Last month I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Shoplifters, following its huge success at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film was written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, and follows a large, multi-generational family who are living on the brink of poverty. They live in a cramped, very basic apartment in the heart of Tokyo, where those able to work all band together in a desperate attempt to keep the family sheltered and fed.
As the title suggests, some members are petty criminals and frequently shoplift from local supermarkets and convienience stores in order to survive. It’s become a talent in the family, passed down from father to son and almost feels like a bonding exercise when you witness the way they work together. The family leads a simple life, justifying their actions by telling themselves if the theft doesn’t bankrupt the store owner, then they can survive without the items they took. It’s a way of clearing their conscience and seems to work very well. Osamu and and his son, Shota are the major players in the art of shoplifting, and are literally partners in crime.
Their lives change when they encounter Yuri, a young child who is outside in the freezing cold and looks malnourished. Despite the fact they already have too many mouths to feed, Osamu makes the decision to take her home and give her food and shelter. It soon becomes clear that Yuri has suffered abuse, based on the marks on her arm and her very quiet and timid behaviour. They decide to keep her as part of the family, fearing for her wellbeing.
This decision makes life even harder for the family as they have to evade the police both when shoplifting, and when going out in public with Yuri, as she soon becomes a missing person. This selfless act forms the rest of the film, resulting in a gorgeous 2 hours of cinema.
I was completely blown away by Shoplifters and its intimate portrayal of family life. As the film progressed, I found myself bonding with the characters as an audience member. I enjoyed seeing them on screen and going with them as they went about their daily lives. Each character has so much depth, their own wants and desires and their own secrets, to the point where they feel real. It could have easily been a documentary based on how close we are to the subjects, and how much we learn from them. Their character development is just stunning, and events in the third act left me in a stunned silence as we discover some harsh truths about the family.
The visual style varies from scene to scene, switching from clean and clinical streets to the cramped, messy apartment and back again. We are given a well-rounded and contrasting look at Japan’s capital and the people that live in it. The family have next to nothing but their bond is strong, doing everything they can to keep each other happy and healthy. We see them enjoying a day at the beach and watching the fireworks, activities that are both free and a lot of fun. The film certainly places a strong focus on life’s simple pleasures, and gives you a sense of gratitude throughout. Though harrowing in places, the happier moments radiate from the screen and leave you smiling to yourself because of how beautiful and convincing they are. It’s truly an emotional rollercoaster.
I have never seen a film quite like Shoplifters and though its pacing is slow, the bonds between characters and the deep exploration of their lives is enough to keep you glued to the screen throughout. It is certainly deserving of its Cannes win, because of its deep, thorough and complex exploration of family life. It will warm your heart and break it soon after, leaving you wanting to stay in their lives by the time the credits roll. This is a must-see.