SHOPLIFTERS is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s best film to date, and one of the most pleasant surprises of the Cannes Film Festival. A deceptively simple but utterly profound film, it starts and ends on two completely different notes, making it a film that constantly surprises you with its unpredictable yet compelling narrative.
A family of shoplifters is trying to get by, with what little income each of them has. The grandmother is living off the pension of her late husband, the father (Ando Sakura) is a factory worker, the mother (Lily Franky) is a laundry worker, the sister (Matsuoka Mayu) is a call girl of sorts, and the son (Jyo Kairi) is an efficient shoplifter thanks to the help of his father. On one night, the father notices a young girl (Sasaki Miyu) sitting by her family’s balcony. She is a victim of abuse and her family is clearly not interested in keeping her. Together with the son, they bring the girl to their home and decide to take care of her.
The first third of the film shows them in action, with each character attempting to do anything that’s possible to earn some money. Soon after, the film takes two unexpected turns and reveals much more about that family ties we’ve seen earlier and forces us to questions the true motives of each of the characters. Going into more detail would spoil the film’s intrigue, but this is top-notch Kore-eda with a Farhadi-esque moral dilemma and fantastic, nuanced filmmaking that never spoon-feeds the audience and presents its story in graceful, absorbing ways.
Kore-eda surprisingly never goes in the weepy, sappy direction, unlike many Japanese films. Instead, he resorts to a graceful, intelligent and uncompromising approach that elevates the film and allows it to truly soar especially in the second act. The act of audience deception here is brilliant – especially as the film shifts gears from a traditional but warm storytelling approach to a subversive and dramatically vibrant narrative as it deconstructs the family and allows room for far more questions than what it seemingly starts with.
SHOPLIFTERS is far more than just a superbly made drama though. It is a smart and nuanced social commentary on family ties in Japan, and despite having a wonderful beating heart, it is also a film that asks brilliant and thoughtful intellectual questions about family values, societal ties, class struggles and more. Which is what makes it a truly unique blend, because Kore-eda doesn’t let the emotions take over the film, a path others may have taken given how emotional the story is, but he is always examining these intellectual questions while giving the drama an affecting and unforgettable touch.
The acting ensemble is remarkable, with each performer capturing their character’s vulnerability, humor, and personality, and the production values are perfect in terms of granting the film its somber, reflective atmosphere while not being too showy or over the nose.
SHOPLIFTERS is one of the Cannes Film Festival’s best films and a must watch for film fans.