Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku, Japan, 2018)

Warts and all

I’ve only just understood Kore-eda Hirokazu’s brilliance having failed to get on with After Life (Wandafuru raifu, Japan, 1998) several years ago. The turning point was Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary, Japan, 2015) – post to follow – which bowled me over with its sentimental portrayal of a loving family. ‘Sentimental’ is often a term of abuse, the rosy glow of life is emphasised too much, but Kore-eda manages to remain convincing due to his script, his performers and his direction.

His Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters is also about a family but one that is part of the underclass and not quite what it seems to be at first. They are not simply part of the underclass because they help themselves in shops, the two adults are employed, on a building site and in a laundry, but the work is poorly paid and precarious. The teenage girl works in soft porn. They are victims of the economic downturn, and unequal distribution of wealth, that has plagued Japan for decades. Also typically of Kore-eda is the focus on children and he has the ability to draw incredibly performances from minors who can often seem to be irritatingly precocious in film (I’m thinking Hollywood).

The first three quarters of the film are ‘slices from life’ of the family after they adopt a new member, a five year old girl being abused by her parents who live nearby. The final act of the film throws everything we’ve seen before into focus. The change of perspective at the end is a brilliant narrative device necessitating a rethinking of what we thought we knew.

Kore-eda develops his characters through slow reveals; just as we find out about people in life: few give us an expository monologue when we first meet them. The audience patches together the clues about characters’ motivations and, particularly in the case of Shoplifters, their morality as some of them are criminals. Lucky me as I have several more of his films to catch up on!

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2 Responses

  1. […] the others as it bathes the viewer in the warmth of a matriarchal family that has little conflict. Shoplifters, too, focuses on a loving family but in the wider context of poverty and uncaring […]

  2. […] the others as it bathes the viewer in the warmth of a matriarchal family that has little conflict. Shoplifters, too, focuses on a loving family but in the wider context of poverty and uncaring […]

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