Shoplifters deserves all the accolade and awards

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By Louie Bell, First Year Geography

At the centre of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new, Palme d'Or winning film Shoplifters is a family. A family living on the margins of Tokyo society, a family who rely on shoplifting to deal with a life of poverty, a family in which no one is related.

The film opens on two people, seemingly a father and son, walking into a supermarket and beginning to steal from it. They bow their heads and twirl their fingers in what appears to be a ritual before they start to shoplift, nodding their heads at each other from across the busy store in an orchestrated, carefully planned ‘hit’ on this shop. When they leave, they laugh and share food that they’ve stolen late at night on the streets of Tokyo.

On the way home, they stop to invite a young girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) playing on the street, apparently starving, cold and abandoned, back to their home for food, and upon discovering evidence of abuse they ‘adopt’ her. Despite some arguments over whether it is kidnapping or not, they roll with it nonetheless. As the film unfolds, what would appear to be an act of kindness slowly manifests itself as something potentially far more sinister.

Youtube / Magnolia Pictures

Kore-eda slowly introduces us into their world of marginalisation and poverty by moving from the edges of their life inwards, allowing the audience to learn gradually about the nature and motives behind these characters. The frame is often obstructed by the furniture crammed into the one room or the vast array of endless urban sprawl in which this family seems to sit in the centre, smartly drawing attention to the claustrophobic and chaotic nature of their lives.

It is clear that the director has set out to explore the true nature of family. As the film progresses, we learn more about the past of each member in this group, all of whom have been cast out by society and are bound to each other as their only true company in the world. He achieves this with astonishing subtlety, letting us observe the intimate, deeply emotional moments between the family that play out in near-silence. Something as simple as a hug between two sisters beside a family bonfire becomes symbolic of the turn from one life to another, burning the clothes from a traumatic past.

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Watershed / Shoplifters

These scenes are bursting with emotional weight, and make it clear that their bond with each other is greater than they could ever conceive with a member of their biological family or with the rest of society. A single tear is a recurring image throughout the film, a symbol of the pain these people hide beneath an exterior that they must keep up in order to survive in this harsh environment.

The father figure Osamu, brilliantly brought to life in all of his energy and underlying pain by Lily Franky, is a seemingly kind but exploitative mentor to his ‘children’, whom he slowly pushes into a life of crime and rough work. One of his daughters, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) is encouraged to earn money through dancing at a local strip club where the men remain anonymous behind a reflective screen. Again, Kore-eda explores the bond between those outcast by society, as Aki forms a bond with the invisible ‘Mr Four’ who keeps returning to watch her dance.

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Watershed / Shoplifters

Shoplifters is a delight. Kore-eda succeeds in everything he reaches for, and masterfully explores the contrast between social expectations that are condoned by society and the bond between a family that must break all of these rules just to survive. Each of the performances stands out in its own way - all of the family present a façade of courage, yet each are deeply damaged and vulnerable, clinging desperately to the only thing that resembles a normal life.

The younger cast members are astonishing, Kairi Jō and Miyu Sasaki perfectly capturing the damage caused by being outcast at such a young age, and the longing for a family to be part of, surrogate as it may be.

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Watershed / Shoplifters

Kore-eda’s superb writing and direction make Shoplifters a deeply moving and heartbreaking watch, and his mediation on truth, grief and destitution shines through in this fantastic portrait of a group of people whose love for one another transcends the desperate situation in which they reside.

Shoplifters is showing at Watershed until Thursday.

Featured Image: Watershed / Shoplifters


What's your favourite makeshift family in film?

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