With SHOPLIFTERS, Hirokazu Kore-eda has created one of, if not the most, significant film of his career. What sounded like a social critique turned out to be one of the most engrossing, touching and urgent films of the year. With a quiet but powerful tone, Kore-eda takes viewers on a magical journey into the life of one peculiar family whose members are connected to each other in mysterious ways to deliver a masterful examination of what family really means in Japan today and a deep exploration of the ties that bring us together.
AwardsWatch sat down with Kore-eda to discuss his latest masterful film which deservingly won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and later became Japan’s submission to the 91st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Set to be revealed December 17th, we expect the FLF shortlist to include SHOPLIFTERS – it’s one of the most impressive, and emotionally resonant, contenders on the list.
AW: Congratulations on a well-deserved Palme d’Or win at the Cannes Film Festival, where we saw the film and absolutely loved it. First we’d like to know where you got the inspiration for SHOPLIFTERS…
Kore-eda: I wanted to explore some questions that were in my head for a long time. After finishing my most recent film – The Third Murder, I started tackling SHOPLIFTERS. The main question for me was: What defines a true family? What are the ties that bring us together? Is it blood or does the time we spend together define our relationships?
The theme of family is a recurring one in your filmography..
While that’s true (with films like LiKE FATHER, LIKE SON and OUR LITTLE SISTER), SHOPLIFTERS is a different take on that theme. It explores it in a more thoughtful manner and asks questions that I wanted to propose to the audience. There are certain scenes that I knew I wanted to include in the screenplay to represent this and so I did.
What type of research did you carry out before writing the film?
I mainly depended on the stories around me that represented the state of Japanese society. For example there was stories in the media about pension fraud and how many families would refuse to report the deaths of their seniors so that they would continue to receive their pensions. Much of what you see in SHOPLIFTERS is actually based on such stories. The scene where the father and son in the film steal the fishing rods was also semi-inspired by a situation I have seen. It was actually one of the first scenes I had imagined when preparing the script.
We’ve read that you visited an orphanage while preparing the script to observe disadvantaged children with shattered families. Is this true?
Well, it wasn’t an orphanage per se – it was more of a social center where children would be taken care of. I paid them a visit once and sat with some of the children. I observed what’s around me. And there was a little girl who inspired some actual scenes in the film. One of them was the scene where [Swimming by Leo Leonni, a story about a little black fish in a school of red fish who figures out a way to protect them from natural enemies] was being read – I immediately connected to that scene and knew I wanted to include it in the film.
The performances in the film were incredibly raw – particularly the children who you were able to elicit so many natural performances from. How did you manage to accomplish this?
Casting for me is a crucial process to all my films. But when I cast children, I tend to deal with them differently. To me, the perfect child actor is one who doesn’t act. They need to give me the emotion that conveys the character and they need to feel more than just recite lines. On set, I used to work with the child performers and it was not just a process of delivering a line. I would narrate to them what would happen and work with them to get the emotion right.
Finally, you said that you consider SHOPLIFTERS to be your most socially conscious film to date. Why did you say that?
I don’t think ‘socially conscious’ is a term I would use (laughs). For me, SHOPLIFTERS is a social film about Japanese society today – the way we deal with one another and the way we deal with family. The film says a lot about the concept of family in modern-day Japan and what I wanted to explore first and foremost is those ties that bind us as a family. In a way, it’s an examination of the meaning of family today – which is way I have chosen these characters who, throughout the film, question and rediscover these ties.
SHOPLIFTERS is currently in limited release from Magnolia Pictures and is Japan’s official submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar race. It was nominated for a Golden Globe this morning.