After slightly diverting from his comfort zone by delivering a slow-burning thriller in 2017, the Japanese master of familial dramas is back with Shoplifters. Soothing, understated and so emotionally moving that you wouldn’t even notice when tears stream down your face, the newest film by Hirokazu Kore-eda is a humanist masterpiece.
Having explored how true fatherhood doesn’t just involve a blood relation in his 2013 film “Like Father Like Son”, Kore-eda takes up the tough job of humanizing a bunch of misfit thieves by questioning the very essence of what makes a family. In doing so, he dwells his naturalistic, heart-warming narrative structure in one of his finest, most deceptive and heartbreakingly bleak story about what binds people together. Treading miles away from the light-hearted dramatic heft of “After the Storm” and “Our Little Sister“, Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is probably his most honest film since 2008’s elegiac masterpiece: “Still Walking.”
The film revolves around The Shibatas household and the people who inherently or incidentally live in it. The scrimmage that is left lying around the house seems to take up more space than the people who live in it but there is an overabundance of love and laughter that fills up the left out space. There is a sense of generosity, a familial understanding, moody mishaps and a whole lot of Japanese cuisine that keep the Shibatas together.
The film opens with Osamu and Shota performing what seems like a daily ritual at the local supermarket. Shota, who is only a child basks in the glory of lifting-off their wholesome needs from the shelf and slowly pushing them down into his bag while Osamu amusingly covers him up. They later run down the street to their favorite food stall only to find the petite, hungry and abandoned 5-year old girl Juri (Sasaki Miyu) quietly sitting on the porch while the cold strikes hard. They both decide to bring her home and Nobuyo who practically runs the entire household decides to keep her in after seeing how she has been a victim of some domestic violence herself.
“It’s really not kidnapping until we ask for a ransom,” one of them announces as they decide to give the little girl a makeover and keep her with them. Also in the mix are Aki (Matsuoka Mayu), Nobuyo’s younger sister and the grandmother of them all Hatsue (played by the late Kirin Kiki) whose pension seems to practically run the household apart from their marginally employed self. All the characters in this tale seem to have a past that only their shattered, demographically misplaced identity seems to represent. They don’t really indulge themselves in dwelling on the past and live each day counting their deeds and the money they can afford to fill up their belly.
The film is about what actually makes and breaks a family. What devises them with the feeling of being together and how often do they really act like family in the general sense of things. Shoplifters, in more frames than one, is a really a bleak examination of the morality that lies between loving people and the ecstasy of allowing them to be a part of your own life.
The film works because it seeps down these characters into your brain and makes you remember every action that they take. None of which are governed by the selfish nature that a person is usually born with. Their selfishness, however, comes as a cumulative whole for all the people that inherit the Shibatas household. Kore-eda spends ample of time fumigating troubles at the bay only to bring them in when characters are naturally off-guard. By the time Nobuyo delivers her finale monologue, the audience is left in a sprawling range of emotionally conflicting feelings that reels on them till the credits roll.