It’s almost needless to say that the Palme D’Or-winning Shoplifters packs a heavy emotional punch. Beautifully crafted and misleadingly slow burning, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest follows a poverty-stricken family during a pivotal year of their life. The story starts with Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and the young Shota (Kairi Jō) happily shoplifting for food, as they do most other things. But when the former sees a little girl shivering alone in the cold on their way home, he decides to take her in, and thus sets in motion a chain of events which threatens to snap the ties that bind his ragtag family unit.
The group’s tiny house is covered with presumably stolen tat. It’s built for one but often houses six, and could easily have come across as claustrophobic. But instead, Kore-eda’s loving shots imbue the set with a sense of intimacy and tenderness that is mirrored perfectly by the incredible cast; from Lin, the withdrawn and abused little girl (Miyu Sasaki) to the fierce matriarch Nobuyo (played by the outstanding Sakura Ando). There are method-acting Oscar-winners up and down Hollywood who wish they were this naturalistic.
As director, writer and editor, Kore-eda had an enviable creative control over this movie, and it paid off. The feature tricks you at first into thinking that it’s a meditative wander through the lives of the underprivileged. But really, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exploration of what family can and should mean, and it’s out to steal your emotional composure right from under your nose. There’s an abandoned subplot, and there are a couple times where the narrative leaves you guessing or confused, but these are forgivable transgressions in a film that will stay with you long after you watch it.
Shoplifters manages to do the near-impossible by romanticising the family, but not their circumstances. Instead of sentimental voyeurism peering either judgmentally or with a hypocritical longing at life under the poverty line, Kore-eda lovingly walks you through his argument that when the family you’re saddled with isn’t what you need, it’s possible to choose a better one.
Shoplifters is released in select cinemas on 23rd November 2018.
Watch the trailer for Shoplifters here: