Shoplifters January 24, 2019
2 Hrs., 1 Min.
t first glance, Shoplifters (2018) appears to be a family drama. Its ensemble comprises a husband and a wife, three kids, and a grandmotherly figure, all of whom live together in a dilapidated one-story on the edges of Tokyo. But all is not exactly as it seems. Aside from the marriage of Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), the thing tying these people is a shared disconnectedness. The octogenarian,
Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), owns the home, and uses her deceased husband’s pension to help with the finances. The eldest of the children, a 20-something-year-old hostess named Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), is in with Hatsue — a relationship that will be discussed in more detail later in the film. Osamu and Nobuyo found the quasi-adoptive middle child, Shota (Kairi Jō), living alone in a red Toyota a few years back. The youngest, a 5-year-old named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), is stumbled on, early in the movie, locked outside her mother’s apartment, shivering, for god knows how long — something that apparently happens often. She’s taken in, which is technically a kidnapping but isn’t viewed as such. To help get by, everyone in the “family” shoplifts — a technique Osamu has perfected and reasons is fine since, when an item is still on the shelves, it really doesn’t belong to anyone.
Shoplifters, which won the Palme d’Or last year, is one of many movies written, directed, and edited by Hirokazu Kore-eda that takes the shape of the genealogical drama. One could argue that such a genre categorization is partially incorrect, since these people are not connected by blood. But as Nobuyo relays on many an occasion, whether these people have genetics in common is irrelevant. Affection is palpable; the dynamic is similar enough to the kind that might characterize an idyllic family unit.
The shared bungalow in which much of Shoplifters takes place might be rickety and cramped. Hatsue and Aki share a bed, Shota sleeps in a cabinet of sorts; toiletries and other amenities are scattered about as if they were furniture. But it doesn’t matter if things are less than ideal. Inside you can you feel a strong, albeit topsy-turvy, love. Here are characters who once had nothing and nobody who still have nothing but at least have somebodies who care about them.
Kore-eda slyly withholds and massages information. He doesn’t immediately reveal that the characters have been brought together by comparatively tragic circumstances, not familial ties. When it becomes clear that the “adoption” of Yuri is inherently criminal, we’re able to accept, like this cohort, that she’s better off here, where her hair is cut short and where she is renamed Lin. It is intimated that, at her actual home, she is abused and neglected, whereas here she is taken care of, even if the conditions are bare-bones and slaked with criminality.
It isn’t until the end of the movie that we get the full view of who these characters are and what they come from: what brought Osamu and Nobuyu together in the first place; the true nature of Shota’s past; why Hatsue and Aki are connected. Some of the answers are dark, and cause us to question intentions, sincerity. But so much of Shoplifters speaks to the transience of happiness and the safe feeling of belonging, making the eventual interjection of total truth heartbreaking. Whether our emotional attachment to these characters is partly built on duplicity needn’t matter. What’s true is that at one particular moment in time, this make-do family felt contented and supported when together — a truth we cherish as much as this one-time clan probably still does. A