Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters has become a favourite at film festivals and award ceremonies around the world since winning the coveted Palme d’Or award at Cannes last year. It was also nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category along with Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. The commonality between both the masterpieces is that they reflect the state of the society through domesticity.
Originally titled in Japanese as Manbiki Kazoku, whose literal translation is Shoplifting Family, Shoplifters was clearly the favourite choice of movie lovers at the ongoing season of Bengaluru International Film Festival. On day two of the cinema carnival, a massive crowd thronged the auditorium screening the film. The organisers were ill-equipped to control the mad rush. I somehow managed to jostle my way in by summoning all my street-smart experience from buying the first day, first show tickets for a Rajinikanth film during the pre-Bookmyshow era.
Shoplifters began on a high note, where a middle-aged man, Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and a young boy, Shota Shibata (Kairi Jō) make coded communication through sign language. Shota makes a small salutation with his fingers before be begins shoplifting at a supermarket. It’s clear that Shota and Osamu have been shoplifting regularly, with a certain level of expertise. After a very satisfying raid at a supermarket, they return home and find a five-year-old girl at the roadside. They take her in, feed her and develop affection for her when they find marks of abuse on her body. The little girl’s real parents have been cruel to her.
When Osamu takes the girl, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), to his already crammed home, his wife Nobuyo (a perfect Sakura Ando) doesn’t make a fuss about it. In fact, she is the one who decides to keep Yuri in the family to protect her from her biological parents, who are too busy fighting with each other to notice that their daughter has gone missing.
From then on, Kore-eda, for nearly an hour, follows the regular chores of the makeshift family of five: a husband, wife, teenage daughter and son, a grandmother and now Yuri.
Affection and caring seem to be in abundant supply in Osamu’s picture-perfect family, even in poverty. In addition to aiding Shota in shoplifting, Osamu works as a labourer at a construction site. Nobuyo makes money by working at a laundry. Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), the teenage girl, earns a living by working at a peep show house and the grandmother Hatsue Shibata (Kirin Kiki) takes money from her husband’s second wife’s children and ends up spending most of it at a pachinko parlour.
Even in poverty, the Shibata family somehow manage to enjoy the cosmopolitan lifestyle of Tokyo. They dine at restaurants. There is always enough food to feed all of them. They go shopping and they remain happy even as we can feel that each of them individually carry emotional baggage of their past.
Osamu hurts his leg and loses his job, and Nobuyo gets fired because her employer wants to cut costs. The setback would have thrown a poor family like the Shibatas into total dismay. But, they take it in their stride and go to the beach to spend a memorable evening.
What surprises about the Shibata family members is that they don’t react to certain situations in their lives in an expected way. For example, a death in the family warrants a funeral but in the Shibata family, it leads to a vow of secrecy.
The climax makes a lot of sense as to why Kore-eda kept us invested in the day-to-day life of the Shibata family. The director could have made a thriller by centering around Yuri’s disappearance, which is being reported as kidnapping and even as a possible case of murder by parents. But, Kore-eda is not a conventional filmmaker, to exploit it for the purpose of entertainment.
Shoplifters questions the concept of family, which is established by society. It is an unusual family drama that will make you a better person in the end. It doesn’t make you cry but may make you think long and hard about how you have been appreciating your own family. Without Kore-eda’s solid conviction in his storytelling, he could not have achieved such an emotional response from audiences across the world.