Hirokazu Koreeda is one seriously prolific cinematic voice! Maybe not when compared to some of his contemporaries like Takashi Miike or Sion Sono who tend to make 3 to 6 films every single year with often very mixed results. Kore-eda has made a film a year for the past 5 years and not only has been director, screenwriter, and editor on all of these films but every single one of them has been in my top 10 of the year in each of their respective years. I mention this only to give you an idea of how much of a fan I was already before going in to see SHOPLIFTERS.
Somewhere in Tokyo, Osamu (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) live in poverty with a grandmother, a sister and a son. While Osamu receives occasional construction employment and Nobuyo has a low-paying part-time job, the family relies in large part on the grandmother’s pension. As he is shoplifting for groceries with his son, Shota (Kairi Jō), they discover Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a homeless girl. Osamu takes her home, where the family observes evidence of child abuse and neglect. Despite their strained finances, they informally adopt her into their family and where to story goes from there, I will leave for you to find out.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. This is my favourite film of the Cambridge Film Festival so far! This might even be my favourite Kore-eda film too! Everything he does so well in all his features, be it his flawed but lovable characters, intimate moments beautifully observed, blurred lines between right and wrong, all put together in an incredibly moving and genuinely thought provoking tapestry that will stay with you long after the lights go up.
What strikes me most about SHOPLIFTERS is how well developed the family is. We have 6 fully formed characters that are interesting and layered and I genuinely empathised with each and every one of them at certain points throughout. I believe that any one of these individuals could have their own film and it would still be an intriguing and entertaining watch. The script is superb, the performances are flawless (especially the two young newcomers) and the situations are in turns heart-warming and heart-wrenching in equal measure. There were so many times I was close to tears that I lost count and by the end of the film all I could do was reflect on what i’d seen and how I felt about it all.
SHOPLIFTERS is a delicate film. It is a charming, funny and very affecting example of Kore-eda’s special brand of tough-but-tender humanism. It is a film that gives you moments, not simply hours or days. We watch what happens over the space of a year and can’t help but think what they could achieve in a decade. It is s a work of such emotional delicacy and formal modesty that you’re barely prepared when the full force of what it’s doing suddenly knocks you sideways. It is a socially conscious film that is filled with compassion for its characters and for those of us watching in. It is the work of a master and it will most certainly be in my best of the year list when that finally comes around.
I hope this opens more people up to Kore-Eda’s work. He has been making films since the 1990s but if you want to see him at the top of his game then begin withLIKE FATHER, LIKE SON from 2013 and then move forward through OUR LITTLE SISTER, AFTER THE STORM, and THE THIRD MURDER. You will not be disappointed!
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