Looking through the canon of director Hirokazu Kore-eda, it’s immediately clear that he has a fascination with family. His films Like Father Like Son, Our Sister and After the Storm all examine various forms that a family unit can take, and the dynamic that exists between each member of the unit. This narrative trend is continued in Shoplifters, with much of the narrative serving to question whether our concept of ‘family’ is (or should be) rooted more in the bonds we form instead of the blood we share. The result is an achingly intimate portrayal of individuals alienated from society trying to eke out an acceptable living in their compromised circumstances.
The film opens with a man (Osamu) and a boy (Shota) walking into a supermarket and shoplifting as a team. On their way home however, they encounter a clearly neglected young girl (Yuri) huddled outside her house. Osamu makes the decision to bring the girl back to their home to give her a meal and get her out of the cold, and before long she’s suddenly part of the family.
Shoplifters boasts a strong ensemble cast, including Lily Franky, who expertly portrays the depths and complexities of Osamu, and Sakura Ando, whose performance as Nobuyo conveyed both emotional strength and a disarming sense of vulnerability. However, the two children are worthy of particular commendation, especially Kairi Jo for his role of Shota. Jo didn’t have an easy task portraying a character that was full of youthful innocence whilst simultaneously slowly growing disillusioned with his role as a shoplifter, yet his performance was expressive and thoroughly captivating.
The cinematography is also worthy of special mention. Certain scenes feel cramped and claustrophobic to indicate how the family feel trapped and constrained by their poverty and the living conditions that stem from it. However, when the family visit the beach for the day, the shots are far more open and less claustrophobic, to a degree that feels almost exhilarating. It’s merely a moment of respite of course, with the overcast skies serving as a sobering reminder that hardship still exists on the horizon. It is impressive how thoughtfully crafted each scene is, and it serves to aid the emotional impact of many moments in the narrative.It’s been a while since I’ve been so singularly captivated by the characters of a film and the world they possess, but Shoplifters really is a potent experience. Whilst it shares noticeable thematic parallels with classics such as The Kid or The Bicycle Thieves, Shoplifters ultimately possesses its own distinctive style. Thoughtful, painful yet occasionally uplifting, Shoplifters is an essential experience.