Written and Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring Lilly Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jo, Miyu Sasaki, Kirin Kiki
I am more fortunate than most. I grew up in a loving home. My parents like to say that they “beat me twice a day” whether I needed it or not. No, they didn’t actually beat us. In fact, they were patient, and understanding. I say I am fortunate in that I had a stable family.
Modern times call for modern families. That’s not to say that there aren’t families like mine. But, as society speeds up and an infinitesimal rate, the structure of what we consider a family has also changed.
In thinking about my experience watching Kore-eda Hirokazu’s “Shoplifters” unfold, I understood why it won the Palme d’Or: It asks of its audience “what makes a family,” as Osamu (Lilly Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) share a small home in one of the underserved sections of Tokyo. They live with Osamu’s mom, Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) and his sister, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka). Together, they take care of Shota, Osamu and Nobuyo’s son.
When they aren’t living off of Hatsue’s pension from her late husband, Osamu takes what work he can get. We get the sense that he isn’t interested in working, but would rather play. He is better at the art of shoplifting, hence the story’s namesake. He even teaches Shota the art. One day while they are frolicking about following their latest heist, they meet Yuri. She looks lost and hurt and so they take her in, much to Nobuyo’s chagrin.
At its heart, “Shoplifters” is a modern family full of disparate relationships bringing people together who need support. What is interesting in the makeup of this family is that they are all willing to work hard to ensure that everyone is taken care of.
Kore-eda starts with a spartan, worn-out abode, something akin to Chicago’s Cabrini Green. The abode belongs to Hatsue, who presides over the soul of her departed husband. It has a lived-in look beyond its years, yet it is full of love and life. That’s the most critical distinction about Kore-eda’s script: it is full of love and life.
Key to that are the hijinks that ensue when they undertake their shoplifting exploits. Kore-eda’s script makes light of it, while the cinematography conveys the seriousness of their needs and the acts against society as a whole. The fact that Osamu is able to “mentor” both Shota and Yuri says something about how desperate their situation is.
We as an audience are along for the journey because of the love that encompasses the family. There’s a scene where a shopkeeper catches young Shota and Yuri, and gives them something because he knows what it’s like to struggle.
Kore-eda balances the light with the dark. Aki, who was providing a steady income is suddenly without a job, a result of a slowdown at the factory she was working in. This sequence reminds us that even through the tight bonds of family, we still face hardships and need each other to survive.
This idea is reinforced when the family visits the beach. Everyone is able to take a moment, let the waves of the salt water wash over their problems. It allows us as an audience to relax and enjoy the moment, or sonohi no tame ni ikimasu.
Then Kore-eda throws us a curveball. One that, if we’re paying attention to the story, we’re steeled for, But the curveball is so wide and fast that we take stock of our own surroundings. This is why his film won the Palme d’Or: family is the ties that bind us, that allows us to live in the moment, but reminds us of our responsibilities.
Kore-eda’s film is a slow burn, but it is worth the journey.
3 out of 4 stars