‘Shoplifters’ director Hirokazu Kore-eda won top prize at Cannes, then faced fury for shaming Japan

Cannes acclaim quickly turned to criticism for Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2018, 5:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 12:42pm

The Japanese director who won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes international film festival in May is fighting off criticism that his film Shoplifters portrays Japan in a humiliating light and encourages people to commit petty crimes.

Hirokazu Kore-eda was feted when he became the first Japanese director to lift the award in 21 years, with an editorial in the Sankei newspaper declaring:“The film impressed the rest of the world with the power and depth of Japanese cinema, not only evoking an interest in ancient Japanese culture, but achieving recognition for its message, which tackles the universal theme of family.”

That acclaim quickly turned to criticism, however, after the film’s release in Japan in June.

The story focuses on a poor family existing on the fringes of Tokyo society and the daily struggles they face to make ends meet.

The father does odd jobs to earn a living, but the family resorts to shoplifting when times are particularly tough.

Nevertheless, they take in a homeless girl and become her surrogate family, an event which leads to the unravelling of a number of secrets.

Commentators on social media were quick to condemn the film for “depicting the shame of Japan” and endorsing shoplifting, a charge that Kore-eda denied in an interview with the Asahi newspaper, pointing out that Japanese audiences have always enjoyed stories featuring villains.

“For example, there are many ‘kabuki’ plays that centre on villains,” he said.

“But I find it rather alarming that in today’s society, people completely detach themselves from those who resort to crime,” he said, adding that the only way to stop “desperate people” from committing crimes is to provide them with a better social security network.

Kore-eda has a “track record” of focusing on those who have been marginalised by modern society, said Kaori Shoji, film critic for The Japan Times.

“He is a director and storyteller who likes to dig beneath the surface and expose issues and relationships that Japanese people would really rather not be reminded of or have to face,” she told South China Morning Post.

“He has been criticised, but I think he was absolutely justified in depicting these issues and I hope he continues to do this because it needs to be exposed.”

Kore-eda was also roundly condemned for refusing to accept an official commendation from the Japanese government for his award, despite using government grants to make the film.

“I believe that one positive outcome from this fuss has been how it raised discussion over government subsidies and what they are meant to be for,” he said.

“It is righteous to receive state subsidies to make films that criticise the state - I want Japanese people to accept such European values.”