After filmmakers got tired of shooting films about trains, sneezing, and kissing, the world of cinema began to examine love and family. Over a century later, filmmakers continue to grapple with the base of human interaction and socialization. As a young girl sits on a porch on a cold night, a man and his son ponder whether they can help her. The four-year-old does not have a parent in sight, and the two males look at each, unsure how to proceed. They choose to take her back to their house, where she meets a small family unit that steals to survive. Shoplifters might be about a group of thieves masquerading as a traditional family, but in the process, it shines more on the subject than any film in recent memory. The Cannes winner is a downright beautiful and emotional ride.
Shoplifters follows the Shibata family, a small family living in Tokyo. The day laborer father Osamu (Lily Franky) has taught his son Shota (Kairi Jō) how to steal from shops using deception and shielding techniques. When returning home one night, they find a young girl Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) out on the streets. When they get home, the grandmother Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) finds bruises and cuts on Yuri’s body. Matriarch Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), Osamu, and young adult Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) decide to keep the girl and watch over her.
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda Shoplifters quickly becomes one of the most heartwarming and gratifying pieces of cinema from 2018. Kore-eda lets the camera linger on a family as they live through their day-to-day. It’s an unjudging lens that pushes past the moral quandaries inherent in the narrative. Rather than judging or absolving our family based on their actions, we’re simply with them. In the process, we find beauty in the moments of the Shibata family. Kore-eda consistently questions what it means to make a family, and who deserves to be a parent. It’s this question that will stick with you.
There are several stunning performances in the film, but none will reach into your soul like Ando. It is a beautifully quiet but loving portrayal on film. There are layers stacked on top of layers in the film and much of her character doesn’t come into full view until her final frames on the screen. Yet you will be undeniably drawn to her, and her struggle to keep the family together. Meanwhile, Kiki also delivers a powerhouse performance of subtly and grace. Like some grandmothers, you expect devilish moments. However, it’s her love and care for those she knows are flawed that will draw you in.
Much of the power of the film comes from Kore-eda’s direction and dexterity behind the camera. He seamlessly balances his script as it bounces around the family, and never keeps us away from any member of the Shibata’s for too long. It builds momentum efficiently as it navigates the world of small-time crime, weaving in a commentary on class and the perceptions of crime by those in poverty.
The two elements of the film used most effectively are the children, Jō and Sasaki. They’re chemistry bubbles throughout the film. Kore-eda lets the kids show their vulnerability and innocence from a variety of angles, easily embedding them into your heart. He then pulls those heartstrings in the most efficient ways possible. Their actions and care for each other sparks something special and it drives the narrative of the film. The final act of the film crescendos like a tidal wave crashing over a bay, and when the emotion hits you, it’s like a brick. Combined with some beautiful cinematography, impressive long takes, and delicate moments of love, Shoplifters simply marvels.
Shoplifters takes its place as one of the very best films of 2018 because of Kore-eda’s incredible work. The writer and director knows how to hit the moments of his film with absolute precision, and the beauty of Shoplifters cannot be forgotten. One of the most heart-warming, heart-breaking and beautiful films of the year, the career achievement cannot be ignored.