Somewhere in Tokyo, Osamu Shibata and his wife Nobuyo live in poverty. While Osamu receives occasional employment and Nobuyo has a low-paying job, the family relies in large part on the grandmother's pension. As he is shoplifting for groceries with his son, Shota, they discover Yuri, a homeless girl. Osamu takes her home, where the family observes evidence of abuse. Despite their strained finances, they informally adopt her. Edit Translation
Cast & Credits
"Sometimes, it's better to choose your own family."Edit: Having now seen six of Kore-eda's other works, I'd like to rewrite this review in retrospect.
Here's a caveat- I can't guarantee that you will like Shoplifters or even see any worth in it. The film currently has a rating of 8.0/10 on IMDB from about 45000 votes. For every person rating this film a nine or ten, there is one who gives it a six or less. If you scroll down the comments on this site, some words that stand out are 'overrated', 'disgust[ing]', 'disappointing'. Despite being a commercial hit in Japan and making waves in the West, Shoplifters isn't a film that will appeal to everyone's tastes. It is more of an art film rather than a conventional crowd-pleaser or tearjerker. Hirokazu Kore-eda has a very distinctive style which can simply be described as implicit rather than explicit. This is what makes his films powerful, in my opinion. Simple domestic scenes and basic dialogues, even just single shots, are laden with emotion and implied meaning that won't be picked up if you turn your brain off during viewing. Don't watch Shoplifters if you just want pure entertainment or if you can only stand films where everything is shoved under your nose. If you want to bear witness to a subtle yet powerful piece of art, then this is your film. Here is an extract from Roger Ebert's review of Still Walking (2009) that speaks for Shoplifters too, as well as all the Kore-eda works I have seen and all those I have yet to see:
"He has produced profoundly empathetic films about human feelings. He sees intensely and tenderly into his characters. Like Ozu, he pays meticulous attention to composition and camera placement. Acting as his own editor, he doesn't cut for immediately effect, but for the subtle gathering of power. His actors look as if they could be such people as they portray."
Shoplifters was in fact ten years after Still Walking and of course, they share a key similarity apart from their meticulous attention to detail. The core of both films is the family unit and how its individual components are affected by some form of loss or abandonment. Still Walking, for example, portrays a family forever rifted by the death of the eldest son, decades before. This goes for Kore-eda's other films;
Nobody Knows is a testament to the strength of children as we see four half-siblings struggling to survive after their mother leaves with another man. Like Father like Son shows a wealthy and largely absent father break down in tears at the prospect of choosing between his biological son and the boy that he believed was his. Umimachi Diary depicts the lives of three young women in the shadow of their father's abandonment and death, as they accept the fourth half-sister whose conception tore their family apart. Even The Truth (from last year) sees a middle-aged mother confront her own mother, a famous actress that, despite her autobiographical claims, was absent from most of her life.
In these films, there is nearly always a missing piece to the puzzle. And over the course of the story, we see the other pieces rearrange themselves to form an imperfect but complete picture, welcome in new pieces or re-accept the old piece. Shoplifters starts off with the second of these three, with the adoption of an abused little girl into the family of petty criminals. It poses the viewer with a question that it answers with the wealth of evidence that it presents; "Is family really just defined by blood?"
Japan is a country that is bound, perhaps too tightly, by its emphasis on blood ties. This first question is already transgressive. But the second question, revealed in the final half-hour, is even more so. "Can a loving family be formed out of the necessity to survive, even through acts of crime?" The authorities in the film, despite being well-meaning people, say no. The assumption is that Shibata Nobuyo has kidnapped the little girl out of selfishness and jealousy, wanting a child for herself. She and her 'husband' are condemned as criminals (well they are) that have misled two young children who would be better off with their abusive parents or at an orphanage. But we, as viewers, know better. We don't see order being restored, we see a loving family being pulled apart by traditional, inflexible values. Once more, the film's question answers itself by the weight of true love that we bear witness to- even though this love has sprung out of (illegal) pragmatism. Kore-eda shows us a fourth case; that a puzzle can be entirely created out of stray pieces.
The acting is unforgettable. The fact that none of the performers, especially Ando Sakura, weren't nominated for acting awards at Cannes or the Oscars, is a crime worse than shoplifting or pension abuse. Ando's performance, especially during the bath scene and at the police interrogation, should be witnessed by anyone that disparages the potential of Japanese actors and actresses. Everyone else was also amazing; Kore-eda regulars Lily Franky and Kiki Kirin (rest in peace), the child actors and of course, Matsuoka Mayu. I personally prefer a bit more music in films, and this one is a bit more stark on music than Kore-eda's other works, but the soundtrack was used perfectly (as usual). I don't have the slightest clue about cinematography, camera lenses or any technical mumbo-jumbo but it was obviously a cut above the usual fare. An unforgettable movie. My only issue is that other Kore-eda works, particularly Still Walking and Nobody knows (and dare I say the critically disparaged Umimachi Diary) haven't received nearly the same amount of acclaim.
'Shoplifters' is not a loud, over the top, or pretentious film. There are no absolutes, right or wrong, cruel or kind. The actors don't yell, brawl or pull odd or dramatic facial expressions. There are no intense and pulse-pounding fights, chases, or confrontations. However, this film hits hard, with purity, sincerity, and unabashed truth. The film's sheer realism, shown in moments of cruelty and intimacy, speaks volumes about those who've been marginalised within society, and struggle to make it through each day, far more so than any melodrama or sob story. And this is because we are able to see the characters as fellow people, fellow family members, thanks to the spectacular performances delivered by the entire cast. When the mother and daughter take a bath together, when the father and son gleefully chase each other around, the only word and feeling that comes to mind is love. Even in moments of silence, where they just sit and stare, feelings such as sorrow and hopelessness resound intensely. Love, transcending social and familial norms, is what this movie is about.
The important think to know is that this is not a movie for everyone. It is slow paced, especially in the first half and I would definitely call the film raw. For me what Koreeda wanted to achieve was to tackle very important social issues, that foreigners and especially Japanese tend to hide in a corner knowing that they exist and at the same time smiling like nothing is wrong.
The acting was fantastic and if someone forced me to see the movie without knowing anything about it, I would probably say that it was a Koreeda film, not his best -from the ones I have watched- but certainly a good one.
This kind of movies are so realistic and at the same time unbelievable. Knowing that this kind of things are an issue not only in Japan, but I would dare say everywhere is heart-wrenching.
All in all this is not a movie someone should watch to just to pass their time. The film needs your attention and your understanding.