Thursday 15 November 2018

Shoplifters (Japan 2018: Dir Hirokazu Koreeda)

Hirokazu Koreeda's movies have come a long way from the relative innocence of his 2011 film I Wish, exploring progressively darker themes but without sacrificing the essential humanity present in all his works.

But on the surface his latest film appears to signify a return to those more innocent times; the poster for Shoplifters features the family from the film happily smiling at the camera. But this is deceptive; they're not a 'family' in the biological sense, and the only smiles they crack in the film are generally rueful ones. If Koreeda is indeed an Ozu for our times, with this movie it's an Ozu family refracted through a very 21st century sensibility.

We're introduced to Osamu Shibatu (Lily Franky) who as the film opens is encouraging his 'son' Shota (Jyo Kairi) to do a spot of shoplifting to provide for the family's grocery needs. Shota is, we learn, not his natural offspring but a boy that has been acquired by Osamu and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and deployed for shoplifting rather than getting an education ("only kids who can't study at home go to school," he's told). Osamu and Nobuyo are living, in pretty overcrowded conditions, with their grandmother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki, excellent). Except she isn't really their grandmother either, although it doesn't stop them living off her pension even after her death. Add to this odd but phenomenally likeable bunch of waifs and strays sex worker Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and the family is complete.

One of Shoplifters' themes, echoed by Osamu late in the film, is whether it is blood or love that holds a family together more effectively. The 'Shibatus,' as the family refer to themselves, live cheek by jowl, and refrain from judging each other's contribution to the rather dodgy way that they get by in life. Like a lot of petty criminals, they have developed their own moral code to justify their existence, particularly when Osamu loses his construction job following an accident at work and discovers that he's not entitled to compensation. But their conscience is pricked by seeing a young girl near their home, left outside, abandoned and hungry, while her parents bicker within. Witnessing this cruel treatment of a child, and perhaps with one eye on expanding their criminal-lite fraternity, they abduct her, installing the girl - Yuri - within their already extended household; the discovery of burn marks on the girl's body further justifies their actions. But the removal of Yuri causes a chain of events and eventually exposes the family, who by the very nature of their lives have lived under the radar, to scrutiny, both by the authorities and the audience. Motives are reappraised, and tragedy cannot be far off.

Like all of Koreeda's films, the pleasure and pain of Shoplifters is in the details. The Shibatus are a family that it's initially hard to like, but gradual acquaintance with their patterns of existence and conversation gives way to acceptance of their wayward lifestyle. The scenes of Osamu - who builds homes in which he could never afford to live - desperately wanting Shota to call him dad are both funny and painful. By the time the net closes in on the family, you realise just how much you've invested in the family's need to keep themselves together and look after each other, even if on their own terms. It's a sad, funny movie, beautifully delivered with some deft playing by a fine cast. But it's also the most tragic of Koreeda's movies, a film delivered with a lot of conviction and more than a whiff of anger at the social and economic conditions that can cause a family to live like this.

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