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



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


March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more
IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computing
102458 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computin…

by Peter Griffin

The Q System One, as IBM calls it, doesn’t look like any conventional computer and it certainly doesn’t act like one.

Read more
James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more
Ivanka and her tower of crumbs
102404 2019-02-14 10:33:12Z Arts

Ivanka and her tower of crumbs

by Preminda Jacob

For two hours each evening, an Ivanka Trump lookalike has been vacuuming a hot pink carpet at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Read more
Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing to keep up
102393 2019-02-14 09:52:16Z Social issues

Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing…

by The Listener

The introduction of a free youth mental-health pilot for Porirua, and later the wider region, is welcome news, but it's far too little, far too late.

Read more
Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensive crouch
102387 2019-02-14 09:21:07Z Politics

Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensiv…

by Guyon Espiner

For a government promising 'a year of delivery' it has begun in something of a defensive crouch.

Read more