2018’s Palme D’Or winning Shoplifters is directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda and stars an ensemble of actors, lead by the wonderfully beguiling Lily Franky. A patriarchal figure with a Dick Van-Dyke-esque presence, he fronts a ragtag family-of-sorts who all go against the grain of the law to keep their heads above water. A loveable, effortlessly believable dynamic ties the fabric of their relationships together and makes for an immersive, enjoyable watch in what is absolutely one of the best films of the year.
When Osamu Shibata and young Shota (an impressively mature Kairi Jyo) discover Yuri, a homeless, evidently abused young girl on their return from an outing of thieving from their local grocery store, they are compelled to bring her home. Yuri receives a cautious yet warm welcome from the clan – Kore-da is candid in his screenplay, effectively conveying the poverty which holds the group prisoner, but there’s still generosity, understanding and kindness undercutting it all. Nobuyo, Osamu’s wife, initially finds herself frustrated at Yuri’s stunted development, but the grandmother of the bunch, Kirin (Kilin Kiki in a funny, unaffected performance), recognises her vulnerability and immediately takes her under her wing.
In isolation, separated storylines within the film are objectively quite melancholy. Sakura, also living under the Shibata roof, makes money in her spare time as a sex worker; the objectification of her body feels slimy and grim, captured in an artificial neon hue. Her ostensibly human connection with a man behind one of the webcams she works through allows her an independent and private space to be open with another human, away from the mania of her home life.
With so many characters harbouring intricate inner lives within the family, Shoplifters risks losing its focus trying to give all of the stories due screen-time. There’s a self-awareness of this, however, and a deliberate attempt to interweave the narratives in a way such that they all link back to the central heart of the story; the Shibata’s dilapidated, cramped living room. Yuri and Shota’s tentative blossoming friendship, depicted through delicate conversations about family and and a shared love of visiting aquariums, is a particular highlight. As is a gorgeously shot scene of Osamu and Shota discussing manhood as they swim amongst crashing, white waves. Sublime, quiet subtlety gets to the bottom of what stitches the bizarre patchwork quilt that is this family, together.
Whether it’s mother-figure Nobuyo’s power struggles within her own menial, underpaid job or Osamu’s difficulty with aligning his financial dependence on his mother with his own masculinity, there’s a lot to take in – yet marvellously, all the pieces feel neat and easy to absorb. Instead of focussing on Yuri’s childhood trauma and the Shibatas’ financial difficulties – the ache of societal injustice is the sourest takeaway the Shoplifters brings to the table – there’s a polite request to view the material with a lighter heart.
Likeability and believability need to be of high importance in a film where the underdog narrative is very much the only substance on offer. Well structured acts offer down-to-earth snapshots of a normal family life turned on its head by its fight for survival. Scenes start in the middle of conversations and very little is explained; this is a director who knows how to treat his audience with the intelligence and respect they deserve. The brief moments of sensitivity captured, one particular one wherein Osamu and Nobuyo have sex for the first time in, as he describes, a long time – they’re natural. Minutes of dialogue give years of backstory to the characters gracing the screen. Shoplifters understands what it needs to focus on and does so impeccably.
It’s through Yuri’s eyes that we see the idealism of a world wherein choice comes before blood. The adoration she has for the people who took her in and their doting on her would have us believe this were a fairytale of sorts, but the blanket of reality quashes these flames quite firmly as the film approaches its impactful conclusion. Evidently, there’s a seed of hope here that quality of character could one day be enough to cleanse the Shibatas of their dubious behaviour, but Kore-eda has solemnly crafted a story grounded very much in the world we live in today; one that isn’t ready to forgive those most vulnerable for doing what they need to in order to survive.
Shoplifters is screening at Glasgow Film Theatre from the 23rd-29th of November. Anyone aged between 15 and 25 can get a free card from GFT that entitles them to £5.50 tickets to any standard screening.
By Maisie McGregor