Shoplifters movie cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Miyu Sasaki, Kirin Kiki
Shoplifters movie director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Shoplifters movie rating: Four stars
Families can be nurturing and nourishing. Or soul-crushingly destructive. Or both. Kore-eda can be said to be a family specialist, having created big things out of little gestures and unspoken thoughts in his previous films (Nobody Knows, Like Father, Like Son); here he continues with his exploration: what does it mean to be a family?
With Shoplifters, which won a top prize at the Cannes festival in 2018, Kore-eda digs in deep to ask seminal if uncomfortable questions: is it blood that binds us, or something else? The result is a devastatingly good film that leaves you shaken and stirred and fulfilled.
On the outskirts of Tokyo, there lives a group of tightly-knit people in an unimaginably cramped hovel. There’s a grandma-like figure named Hatsue (Kiki), a man called Osamu (Franky) who is somewhat past his prime, and who goes out to ‘work’, accompanied by the sharp young Shota (Kairi Jyo). There’s Nobuyo (Ando), with her mature beauty and her dispiriting job in a laundry, and the pretty Aki (Matsuoka) who works as a hostess in a ‘club’, the sort of place frequented by men in search of paid pleasure.
The money they all make legitimately is far from enough: this gang shoplifts to get by. Osamu and Shota work swiftly, deftly, in tandem, nicking little household items such as shampoo and soap, and go back to a warm space filled with soupy noodles and a kind of tenuous yet bracing love that keeps them all together. They may not, as we discover, share blood, but are more family than most families.
And then one day, there arrives a very young girl (Sasaki) in their midst. They name her Yuri, and she, who has clearly been abandoned and abused by the parents who gave her birth, flowers. She becomes a part of them; she becomes ‘family’, and then, quite suddenly, things start to unravel.
In the hands of a less skilled craftsman, these shoplifters and their dodgy doings could easily have descended into sludge. That the performances are all top-notch (the little girl is a scene-stealer), helps. And Kore-eda is a master: each revelation, as shocking as it is, comes with great delicacy and humaneness.
It is a film edged by despair, and yet is life-affirming. Families may disintegrate, but love keeps us ticking over.