Shoplifters film review: masterful family portrait that won Cannes Palme D’Or sheds light on Tokyo’s underclass

Hirokazu Koreeda’s quiet but angry masterpiece is a reminder no filmmaker understands the family better. The performances he teases from its youngest stars, one just six years old, may turn out to be his crowning achievement

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 6:04pm

5/5 stars

Winner of the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters sees Hirokazu Koreeda pool his favourite themes into a heartbreaking drama that ranks among his very best. The question of what makes a family hangs over the proceedings, as regular collaborators Kirin Kiki and Lily Franky are joined by the ever reliable Sakura Ando ( 100 Yen Love ).

As is so often the case in Koreeda’s work, much of the film’s heavy lifting is done by the cast’s youngest members. The Japanese writer-director’s aptitude for working with child actors is well documented in films like Nobody Knows and I Wish, but the performances gleaned from the young Kairi Jyo, and especially the then-six-year-old Miyu Sasaki, could be his crowning achievement.

The story focuses on the impoverished Shibata family, who eke out a meagre living working odd jobs, supplemented by petty crime. Three generations are squeezed into the dilapidated home of elderly matriarch Hatsue (Kiki), but despite their financial hardships, Osamu (Franky) cannot resist bringing another member into the fold, when he meets the neglected Yuri (Sasaki).

Warmly welcomed by everyone, Yuri is soon being schooled in the family trade of shoplifting by her new “big brother” Shota (Jyo). Inevitably, however, her absence from home is reported to the authorities, unearthing all manner of shocking revelations within the Shibata household.

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Some speculated the reluctance of Japan’s government to congratulate Koreeda on the film’s success at the French festival reflected official disapproval of its unapologetic portrait of a struggling underclass in contemporary Tokyo. While the Shibatas’ predicament is itself shocking, their treatment at the hands of an unsympathetic system is even more so.

Shoplifters slowly reveals itself to be a bitter and gut-wrenching continuation of the nature-versus-nurture debate the director explored in films such as Like Father, Like Son .

Flashback: Maborosi (1995) – Hirokazu Koreeda’s mournful feature debut

Expertly balancing light and dark, mining the dourest circumstances for a glimmer of happiness, Koreeda’s quiet, angry masterpiece reaffirms once again that no other filmmaker working today has a better understanding of – or compassion for – families.

Shoplifters opens on July 5

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