Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku)
About stolen belongings and a returned sense of belonging, this masterfully crafted, humane film improves on Hirokazu Kore-eda’s last study of parenting, After the Storm. Family relationships are often ambiguous, and Shoplifters follows through the logic of deception that shapes a child, illuminating the adult capacity for basic tenderness, pernicious abuses and the corrupting need to embody positions of authority and responsibility. That these motivations are informed by compassion and circumstance doesn’t lessen their harm or consequences.
Superficially a construction worker, Osamu (Lily Franky) is a wonky, scatty man who regularly shoplifts with his son, Shota (Kairi Jyo). They live in a small home – again the director so effectively depicts claustrophobic spaces as causes for intimacy and tension – with launderette worker/thief Noboyu (Sakura Andô), teenage peepshow performer Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and the apparent matriarch Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), who is infirm but perhaps the most financially productive of the group. At face value, we have a familiar family unit: the husband, the wife, the daughter, the son and the grandmother.
But much here is only appearance and resemblance. Persistent financial concerns show that the group’s origins aren’t so clear-cut. Passing a timid and quietly distressed girl called Juri (Miyu Sasaki), Osamu and Shota take pity and bring her back. She has suffered at the hands of her parents. Their act of charity initiates a gradual reveal of character motivations which are multiple and complex: selfish and altruistic, conscientious and unthinking. Young Shota and Juri are supported by people deemed biologically and legally unfit. They’re only ever partly emancipated; neither goes to school, instead learning in the stores where their planned, gestured stealing takes place.
The third act drops the warm, folksy tone for an emerging comprehension of reprisals, an urgent melancholy brought on by the anticipation of loss. The auteur draws excellent performances from the cast and he is clearly sentimental towards his creations, but the law – portrayed as satirically heartless – will ultimately deliver formal retribution. This undercuts our sense of justice for the characters: Osamu and Noboyu are fundamentally good parents, Shota and Juri fundamentally happy children.
Glances, mumbles, silences: Kore-eda delicately teases these moments. A picture forms of fixed expectations in Japanese society, of a personal incompleteness, of a final acceptance. Sometimes slightly implausible, always generous, Shoplifters is an intelligent tale of autonomy, maternity and paternity, both real and desired.
Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku) here: