Shoplifters review: Petty theft with emotional heft

by James Robins / 02 December, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Shoplifters movie review

Japanese drama Shoplifters is a heart-stealing masterpiece about the gentlest of Tokyo crime families.

A delicate mystery shrouds the heart of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, which rightly won the supreme Cannes prize, the Palme d’Or, earlier this year. What makes a family? Is it blood, nurture, the home hearth? Or can a family be forged from desperate circumstance and deep longing?

The Tokyo shoplifters of Kore-eda’s gentle and tender masterpiece certainly look like a family, although one in dire economic straits. Chief among them is chirpy father Osamu (Lily Franky), who schools his son Shota (Kairi Jō) in the art of supermarket thievery.

Returning from a raid one evening, they find a young girl in the cold, her parents squabbling nearby. They take her to their house – a ramshackle hovel filled with hoarded junk. It’s hard to imagine how the family live in it, or a how a film crew was squeezed in, for that matter. The cramped quarters are made all the more claustrophobic by Kore-eda’s tendency to shoot through confined spaces: doorways, windows, halls, closets – a technique learnt from Yasujirō Ozu, an icon of Japanese cinema.

Elderly matriarch Hatsue (veteran actor Kirin Kiki) feeds the scared, shivering girl and discovers her body is covered with scars. That night, she wets the bed. Sure signs of abuse.

Whether this is an abduction or a rescue matters little to Kore-eda, who has explored this territory before in Like Father, Like Son, and tends to reserve judgment. As should we. What becomes clear, though, is that the threads that hold the family together are more tenuous than at first glance. As seasons change, as we spend more time in the rickety household, we find Osamu begging for Shota to call him Dad. Hatsue visits another family, a meeting that only sows more doubt.

There will be revelations. The final 20 minutes of Shoplifters is devastating and acutely troubling. But it only feels this way because Kore-eda has spent most of the film simply observing these scattered lives, curiously probing their idiosyncrasies, their doubts.

Key to it all is Nobuyo, wife, mother and holder of dark secrets. She is played by Sakura Andô and I’m yet to figure out what makes watching her so captivating; there’s rawness, humanity and something magical.

At the close, Shoplifters returns to a scene of quiet domesticity. What emerges is a sense of dedication and, above all, love. As one character says with a worldly shrug: “Sometimes it’s better to choose your own family.”

Video: GAGAIntl

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★★

This article was first published in the December 8, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

How Whangārei became New Zealand's home of jugger
99256 2018-12-12 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

How Whangārei became New Zealand's home of jugger

by Michael Botur

On every second Sabbath, grown men and women armed with foam chase a dog skull around Whangārei’s Kensington Park.

Read more
New Zealand's silent Pasifika mental health crisis
100357 2018-12-11 17:18:21Z Health

New Zealand's silent Pasifika mental health crisis…

by Indira Stewart

What do you do if your culture treats mental illness like a curse? Bury it deep.

Read more
The smart speaker with a screen: How does the Amazon Echo Show stack up?
100317 2018-12-11 15:10:01Z Tech

The smart speaker with a screen: How does the Amaz…

by Peter Griffin

A review of the Amazon Echo Show smart speaker.

Read more
Domestic violence: 'There's a huge amount of work that needs to be done' – PM
100265 2018-12-11 10:30:17Z Social issues

Domestic violence: 'There's a huge amount of work …

by RNZ

Grace Millane's death is a reminder of the work that needs to be done to reduce violence directed at women in this country, says the PM.

Read more
Finally, a trio of chunky referendum issues to spice up the next election
99872 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Politics

Finally, a trio of chunky referendum issues to spi…

by Bevan Rapson

The possibility of Kiwis voting on three contentious issues – euthanasia, cannabis and an MMP shakeup – is like crowdsourcing political decisions.

Read more
The bullying allegations show that Parliament needs transparency
100228 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Politics

The bullying allegations show that Parliament need…

by Bill Ralston

As a review stalks bullies in the corridors of power, Bill Ralston writes that abuse thrives in the darkness.

Read more
Mortal Engines is like Star Wars on Middle-earth but lacks memorable characters
100219 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Movies

Mortal Engines is like Star Wars on Middle-earth b…

by Russell Baillie

In a world where cities are humungous all-terrain vehicles, Peter Jackson’s protégé gets bogged down.

Read more
How art therapy is helping stroke victims speak a new language
99448 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Health

How art therapy is helping stroke victims speak a …

by Donna Chisholm

re-stART, an Auckland art therapy programme, is thought to be the first in the world targeting stroke survivors.

Read more