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Shoplifters (2018) • Movie
Kore-eda At His
Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com
Understated yet ultimately deeply affecting, Shoplifters
adds another powerful chapter to director Hirokazu Koreeda's richly humanistic
filmography. --Rotton Tomatoes
Kore-eda is at
his best when he's suppressing his sentimentality, not when he's indulging it,
but like his characters, fans of this inspired filmmaker must learn to take the
good with the bad. --Chicago Reader
Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winning “Shoplifters” opens with a perfectly calibrated
scene that sets the table for what’s to come. A man and a boy are in a store.
They keep making eye contact, moving slowly through the aisles.
They clearly have a level
of non-verbal communication that feels like a ritual. They’ve done this before.
They will do this again. And doing this brings them somewhat closer to each
other, even if it’s illegal. Of course, what they’re doing
is shoplifting, but we instantly get the feeling that they’re doing it to
survive. They’re getting food for their family, not taking trinkets from a fancy
On the way home that night, just after commenting on how
it's too cold to go back and get some forgotten shampoo, the man and boy see a
girl on a balcony. We get the impression they’ve seen her before. Despite their
obvious need, the man offers the girl a croquette, and she ends up coming home
with them. We learn that the man is named Osamu (Lily Franky) and the boy is named
Shota (Jyo Kairi).
At home, there are other mouths to feed.
We meet the mother named
Sakura), another woman named Aki (Matsuoka Mayu) and a grandmother (Kiki Kilin). And now there’s a new mouth with a
girl named Juri. When Osamu and
Nobuyo go to take the girl back that night, they hear a violent
scuffle between parents who likely haven’t even noticed their daughter is gone.
Nobuyo just holds Juri a little tighter and we
know they’re not giving her back.
Osamu justify their action by saying it’s not a kidnapping if
you don’t ask for a ransom. It’s similar logic to how Osamu
justifies stealing to Shota—telling him it’s OK if it’s not
someone else’s property and items in a store don’t belong to anyone yet. It’s OK
as long as the store doesn’t go bankrupt.
“Shoplifters” is full
of these gray areas. What exactly does family mean? Does giving birth to someone
automatically make you a mother? Kore-eda
has confronted the definition of family before in films like “Like
Father, Like Son” and “Nobody
Knows,” but this is one of his most nuanced, layered examinations
of the concept. Nobuyo and Osamu shelter,
feed, dress, and care for Juri more than her biological parents
and yet they are not her "family."
For the bulk of
works in a beautiful register that feels both detailed and genuine at the same
time. We get to know these characters so deeply, watching them all at their
jobs. Osamu is a day laborer until he gets into an accident.
Nobuyo works a laundry shift, from which she takes trinkets
left in clothes. Aki is a “companion,” someone
who does sex shows but longs for a deeper connection with one of her clients.
There are hints of greater secrets and a more complex past than you might first
think in the Shibatas, but there are also numerous scenes of
And then Kore-eda drops the floor out from under
the Shibatas, revealing there are a lot of things we don’t know
about this makeshift family. The final half-hour of “Shoplifters” is some of the most emotional,
powerful filmmaking of the year, and it’s thanks to how delicately Kore-eda
has drawn these characters over the 90 preceding minutes. They feel as
three-dimensional as any this year, thanks to Kore-eda’s
humanist storytelling but also his expert direction of a truly amazing cast.
Lily Franky is
fantastic, but Ando Sakura is the
stand-out—the way she conveys her character’s deep well of conflicted emotions
in the final scenes is breathtaking. It’s one of the best performances of the
year, a stand-out in an incredibly pure ensemble.
In many ways,
“Shoplifters” feels like a natural
extension of themes that Kore-eda
has been exploring his entire career regarding family, inequity, and the unseen
residents of a crowded city like Tokyo.
With this movie especially, his characters and their predicament
are not merely mouthpieces for the issues that interest him but fully-realized
people who feel like they existed before the film started and will go on after
The final shots of "Shoplifters" haunt me—two kids, one looking back
and one looking out, both changed forever.
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