Shoplifters

Whenever a film wins the Palme dˊOr at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, it always leads to a broader international audience and in some cases (such as Fahrenheit 9/11, The Piano, Pulp Fiction, and more) it leads to Oscar wins in many different categories. Hirokazu Kareeda’s Shoplifters is on a short list of possible frontrunners for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, and it is well-deserved.  I was lucky enough to see Shoplifters at the New York Film Festival this year, and it was one of the few films unanimously enjoyed, which says a lot considering how tough a crowd full of seasoned New York film critics can be.

Shoplifters is, on its surface, about a family of small-time criminals who live in a tiny house outside of Tokyo, the Shibata’s. Hatsue, the matriarch, lives off a small pension and is supposed to be the only occupant of her home. Hatsue’s married roommates, Osamu and Nobuyo, work part-time to make ends meet. Since ends still aren’t met completely with the income from their menial work, Osamu and (who we believe to be) his son, Shota, shoplift for groceries and toiletries. It is after a night of shoplifting at the local supermarket that Osamu and Shota come upon a little girl locked out on the deck of her house in the freezing cold. They bring her back to the house.

“…to make ends meet…Osamu and his son, Shota, shoplift for groceries and toiletries.”

Once the little girl, a five-year-old named Yuri, arrives, Hatsue and Nobuyo are wary of another person in the house. “You’re supposed to bring back something to make us money,” Hatsue says. Hatsue’s youngest grandchild, Aki, who works as a chat room girl, is mostly concerned that the child will take her place in grandma’s bed. After eating dinner, Nobuyo tells Osamu that they have to take Yuri back to her family.

Nobuyo and Osamu are walking her back and are about to leave her at her house when they hear loud noises. Yuri’s father is beating her mother, and we hear her mother say “I didn’t want to have her either.” In addition to the scars and bruises that covered Yuri’s arms, seals the deal in Nobuyo and Osamu’s minds that they will keep Yuri. The apparent abuse sets off a series of events that are at turns shocking and heartwarming and ultimately, the film reminds us that sometimes the family one makes for themselves is just as real as any biological one.

Shoplifters is an excellent story about a highly dysfunctional, makeshift family with a lot of secrets, that still love each other very much. What I love about this film is that the Shibata’s are not vilified for their extremely unorthodox approach to raising a family. For example, in an early scene, Shota tells Yuri “Only kids that can’t study at home go to school.” The characters are well-loved by the filmmaker, which makes the audience love and empathize with them as well.

“…the script is something every writer wishes they wrote themselves.”

This film is as lighthearted as it possibly can be, because it’s about a group of poor misfits on the margins of society scraping by tooth-and-nail, just to survive. This doesn’t mean that Shoplifters doesn’t deal out some devastating blows because it certainly does. As each minute of the film passes by, layers and layers of secrets are peeled off for the audience to take in, and at the end, one is left feeling as though they know too much and if some of the facts could just be left unknown, maybe the characters fates would be different.

I am in full support of Shoplifters getting an Oscar nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award for Japan. I would be delighted, and furthermore, not at all surprised, if it won. The performances, particularly by Sakura Andô as Nobuyo, are incredible and the script is something every writer wishes they wrote themselves. If you enjoy heartwrenching dramas with a little bit of comedy spread throughout, see Shoplifters while you can!

Shoplifters (2018) Written and Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. Starring Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Mayu Matsuoka, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki, etc.

9 out of 10 Stars

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