Japan, over the past few years, has been under the radar for its low fertility rates. It has often been cited that economic insecurity is the prime reason for this demographic outage. In such strange times, it is a testament to Kore-eda’s unwavering audacity, to build a narrative around an economically challenged family adopting a young girl without an ounce of selfishness. An irony of the country’s current situation, Shoplifters (2019) (Manbiki kazoku) has a very important story to narrate and Kore-eda has done it with utmost grace and respect.
Shoplifters start off deceptively simple wherein Osamu, post his success of conducting a burglary with his son – Shota, comes across a gentle five-year-old Juri, who is seemingly abandoned and abused by her parents. The duo takes her home, changes her hair while giving her a new identity. “It’s not kidnapping till we ask for ransom”, says Nobuya, the wife. Torn by morality’s twist of the knife, we couldn’t help but agree more. Already a part of the family, we gasp at their humble aspirations, sigh at their celebrations of frail and fragile slices that life offers and wonder at the nuances love can harness out of a human.
There comes a scene where this family of five misfits sits at the corner of a dilapidated house in a forgotten suburb of Tokyo, gaping dreamily at the invisible fireworks in the sky. The frame is flooded with remnants of hope that is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measures. There is an abundance of such moments, throughout Shoplifters, that dissolves into your skin to nestle themselves inside you.
Must-Read: Koreeda’s Still Walking (2008)
There are no verdicts passed, no social commentary served and yet the message could not have stung harder. Shoplifters creeps upon us slowly and when we are at the most vulnerable, it erupts in its third act with raw power and profound pathos to question every relation we have witnessed. It asks complex questions about the fabric of family, bloodlines along with the method of crime and punishment adopted by our society.
Also About Shoplifters (2019): Shoplifters: ‘MAMI’ Review– Koreeda’s Latest Is An Achingly Beautiful Masterwork
Kore-eda has masterfully humanized the inhabitants dwelling in the outer fringes of Japanese society. He has captured their smiles, winks, tears, and gestures while dissolving them in a cauldron brimming with poignancy. Shoplifters echo deeply of the flourish of love even amidst a state of total abandon. Gentle, silent and utterly beautiful, it is a flower blooming gracefully in a decaying landscape.