JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Shoplifters (Director: Hirokazu Koreeda) - January 4, 2019


Manbiki kazoku

4.5 4.5
121 min.

Reviewed for the 2019 edition of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
‘It’s better to choose your own family.’

Director-writer-editor Hirokazu Koreeda has marvellously crafted a film so rich in metaphor, understatement and truth, that several viewings will be required to truly plumb the depths of this tale of family values—whether related to one another or not.

The opening sequence is a gem. Grocery store theft by a young boy (Jyo Kairi belying his young years with pace, varied delivery and glances that speak volumes) with his apparent Dad (Lily Franky is superb in the emotionally charged role) artfully blocking the view of purloined goods slipping into a backpack from the hapless staff, lives up to the title immediately. An extra bonus is the “heist” score (original music by Hosono Harumi) whose discreet jazz ensemble would be equally effective in Mission Impossible or Oceans features. What fun! Here’s a poor family making ends meet by helping themselves to goods they could never have afforded in the first place.

But it is soon clear that merchandise isn’t the only stolen item for the Shibata clan. Escaping the clutches of two resentful parents, five-year-old Yuri/Lin (Miyu Sasaki is a delight in every frame) is rescued from her home of beatings, burnings and hate to become part of a family that sees its duty to protect innocent children—never mind the legalities.

Also under the same roof is the wily, “all-knowing” Grandma (in one of her last roles, veteran Kirin Kiki is in top form), equally at home curing bed wetting with a few licks of salt, extorting cash from those who can afford it, or living what remains of her life large at the casino. Rounding out the troupe (in more ways than one), Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works at an Internet porn club to earn her keep while her good looks last, fuelled by the current craze for the “side boob” shot from pay-per-view customers. Who knew?

As the scenes progress, Koreeda—through the actions and conversations of his characters—allows viewers to figure out for themselves that very little of the situations and relationships on screen can be taken at face value. The actual shoplifting gradually takes a back seat to stolen love, sense of worth and pride. The inevitable “gotcha” becomes the catalyst for a final act that doesn’t skirt many of today’s societal ills: child abuse, sex trade, poverty and systemic scams.

Tellingly, there is a poignant, deeply moving discussion around the question, “Do you have to give birth to be a mother?” Many points of view are illuminated, but once again, moviegoers will have to come to their own conclusions, even as the day at the beach remains a glowing beacon for what a real family can achieve. JWR

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Director - Hirokazu Koreeda
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