Shoplifters (2018; Hirokazu Koreeda)
By Daniel Barnes
When the domestic drama Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or last Summer at Cannes, right on the heels of a string of solid but same-ish domestic dramas from Japanese filmmaker Koreeda (including Like Father, Like Son, Our Little Sister and After the Storm), it seemed possible that a split jury simply awarded the top prize as a de facto “lifetime achievement award,” a la Ken Loach’s otherwise inexplicable 2016 win for I, Daniel Blake.
Certainly, Shoplifters shares several superficial similarities with Koreeda’s comparatively schematic recent efforts. However, this film is infinitely more complex and surprising and rich. Our concepts of the characters develop and evolve right through the final frames.
Lily Franky and Sakura Andô star as Osamu and Nobuyo, dirt-poor parental figures of a family assembled from spare parts. There is mysterious matriarch Hatsue, sex worker Aki and “homeschooled” adolescent Shota, who is already an expert shoplifter thanks to Osamu’s influence. While returning home one night with their stolen goods, Osamu and Shota find an adorable and abandoned four-year-old girl named Yuri. The family elects to raise the child rather than return her to her abusive parents.
Shoplifters is so tender and meticulous about establishing the cramped, desperate and insular world of these characters that it hardly prepares you for the emotional punch of the film’s final act.