Review: Shoplifters

This film from Japanese director Hiorkazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows) is a beautiful drama about what family means. I saw it at Middleburg, and it’s stayed with me. The story is about a group of people living together on the edges of society, with pretty fluid ethics but enormous hearts, and it’s both uplifting and heartbreaking.

In a very small house on the outskirts of Tokyo lives a motley crew. It’s grandma Hatsue’s (Kirin Kiki) house, but she shares it with a middle aged couple, Osamu (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyu (Sakura Andô), a young boy, Shota (Jyo Kairi), and a teenage girl, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka). Osamu is teaching Shota to shoplift as a way to make ends meet, even though he has a part-time job on a construction site and Nobuyu works at a laundry. Aki performs in a peep show. But everything changes one day on the way home from one of their “shopping” trips, when they discover a cute little four-year-old girl abandoned in the cold and bring her home. They plan to take her back, but that proves to be a problem and so they take her in and she’s happy. It turns out that her mother has abused her and she’s never known the kind of love they give her.

And even though they put her to work in their shoplifting schemes, it all works, and you grow to love them all despite their moral lapses. But there are a lot of outside forces working against them all living happily ever after, and ultimately their sweet little world cannot hold. But while it does, it’s a heartwarming and human story. The last scene may be one of the saddest I’ve seen lately though. Shoplifting won this year’s Palme d’Or and will probably be competing for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. I highly recommend it to foreign film lovers. It’s one of those that gets under your skin.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: This film does indeed get under your skin, and the last scenes are quite sad, but poignant. I’m not a huge fan of foreign films but I was quietly swept up into Shoplifters, mostly because the performances are solid and affecting, and the little girl is beyond cute. The style and tone are reminiscent of another Hiorkazu Kore-eda film that I saw in 2016 called After the Storm. (note: The fact that I can even refer to having seen “another Hiorkazu Kore-eda film…” is rather remarkable in and of itself!). I actually recall being pleasantly surprised by that film as well. Many of the same actors appear in Shoplifters, and the central theme is once again ‘family’ in all its dysfunctional glory. Shoplifters is primarily for the arty crowd, but for the mainstream folks who do like the occasional foreign flick, this one is a worthy watch. -hb]

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