the creation of character rather than putting the emphasis on plot. However in doing this Kore-eda gives us rich motivation for characters and a lavish inner life. They feel genuine, and we have been given an insight as to how they live, a welcomed guest that soon becomes a close friend and confidant. As such we become quickly attached to these characters, interested in their lives and thoughts, and certainly do not wish them harm.
This wondrously empathetic tilt is all the more extraordinary given the nature of the family in question. Like last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? this makes the selfish, indolent, and criminal into flawed human beings, and people that we can relate to and forgive… even pity.
However, it does require a certain patience from the viewer, as Kore-eda slowly peels back the layers in his gentle and immersive fashion. The view we are given though is rich and rewarding, a slight jab at the growing inequality and struggle we are seeing globally, filtered through the specific lens of Japanese society. Shoplifters offers no easy answers, or moral absolutes, but rather subtly raises questions, providing food for thought on the nature and dynamics of the family.
Hence a lot is reliant on the performances of that cast, and each member brings a naturalism to their role. From the extraordinary young Jyo Kairi, to the inveterate Kiki Kilian, they meld to create this oddly lovable family, but the twin gems here are Lily Franky and Ando Sakura. As the two heads of the household their interaction drives everything. Franky appears shiftless, but affable, while Ando is caustic, but caring. Yet, like the story itself, each reveal surprising depths, running a gamut of emotions.
The result is a truly beautiful film that poetically explores the family. Shoplifters can warm your heart, move you, and even surprise with the turns it takes. If you have the patience to relax into this beautiful and broken world that Kore-eda creates then you will be rewarded.
Shoplifters plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, January 14 to Sunday, January 20, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, January 22 to Sunday, January 27, 8pm.