Review: Shoplifters // 万引き家族 (2018)

In a supermarket, Osamu Shibata, an unassuming middle aged man walks with a shopping basket full of products. Where he stands, he has clear view of the child, Shota who suspiciously looks around as he readies himself to take from the aisles. Shota quietly takes from the shelves puts it into his bag. When Shouta walks away, Osamu does as well, leaving the people in the supermarket to remain oblivious to the act. Afterwards, the duo stroll down the streets like father and son with nothing to hide, they buy croquette snacks on the way home and walking back, the son laments that he has forgotten the shampoo. This is how the Shibatas live their daily life. 

Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, is a tale of a family living in poverty within modern Tokyo who resort to shoplifting to meet ends meet. They work blue collared jobs, Osamu works in construction and his wife, Nobuyo, at a factory. Their wage is low paying and the family survives mostly on the grandmother’s pension. Despite their troubled finances, the family seem carefree, with the family taking a trip to the beach for play and when Osamu hurts his leg during work and gets no compensation pay, he just lazes around at home without any trouble. Osamu even invites a seemingly homeless and hungry girl home for dinner, who when the family finds evidence of physical abuse, they become reluctant to return her home. 

It isn’t kidnapping, we are not asking for a ransom, Nobuyo says, embracing the girl whom they rename Yuri, as their own. The girl quickly becomes part of the family, in one of the film’s most heartfelt moments, Nobuyo and Yuri bond over the scars they bear and they eventually embrace, becoming mother and daughter. Though blood they may not share. Kore-eda’s depiction of family here has numerous moments like these - when Osamu and Nobuyo share a time of intimacy when alone in their house sweating from the summer’s heat and facing the oncoming rain or when Osamu has a conversation with his son, Shibata about his growing awareness of the other sex. These are beautiful and honest moments. While they may not push the narrative further, we are allowed privy into these characters' private interactions and their time alone - through this, they become more than characters in stories, but real people, living and breathing. 

Shoplifters mostly plays out as a light hearted slice of life romp, beneath it all lies a deep inner darkness that creeps and leaks. I could never really shake off a feeling of uneasiness despite the many lighthearted moments in the film when such disarray remains in plain sight. When a real estate agent comes over to the house, the children who are left in the house with their grandmother, take to the streets by the back door as if they had a need to remain unseen.  And at times, moments of a strange distance between the family members become noticeable, foreshadowing the eventual reveal of secrets in the Shibata household. 
Yuri experiences blissful times with the Shibatas and she is visibly happier than she was when she was with her old family. But, in the end, her joining of the Shibata family poses a moral dilemma when she inevitably joins in on the family’s shoplifting schemes alongside her adoptive brother, Shouta. Shoplifters never forgets about the moral implications, though it certainly did make it easy to put the issue in the background as we watch the family enjoy blissfully peaceful times. 

In 2018, Hirokazu Kore-eda was awarded the Palm d’Or at the 71st Cannes film festival for Shoplifters and you can see why. It is undoubtably a masterpiece and a modern classic of Japanese and World cinema. Kore-eda’s usual gentle touches reveals the beauty in the mundane and ordinary, truly breathes life into the story. Shoplifters also reveals Kore-eda's development as an filmmaker, he’s found and struck a perfect balance between what is character driven and what is plot driven, clearly showing the notes that he’s taken from his endeavour in The Third Murder, a more narrative driven thriller film and departure from his usual family dramas. 
I left the cinema with a void in my heart and my thoughts on Yuri. On the train ride home, I began to notice the people - the simple, ordinary people heading wherever the train takes them, they appeared ordinary and unassuming, just as the Shibata family seemed at first sight. Great cinema does that, it changes the way we see the world. 
Review by Timothy Ong 

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