Film | Shoplifters - a crime caper more interested in its lovable rogues
As far as the authorities are concerned Grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) lives alone; in reality, however, she has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that this never happens. Using her pension -- or damages, as she sees them -- as collateral, she has adopted an extended family -- the Shibatas -- to keep her company for the rest of her days. Sharing her home are Osama (Lily Franky), a construction worker; Nobuyo (Sakura Andô), a laundry assistant; Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), a teenage runaway; and Shota (Kairi Jō), a young apprentice, all of whom earn their keep. When Osama brings home a young girl seemingly abandoned by her own family, however, the media reports of kidnapping and the resultant police investigation threaten to expose them for the criminals they have always been.
A true crime drama with the difference, Hirokazu Kore-eda's film plays with its audience's perceptions of crime and criminality — with Osama and Shato starring as the titular shoplifters, only targeting items that don’t yet belong to anyone. It asks whether or not those failed by society should still be expected to abide by its rules, or whether they have earned the right to survive by other means? Starting out as a simple tagline, "only the crimes tied us together", Shoplifters explores what it means to be thick as thieves -- complicit but also accepting and committed. Shoplifters is far from the first film to focus on an informal criminal family, with even The Fast and the Furious paying lip-service to the subject, but few have painted quite as sympathetic or as insightful a portrait of life outside the law.
That is not to suggest that Kore-eda necessarily seeks to excuse his protagonists but rather that he looks to humanise them in the face of a dehumanising gig-economy and the ambivalent institutions that enable it. Throughout the film the characters are constantly reminded of their expendability -- whether it's Osama building houses he could never afford to live in or Nobuyo losing her job when it's no longer considered cost-effective. If society is to be an object of suspicion then traditional blood relations aren't to be trusted either, as is seen in the case of Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), the young girl liberated from abusive parents who convention nevertheless dictates must be treated as a kidnap victim in need of reuniting. Shota, meanwhile, shows little interest in his biological family, though he still can't bring himself to call Osama father, either.
Instead, what binds them together is love -- conditional love, but love nonetheless. As pragmatic as the characters might seem at first, however, it's not long before you begin to question their supposed insincerity. A second act trip to the seaside -- a first for Yuri, and quite possibly for Shota, too -- makes for one of the most heartwarming scenes of the year, as the relationships between surrogates become unmistakeable from the real thing. As media attention and police scrutiny intensifies, however, the resulting revelations and betrayals hit all the harder because of the depth of feeling for and between the family members. Kore-eda clearly has great affection for his characters, and even as their actions are judged by society and the wider culture of Japan he never loses sight of the people or circumstances behind them.
This is part of what makes the film’s finale so remarkably bittersweet, for it finds a resolution that is at once dramatically satisfying and emotionally devastating — Franky, Andô and Jō each taking it in turns to steal the show. By creating such multifaceted and unforgettable characters Kore-eda ensures that they endure long after the film has finished and the Palme d'Or has been won — the director leaving his audience to live not just with their mistakes but with society’s as well.
Latest Film Reviews | Shoplifters | a crime caper more interested in its lovable rogues by Steve Neish | Chrystal