Koimoi Recommends Shoplifters: What is a family? Is it defined by the people that are connected by the bloodline, or a bond or just a group of people who share a similar past? Cannes Film Festival 2016 winner Shoplifters, a Japanese film directed by the master Hirokazu Kore-eda, tells you about a mysterious family that shares a bond like no other but are brutal when it comes to survival and the title tells you what that is based on. This week on Koimoi Recommends, we recommend you Shoplifters, a meditating mystery that opens to a dark universe with a heart to it.
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Available on: Netflix
Shibata family comprises three-generation living in a house that is just enough to accommodate them but no extra space for even a new chair. The man of the house (Shota’s father) in the very first frame is polishing his son Shota to shoplift/steal from a supermarket. That is their source of income, stealing things and selling them.
While coming back from their shoplifting expedition one day, the father-son duo discover a little girl sitting alone on the side of the road in freezing cold. They take her home for a supper but later decide to keep her with them after looking at the physical abuse that she has gone through. What follows is a meditating tale of the little girl (Yuri) marinating herself in a family that is confused about their relationships but share a bond that makes them root for each other but also be mean when needed. The journey leads to a climax that shatters us and I do not want to spoil it for you.
Director Hirokazu Kore-eda is known for addressing the ever-increasing class divide in Japan and doing all of it metaphorically. This is a power that the Japanese, Korean and Chinese cinema posses, describing metaphors like no other.
Kore-eda in Shoplifters does meditation and makes us do the same. All his characters are grey and hide deepest secrets, they are thieves, mean, a bunch of people I would never want to know. But Kore-eda not for even once judges them. While he tells you how ingrained the idea of stealing is in this family that they discuss it on their dinner table, he also shows you the humane side of these rather dark people. Yuri comes in their life uninvited and honestly there is neither space nor resources to accommodate her. But the Shibata’s welcome her with open arms. In the next scene, you see them shoplifting for Yuri’s clothes and you are instantly alarmed to not just look at the good side.
The crux of the film lies in the story of the initiation of this family, but I don’t want to spoil that for you, experience that yourself. Actors Lily Franky, Dakura Ando, Yuki Amada and the complete cast make you believe that this is what their life is. Every single person has a story and a reason for doing what they are doing but that isn’t something the maker uses to justify. Actually you get to the know the reasons when you are not even prepared to forgive them.
Special mention to late veteran Japanese actress Kirin Kiki who plays the grandmother. Her character visits her stepson takes money as help and goes gambling with it. But when you see the same lady stitching clothes for her immediate family and caring for them, you are confused which version of hers will you root for.
Following his streak of addressing the class divide, Kore-eda does that here too. The scene that stayed with me, is when on a random night a firework show opens in a distance and the family comes out in their balcony to see it, the frame shows them to you looking up at the sky in hope to catch a glimpse which is rather a privilege. But they are poor and it isn’t easy to grab privileges, not ones you see any firework light, just sounds and even those make them happy. I still can’t take the frame out of my head.
Shoplifters is a film that needs your patience. It isn’t opening itself like a thriller or a coup, but in frames. Grandma stitching clothes, people slurping noodles and Yuri-Shota learning shoplifting has a melancholy to it, and you have to be all ears to listen to it.
We recommend you Shoplifters to watch how a film can activate your heart and brain to fight and make the decision to which side to incline to. Ask questions to this film, ask it what bought them together, ask them what their story is, ask them what makes them look at stealing with love, but at the end ask them what family means. Shoplifters is a masterpiece and you cannot miss it.