Written By: Riyan Bajric
Shoplifters by Hirokazu Koreeda is one of the most beautiful portraits of the family household and its elements ever graced on-screen, and yes, that is how I am starting this review. While the last little while has been an array of firsts, experiencing a Koreeda film, I found myself recalling immortal auteurs like Yasujiro Ozu with his “seasons” series of melodramas, chiefly revolving around domestic trials and tribulations of man and humanity itself. At times I found it played like a Vittorio De Sica film, sprawling with driven poverty and poetic synthesis, proving on being a companion piece to his infamous Bicycle Thieves. While this film is already in the company of great films, winning the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters is absolutely spellbinding! It’s a film that is reviving the idea that modern cinema can move and transcend audiences in the most simplistic and organic of settings and motions.
In my humblest and sincerest personal opinion, classic French, Italian and Japanese cinema produces truly spiritual, dreamlike cinematic material. Works from these countries articulate family, love, and spirituality through a lens that is equally transformative yet daringly raw and different from Western cinema. Ringing true to the genuine human condition than anything I have seen from Hollywood, Shoplifters is a film that has shifted my opinion on modern directors and modern cinema as a whole. With Shoplifter’s we are truly drawn to a familiar world where the lens provides a gaze though the eyes of a real auteur. While I always disregarded the notion that anything shot with a modern camera in modern settings could materialize into the type of work that Kurosawa or Ozu have created, I have always believed filmmakers like these have unmatched qualities, until now. Koreeda’s extreme sense of self-awareness and implementing a strong social dynamic, the characters and narrative of Shoplifters blossoms into a truly hearty cinematic experience.
Although the story and narrative of Shoplifters really has no real importance, this is a film that truly draws from its actors and their interactions, to create a family that really delves into the depths of complex moral issues, bonds of love and the ideas of nature versus nurture, that hasn’t been seen in film for many years. Yet, the casting in the film is perhaps, and although this may be a wholly bold statement, the best casting I have seen in at least a decade. Ranging from young child actors to older and respected Japanese acting icons, each familial role is worked and managed into broken down fibres of relatable family members we have in our own lives.
The film tells the story of the Shibata’s. Osamu Shibata, played by Lily Franky, the real patriarch of the family, provides the film with the majority of its humour, especially when he is teaching his ‘children’ the fine ‘art’ of theft. Early on, we see that he passes on his skills to his ‘son’ Shota played exceptionally well by Jyo Kairi. Relentless and effortless, the two are shown to be very close and possessing so many of the dynamics seen between a father and son relationship we have come to expect in film. Shota’s mother, Nobuyo (Sakura Hando) works at a dry cleaners providing her share for the family, also engaging in forms of theft. Nobuyo’s sister Aki (May Matsuoka) works at a soft-core gentlemen’s cyber club performing for her dividend. All of the finances rendezvous at the flat the family stays in tucked away in an extremely quiet neighborhood. A large chunk of the rent that comes along with space is paid for by the true matriarch of the household, Grandmother Hatsue, played tirelessly by Kirin Kiki, who recently passed at the tender age of seventy-five.
While each character’s role is paramount in expressing the moral teachings in Koreeda’s perfectly woven story, there is a firm affinity for Koreeda’s sense of family and togetherness that does not go unnoticed. Each family member play each of their respectable roles honestly, spreading words and dialogue that ceases to shy from the harsh realities of such a lifestyle, yet brilliantly completely shatter society’s belittling and scoffing nature towards them by being individual embodiments of humanity at all stages and ages of life.
The family begins to change its dynamic when Osamu and Shota walk home one evening from a routine shoplift, and find Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a small child left in the barren waste of her broken family’s home. Together, the two males bring Yuri back home, and the family agrees to keep her safe and make her one of them, a Shibata, due to their parents physical, emotional and mental abuse that can be heard from the open windows of their home. Once Yuri becomes a Shibata, the unravelling of a strong family unit begins, and in the most beautiful and gut-wrenching of fashion, even if what we are experiencing on-screen can easily be argued as kidnapping. Yet, one of the strongest questions in the film remains, is love experienced by strangers better than no love at all experienced by the people you call family?
To call Shoplifters unequivocally beautiful is an understatement. Shot by Kondo Ryuto with a diamond touch in 35mm, an utilizing a medium shot style of filming, which gives great emphasis to the family’s dialogue, action/reaction shots and allows for actors to truly embody their characters, with each one of their quips to be internalized. With amazing attention to detail, Akiko Matsuba, set designer to the film, allows his vision combined with Koreeda’s small yet meaningful narrative acts, magnify the characters powerful revelations onto the screen.
Although the main use of 3D in film, back when the medium was in its infancy, was implicated for the further immersion of audiences into the films they are watching, with films like Shoplifters, the true immersion audiences experience are into feelings of true warmth, a sensation that radiates from every scene and frame of Koreeda’s Shoplifters. Shoplifters is a film that immerses the immersion of the soul. Focusing less on the actions happening around them and more of the facial, boldly and emotional reactions of his actors, the film is a true testament to the beauty of simplicity and minimalist cinema. One of the film’s most powerful scenes, and easily my personal favourite, was a scene where we see the Shibata family collectively hang out of an open panned window, looking into the sky and stars, listening to the sounds and explosions of nearby fireworks. Hovering over the family like a precarious object, the camera captures the colours of its characters wonderment and marvel, as opposed to the fascinating and beautiful array of flames and fire in the sky. This shot alone showcases the very real and adorning obsession with Koreeda’s skill and his fascination with human beings. Shoplifter’s becomes a film who’s universal look and bodily acting skills transcends language, countries, sects, cultures and religious beliefs. This scene alone had my heart fluttering with pure joy and happiness; a feeling that has been voided for me since seeing Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low.
To describe how simply sensational and dynamic Shoplifters is as a film is similar to trying to describe color to a blind person; it isn’t a simple task and perhaps, in the end, no words or description may do a colour justice. Shoplifters is similar to this feeling and sensation; no matter how much I try to articulate my feelings towards it, nothing can prepare you for the level of hypnosis and the mesmerizing nature of a film that really only features people and the truly genuine emotions they express. Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters is easily the best film I have seen in 2018 and it is my highest recommendation to all lovers of cinema and lovers of people; It is a film that should be seen and embraced because, simply put, the film will steal elements of your heart…forever!
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How expressed were you with Shoplifters? Did it steal you away like it did with us? Was the film worthy of the coveted Palme D’Or? Leave your grocery list of comments and don’t forget to cash out below!