In life, no matter the crime, it always comes down to someone’s perspective. Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda has spent his career refining his analysis of the inner-workings of the modern Japanese family unit, such as “Like Father, Like Son” (2013) or “After the Storm” (2016), with his latest work being a stunning story of the same nature. An instant classic, “Shoplifters” is a film that picks apart the preconceptions we have of what makes a family, and how one’s actions do not always reflect their motivations accurately.
Taking place in modern-day Japan, we are introduced to Osamu (Lily Franky) and Shota (Kairi Jyo), doing some skilful, small-scale shoplifting. On a freezing walk back from the store in less than warm clothes, the pair enjoy some appetising croquettes purchased from a street-food stall, making the best out of a bad situation. It’s on this typical evening that they encounter a small and shy little Juri (Miyu Sasaki), looking cold, hungry, and seemingly abandoned. The cinematography of Ryoto Kondu uses food to bring closer both the differences in culture between the East and the West today, but also the similarities. This is one of the ways in which the film benefits from being seen in a dark room, with a screen and sound system of good enough quality to pick up on small details that make us that much closer to the characters and their culture.
As time goes by, Juri’s name changes to Lin and in doing so she becomes the piece that completes this puzzle of a family. Osamu’s partner Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) gradually shows Lin what true parental love and care is and feels like. The thought process that develops from this progression of the story is core to the brilliance of the film, as even though Juri is a young child, she does not express any desire to return to her seemingly abusive parents. Kored-eda, through this carefully layered perspective, makes this family of impoverished outlaws perfectly right for each other. Even in what is a small, chaotic home, the tone is warm and familiar, and Juri seems to prefer to be here.
At times relatable, but also importantly insightful to an invisible, impoverished modern day Japan, the film is yet never austere or grim. A mixture of beautifully captured moments and an intricate plot unravel at first slowly, then all at once, giving such texture and depth of content that it comes across as a particularly brilliant film adaptation of a book (and I am quite sad this book does not exist). This being said, the superb acting, adults and children alike, truly makes this story one for cinema to tell, first and foremost.
Through the mess of crime and poverty, the harmonious co-habitation of these individuals is constantly confronted with reality, which eventually catches up with them. When this happens, the already fragile relation between Shota and Osamu gets pushed over the edge, as instinctive traits seep out and unavoidably bring them even further into their reality. We are left wondering what is to become of this broken puzzle; leaving the cinema with the memory of them looking up at the fireworks one night, the one shot in the film of all six together, as a family.