Shoplifters - Review

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winning film examines a desperately functional family of misfits and rejected children, and it’s unlike any film this year.


The cinematographic style of Shoplifters is best described as still life. Opposite of the frantic and pervasive At Eternity’s Gate, Ryuto Kondo’s camera moves in soothing waves; it allows for some of the most gorgeous and full shot composition I’ve ever seen, and with an emphasis on the mundane and work heavy lives of the cast, plenty of time is given to absorb what’s on screen. Shoplifters tells the story of a family living under a cramped roof in severe poverty, so that they are forced to become what the title suggests. The children are in on it too, which makes up the dazzling first scene of the film, in which the father (Lily Franky) and son (Jyo Kairi) take essentials from the supermarket. They have a system, and they will use it again, the film suggests: whatever it takes to stay alive. The bright colors and whimsical tone of the first half of the film may fool some into thinking this is a light hearted film, but there are clear indications that what they do, they do to survive. The son, Shota, frequently returns to an abandoned car far from home. Both the mother (Sakura Andô) and father work long hours for less than adequate pay, and the family friend (Mayu Matsuoka) works an unpleasant day job. They’re pulled together after the father, Osamu, and mother, Nobuyo, take a young girl from the street back to their residence. The nights are freezing, and after Nobuyo hears the girl’s parents screaming over why they had the child, the decision is made. They resolve to indoctrinate young Juri (Miyu Sasaki), whom they rename Lin, as one of their own, another square on their eclectic tapestry of a family. The steps a family takes to demonstrate their love to someone who is lacking emerges as the great message, and eventually changes into sacrifice and revelation as the final act of love.


What Shoplifters has done is so remarkable it is hardly worth putting into words. Through a semi-conventional story of acceptance and familial affection, it places love under a gorgeous microscope, and distributes it evenly amongst its cast. Every character is given due diligence, Shota and Juri’s travels being some of the most memorable, but everyone in Shoplifters is made equal in their struggles. When the film begins its turn into darker and more revealing territory, it hurts badly, if only because we know how it is piling up against existing issues. Shots that have the family jumping at the beach (seen on the film’s poster) or doing anything they love become commodities, which forces you to look back in appreciation more than out of longing. There can be no return to the way things were after a certain point, so why try? Kore-eda’s script, based on a story he wrote, involves many threads, tying the family into multiple ordeals that the final arc aims to solve. It’s complex yet easy to follow, and in the best way possible, the actors guide the plot through emotion. Their desperation for each other is magnified after the events of the the third act, and shows that even in seperation, the forged bond of family is resilient. There is plenty to read into in Shoplifters about class, poverty, acceptance and sexuality, but its most direct story is one you cannot miss this year. It is a fearless display of affection with a well shaped cast, a refreshing visual sense, and a deeply affecting conclusion. When things came full circle in the last shot, I was heartbroken for the characters, but I couldn’t imagine a better way to get to know them.