Film Review: Shoplifters

Still from Shoplifters

Hirokazu Koreeda crafts what may be his finest feature yet.

Families across the globe come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their members’ methods for survival and sustenance – but what happens when an unconventional household with an undeniable sense of love, devotion, and community attempts to flourish outside the boundaries of the law?

The Japanese title to this film literally means ‘shoplifting family’, and in the opening scene, we witness the male head of this particular family, in league with his boy protégé, successfully swiping grocery items using methods that are obviously the work of practiced thieves – but their sense of charity and concern for a runaway child, discovered on the journey home displaying physical evidence of neglect and abuse, mark these people out as possessing a level of conscience that would seem unusual in typically self-interested criminals…Rest assured that this group has an unusual history, and it’s going to catch up to them.

With Shoplifters, Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda has crafted what is very possibly his finest feature yet, in a career not short on estimable work – recent highlights of which have included Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm. This filmmaker spins and weaves each of his stories to unfold at a pace that rarely gets any swifter than a calm stroll, while a keen, sharp, and striking sense of perception with regards to human beings – and their nature – is what he aims to capture on film and communicate to his audiences.

This approach means that Shoplifters is the kind of film where keen attention must be paid, in order to discern the more nuanced dynamics among the family relations, backgrounds, and motivations on display here. Anyone willing to bring their full capacity for understanding and empathy into the cinema will be richly rewarded with an intricate, involving tale that pays off in a conclusion of stunning emotional power.

Playing the middle-aged father-figure and his somewhat-younger spouse, Lily Franky and Sakura Ando bring individuality and idiosyncrasy to these characters, generating a unique kind of chemistry together and ensuring that we stay fascinated by the questions of how these people came to be living as they do, how long they can maintain their lifestyle of choice, and what could possibly cause their situation to fall apart…Virtually stealing the movie away is the adorable moppet Miyu Sasaki, playing a child caught in a situation of tragic impossibility.

Shoplifters is the kind of rich, subtle, surprising experience that one always hopes to find at a film festival but which doesn’t necessarily come along without fail even once every year. Its arrival in Adelaide is the chance for cinema buffs to witness a master at the peak of his powers.

Shoplifters is currently screening at Palace Nova Eastend.


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