Verdict: A heart-wrenching and profoundly moving drama.
Known for his deeply humanistic filmography, director Hirokazu Kore-eda returns with another social drama in Shoplifters. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival last year, the film even took home the Palme d’Or and has been receiving critical acclaim ever since.
What’s Shoplifters About:
During the winters in Japan, Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and a young boy named Shota (Jyo Kairi) make their regular rounds shoplifting at a nearby supermarket. On their way home, they come across a timid little girl named Juri (Miyu Sasaki) who is starving and freezing in an alley. They take her home, where they live with Osamu’s wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), an eccentric old woman they lovingly call Obachan or Grandma (Kirin Kiki), and a young woman named Aki (Mayu Matsuoka). Despite having too many mouths to feed, Nobuyo feels compelled to protect the little girl who comes from a deeply troubled household. Soon, Juri is lovingly welcomed into the family. Shota, on the other hand, begins to have conflicting feelings about their way of life. As he chooses between being practical and moral, one exposing incident leads to another and the whole family’s skeletons come tumbling out of the closet.
There’s so much that director Kore-eda does right with this extraordinary drama. But what stands out most of all is his ability to flip the film on its head without breaking away from the resonating truth. Shoplifters begins as a slice-of-life family drama that delicately entangles itself into a web of conflict and pain. When the knots begin to break, every emotion you feel as you get to know the lives of the characters is multiplied. Kore-eda carefully constructs an affectionate family setting and then quickly deconstructs it with equal care in a heartbreaking final act.
The performances from the lead cast are remarkable. You can almost see them growing closer to their characters and, even in the most shattering moments, their delivery is pure and true. Each character is intricately woven into the other, creating a family that is truly beautiful in its own broken way. Osamu and Shota’s relationship is beautifully tender while Juri acts as a catalyst for the family’s love as well as secrets that bubble up to the surface. What’s really notable is how the final act pulls apart the humanity of the characters and yet you can’t help but care for them even more than you did before.
In spite of all these intense emotions, Shoplifters is never preachy or melodramatic. It is so gentle and moving and at the same time, it deals with a group of abandoned people and all the things they lose and find within each other.
What Could’ve Been Better:
Shoplifters might not be climactic in the sense that it doesn’t lead its characters towards a conclusive resolution, but that’s just us being nitpicky.
Why You Should Watch:
Shoplifters is really a masterpiece. Everything from the performances to the poignant plot is brilliantly different from anything you’ve seen before.