I love the arts and creativity. My early career was in teaching, writing, producing and directing for film, theatre, comedy and improv shows. Now I'm a professional creative content producer, mostly on digital platforms.
Published November 14th 2018
Light-fingered family will steal your heart
Osamu and Shota help each other shoplift.
Shoplifters is a beautifully heart-warming movie that lifts the lid on a side of Japan that many Australians wouldn't even think existed. This masterful drama by Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows), highlights sharp social and economic divisions in contemporary Japan while redefining what makes a family.
Kore-eda says, "It is the story of what family means, a story about a man trying to be a father, and furthermore, a coming-of-age story of a boy."
The narrative centres around Osamu and his impoverished family of thieves and con artists. You witness him and three generations of his family, cramped into a dilapidated nail house that's stuck between towering apartment blocks. His wife, Naboyo, works in a laundry and regularly steals what she can from the customers' pockets. Their young son Shota helps Osamu on their daily shoplifting excursions. Teenage daughter Aki works at a shady peep-show while grandma has a secret pachinko gambling machine addiction.
On their way home from shoplifting one evening, Osamu and Shota find a frozen and frightened little girl, Yuri outside her home. Hearing terrible fighting from the couple inside, Osamu and Shota offer Yuri some food. She's clearly too scared to go inside and leaving her out in the snow seems akin to leaving her to perish. The implication is that family violence and constant neglect are all this little girl knows, so Osamu decides they need to save her.
Yuri finally knows what it's like to be in a kind, loving family.
Shota and Yuri learn to love and support each other.
At first reluctant to shelter the girl, Naboyo agrees to help Osamu rescue and take care of her. Although the family is poor, barely making enough money to survive through petty crime, they seem to live cheerfully together. Everyone's happy, especially Yuri, but she's still a missing person and likely to draw heat on this family of lawbreakers. The story of her kidnapping is all over the news, but Yuri is reluctant to go back to her unkind, abusive parents. When authorities eventually come calling, Yuri's given a disguise and a new name, but you know it's just the beginning of their troubles.
The film looks at how modern capitalist society leaves so many families vulnerable and desperate. You're reminded that cut-and-dry laws don't consider what's really best for people. It's not all bleak, as the most important message is that you don't have to be related to people to form a loving family unit. In the midst of poverty and hardship, these tender relationships develop and you can really feel the joy these people find in one another. There's such a lovely dichotomy of a family who steal from others to survive but take care of needy children out of the kindness of their hearts; it highlights that added generosity you find in people who have so very little to give.
There are so many uplifting moments in the movie, but it always rides on an undercurrent of sadness and hardship. It's sure to be a real eye-opener for many audiences who may be used to the polished, technological and tidy vision of Japan that's presented in the media.
Among hardship, love and connection shines through.
The family is fearful of losing Yuri.
Film buffs will enjoy the lovely cinematography and editing. The well-rounded characters mean you don't suffer through a pace that would be considered slow by Hollywood standards. In fact, one of the most refreshing things about Shoplifters is how un-Hollywood it feels. There are no mega explosions or threatening phone calls from Liam Neeson, the shoplifting and other crime isn't glamourised and the abuse of Yuri is implied instead of sensationalised.
Shoplifters is a celebration of love and generosity and a harsh criticism of everything Hollywood blockbusters tend to idolise. The moral of the story doesn't have to be relatively spelt out to you like you're a moron. Of course, if you loathe subtitled film, this one isn't for you but if you're keen to try something that's less predictable and violent than what the USA serves us, this Japanese drama will entertain.
Like many foreign films, this one's not likely to be in cinemas for long. So if you'd like to see an excellently produced drama that offers plenty of food for thought, check your local guides for screening times this weekend!