Shoplifters Movie Review: A beautiful, compassionate tale of a makeshift family
Through the story of this family of people who have all chosen each other in one way or another, Kore-eda explores what it means to be a family; Shoplifters is filled with his compassion
If there's one emotion that underscores Hirokazu Kore-eda's Cannes Palme d'Or winner Shoplifters, it's compassion. Compassion that the characters show each other, yes, but more importantly, the director's compassion for his characters, and for human frailty. This is a story of people who are neither all good nor all bad. They are loving, kind, and considerate. They are also weak, opportunistic, and selfish. They are human. And Kore-eda's gaze is never critical of them.
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Sakura Ando, Lily Franky, Kirin Kiki, Mayu Matsuoka
Shoplifters is the story of a makeshift family that gets by in a not-so-friendly world. Though it's clear from their squalid, cramped living quarters and their constant discussions about money that they are poor, Kore-eda never tries to make us feel sorry for them. If anything, the feeling we get watching this family on screen is one of envy for the bond they share (there's no other word for it, as cliche as it sounds, which is why one of the characters uses it at one point and follows it up with a wry smile). The family consists of the man, Osamu (Lily Franky); his wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando); her sister, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka); grandma, Hatsue (Kirin Kiki); and the boy Shota (Kairi Jō). And one of the ways they get by is by shoplifting essentials (and some non-essentials) as they need them — groceries, shampoo, even fishing rods are all fair game. Their motto being 'What is in a store doesn't belong to anyone yet and so can be taken so long as the shop doesn't go bankrupt'. Another way they get by is by making use of Hatsue's late husband's pension. Osamu and Nobuyo also hold menial jobs — the former is a construction worker, while she works for a laundry service — while Aki works in a hostess club.
One night, Osamu and Shoto, on their way back after a shoplifting foray, spot a little girl outside in the cold. A little girl they have seen before in the same place. She seems hungry and Osamu's compassion makes him take her home, but when the family discovers signs of abuse — bruises and burns covering the child's body — they decide to keep her. She is eventually given the name Lin. The arrival of this little girl and other events that follow break up the family, an eventuality they all knew would come one day. "It won't last long," Hatsue tells Nobuyo at one point, to which she replies, "I know."
Through the story of this family of people who have all chosen each other in one way or another, Kore-eda explores what it means to be a family. Lin's real family are shown not to want her and Nobuyo, who has clearly gone through something very similar, feels drawn to the little girl. The performances are uniformly great, right from Lily Franky to Kore-eda regular Kirin Kiki (who sadly passed away shortly after the release of this film) to the little children, but Sakura Ando in particular turns in an awe-inspiringly honest performance as Nobuyo. The scene of her holding Lin while burning the girl's old clothes and telling her, "Those who love you will not hit you," will forever be etched in my mind. And another scene towards the end, where Nobuyo questions what makes someone a mother, is equally spellbinding. Ando owns every scene she is in and brings such an authenticity to her performance that at times we almost feel like voyeurs trespassing on Nobuyo's private moments.
It's not just Nobuyo's dynamic with Lin that is heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Kore-eda sketches the other relationships within the family with equal tenderness. Aki's relationship with grandma, Shoto's with Osamu (the conclusion of this arc will wring tears from even the most cynical of the audience), Osamu's with Nobuyo, Shoto's with Lin — every relationship is well-etched-out and feels true. And while it may seem like they are all filled with only compassion and love in the beginning, as the film goes on we find that this isn't entirely true. Relationships, after all, are not built only upon love. "Money," Aki says at one point when Osamu asks her what she thinks connects him and Nobuyo. She isn't completely wrong. It is one of the things that holds this family together. They all love grandma, but without her pension money, would she be part of the family? And grandma, for her part, has her own reasons for sharing this money. "Insurance," she says. Insurance so she doesn't have to live her last days alone.
In life, too, families stay together for a variety of reasons, each individual member having their selfish reasons and their own end goals in sight. But that's not what matters. What matters is their journey together through life. There's one particularly stunning overhead shot in Shoplifters, where the entire family gathers together outside their little home to look up at the sky where fireworks are going off. They can't see the fireworks, but we see them, all glowing with the light from inside their house while the rest of the neighbourhood is shrouded in darkness — all glowing also with the joy that comes from their togetherness. This glow is reflected in our own hearts as we walk out of the theatre.
(Shoplifters will have a limited release this weekend in India through Vkaao, the country’s first theatre-on-demand platform backed by BookMyShow and PVR Pictures)