By Andrew Breazeale, Staff Writer
Shoplifters introduces us to the Shibatas, a poor family of six living together under one tiny roof, scraping money together any way they can. As the title implies, shoplifting is one way they make a living, teaching their children to steal from local stores in Tokyo and taking what they need from shops and the backs of cars. What elevates this movie from a standard family drama about getting by in the world to an emotionally driven masterpiece about what it means to be family is the intricate bonds this family shares — as well as the ones they don’t. From money to love, apprenticeship to belonging, this family is bound together by things stronger than blood, relying on one another to stay afloat. Yet only two people in the family share blood with another. Hirokazu Kore-eda masterfully crafts an incredibly realistic family dynamic that drives this film to the emotionally stunning and outrageously powerful level it reaches.
Read more: Movie Review: Cold War
As we experience the daily lives of this family, we are immediately connected and bonded with the family, as if one of their own. The character development in this film is inconceivably compelling, drawing the audience in and creating a fully-formed image of these characters within the first half-hour. As the Shibata family is disrupted by the discovery of a neglected 5-year-old from down the street, their seemingly lawless characters are softened as they selflessly invite her home to eat with them, only to discover she is being abused by both of her parents. At the insistence of the girl, Juri (Sasaki Miyu), the family takes her in and protects her from parents, who don’t seem to care she is missing. Through the eyes of Juri, we are shown the incredible bond this family shares and the kindness they show to others. With the aid of simple, elegant cinematography and a minimalist score, we see this bond tested, tried, and fractured by the choice they made to take Juri in.
The most impressive elements of the movie are the acting and the director’s message. Ando Sakura, who plays the mother of this family, Nobuyo, is absolutely breathtaking, stealing every scene with overpowering emotion and stellar realism. Each actor brings the familial bond to the forefront of their performance in unique but truly effective ways. Whether it’s their “son” Shota (Kairi Jyo) refusing to call them Mom and Dad, or the father Osamu (Franky Lily) and grandmother Hatsue (Kiki Kirin) attempting to hold the family together and strengthen the bonds between them, each portrayal brings a piece of intense realism to the movie and that is what Kore-eda uses to make his message clear. Whether it’s because of familial problems or a feeling of displacement in the world, Kore-eda makes it clear that families change and can come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s necessary for people to choose their own family, and this movie serves to prove that that decision, that need to escape, and human decision in general, can be more powerful and more important than bloodlines.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is one of the most moving films in recent years, bringing audiences around the globe to tears. As it is a Japanese film, America releases were limited and short-lived. However, this movie addresses people from everywhere, telling the world that family can be what you make it and not what it is “supposed” to be. Kore-eda effectively redefines what it means to be a family and proves to the world that some bonds are stronger than blood, while simultaneously treating the world to an incredibly striking and utterly unique portrait of the bonds that connect humans everywhere.
Watch the trailer here: