Shoplifters Review

They are six in the family, a rag-tag bag of waifs and strays in a downtrodden suburb of an unnamed Japanese city.

Kore-eda has moved away from the struggles of the middle class with something new; a film that looks at those on the very margins of society and  somewhere close to the criminal underworld. 

Father Sako, who is employed on a meagre salary, turns to shoplifting to bring home the goods, managing to snatch grocery items using well-practiced methods and sleight of hand. The wife has a job too which allows her access to items left inside jackets and attached to clothes. 

It takes a while to get adjusted to the film, because the director is careful to only reveal a little at a time. Why do they live in such a small house? How did they meet each other? Why does the grandmother visit her ex-husband’s house every week? And how do they manage to survive? 

These are details that the film is not in a hurry to explain. Kore-eda is more interested in showing us the lives of these people; how they get by on whatever they can scrape together. Then there is the little girl whom they see staring out of a window every night, and decide to adopt, gradually introducing her to a life of shoplifting, but crucially they give her the family home that she didn’t have with her biological parents.

There are many films which romanticise crime, this isn’t really one of them. “Until someone buys them, he tells his son, these items belong to no one” he tells his son in an attempt to assuage his guilt, still it’s hard to feel good when they are stealing from those whose lives are not much better than their own. 

Occasionally the film moves away from the cramped quarters of their hovel. Daughter Sako works in a sex chat room and the neon lights and school-girl uniforms recall the earlier work “Air Doll.” then, a later shot reaches heights of poetry when a bag of stolen oranges breaks apart and rolls in the streets.

The film won the Golden Palm at this year’s Cannes festival

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