This small film is a thoughtful addition to his parables about happy and unhappy families (Nobody Knows, After the Storm), studded with memorable characters and believable performances that quietly lead the viewer to reflect on societal values. Who better than Kore-eda, a director who whispers instead of shouts, is able to capture contradictions and issues though such a subtle, unforced style of storytelling? Though the film's slow, measured pace is sometimes off-putting, this Wild Bunch release should steal some hearts beyond the director's loyal following, particularly with festival support. The story of the makeshift family that has collected around Osamu Shibata (a happy-go-lucky Lily Franky) begins on a cold winter night. Osamu and his young son, Shota (Jyo Kairi), have been out shoplifting at a grocery store in a residential area when they stumble across a 4-year-old girl freezing on a balcony. Osamu's big heart goes out to the grave tyke so will the audience's and he brings her home for a hot meal. His wife, Nobuyo (Ando Sakura, 100 Yen Love), doesn't want to get involved or add another mouth to feed to their poverty-stricken home, where they squeak by on Granny's pension, her modest salary and Osamu's occasional hardhat jobs. But when she sees burn marks on the little girl's arm, she changes her mind and lets her stay as an adopted member of the family. No one raises the question of kidnapping (though, of course, thats what it is), and little Yuri (Sasaki Miyu) seems the happiest of all with the arrangement. She quickly bonds with Shota. Nobuyo begins to feel motherly toward her, and the wise grandma (Kiki Kilin) takes a shine to the girl as well. So does the sunny older sister, Aki (Matsuoka Mayu), who works behind a one-way mirror in a strip club. In fact, everyone is happy in the cramped, old-fashioned house surrounded by anonymous apartment buildings. Franky, playing the father with unselfconscious charm, is contagiously cheerful and carefree. But a subtle tension grows as the scenes unfold and the police become aware of Yuri's disappearance. Instead of giving her back, the family naively cuts her hair to disguise her and renames her Rin. The other big question mark is how the members of the family are really related to one another, other than through their lives of petty crime. Osamu finds it very important for Shota to call him Dad, but the otherwise docile boy can't bring himself to do it. Aki, who for some reason goes by the name of her never-seen sister Sayaka, is deeply attached to Granny but has a more formal relationship with her supposed parents, Osamu and Nobuyo. These and other mysteries are explosively revealed in the last half-hour of the film, which is one big revelation scene with multiple endings and emotional wrap-ups.
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