Last year Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda released Shoplifters, a phenomenal and acclaimed look at what it means to be a family.
Admittedly, I saw the film a bit late in its theatrical run. Being a student in a small Cornish town, it’s difficult to see most foreign (or even indie) releases on the big screen. So, when I saw that Shoplifters was playing for only a single screening, I bought tickets as soon as I could. Without ever seeing a trailer, or even knowing the plot, all I had to go on was the gorgeous poster and my friend’s high recommendation. And boy, was I glad I went, as the film quickly shot-up my list of the best films of 2018.
The film tells the story of a poor Japanese family that relies on shoplifting to get by. However, after taking a young girl from her abusive parents, the dark realities of their lives slowly begin to be revealed.
Below are four reasons why I think you should see it too:
No. 1: THE PERFORMANCES
In a film about family, an element that is vital to get right is the chemistry and connection the actors have with one another, and the cast of Shoplifters are perfect together. From the adults to the kids, there isn’t a single bad performance on screen.
Lily Franky and Sakura Andô are obvious standouts, whose playfulness as Osamu & Nobuyo Shibata – a poor couple wanting nothing more than to love each other and their family – is fantastic to watch. They play off one another effortlessly, portraying a realistic depiction of a long-term relationship with all the joy and sadness that comes with it.
Honestly, I could watch Franky play Osamu all day and never get bored. Every one of his emotions felt so real, especially around Shota, the young boy played by Jyo Kairi. For his first feature film performance, Kairi’s range of facial emotion and his ability carry so much emotional weight in certain scenes is exceptional. Additionally, Miyu Sasaki as the quiet and shy Yuri Hojo (also her first feature film performance) approaches the character with a maturity that is surprising from a person of her age. Both Kairi and Sasaki fade into their roles without being wooden or forced.
No. 2: IT WON THE PALME D’OR
While Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War may have overshadowed Shoplifters very well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Shoplifters earned an award that is arguably equally (or even more) significant. That’s right, the Palme d’Or.
Every year, Cannes is home to the world’s biggest international film festival, where some of the biggest names in cinema premiere their latest efforts. The competition is always tough, with a vast range of new and exciting films being chosen for entry, and last year Shoplifters took home the biggest prize. Against Pawlikowski’s Cold War, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Chang-dong Lee’s Burning just to name a few, Cannes 2018 had its share of great films up for competition, but it’s no surprise Shoplifters won the gold.
Even if you don’t trust me, trust the jury from that year’s festival – how can you disagree with Cate Blanchett?
No. 3: THE MORAL AMBIGUITY
One of the many reasons Shoplifters stuck with me long after I left the theater was how conflicted it made me feel about the morals of the central characters, particularly Osamu and Nobuyo.
From the very beginning, we see Osamu and Shota stealing from a store with near dance-like choreography. Obviously, we know that shoplifting is wrong, but due to the lighthearted depiction of the theft as well as the soon-after reveal of the families poverty, it poses the question of whether what they are doing is really wrong. Are there actions acceptable due to the family’s need to steal in order to survive?
However, this theme is only secondary to the main moral struggle throughout the film: the kidnapping of Yuri. Found sitting out on the porch in the middle of the night, Osamu takes Yuri home to his family to make sure she is safe after overhearing a violent argument from her parents. This created the dilemma of, is taking the child for her own protection a morally wrong thing to do?
Kore-eda handles these themes and dilemmas with enough ambiguity for you, as the viewer, to decide what is wrong and what isn’t while showing both sides of the argument.
No. 4: THE CINEMATOGRAPHY
If an outstanding cast, a prestigious film award and thought-provoking morals weren’t enough to convince you to see Shoplifters maybe it’s cinematography will. After all, who doesn’t love looking at pretty visuals?
Director of photography, Ryûto Kondô, made sure that Shoplifters was one of the nicest looking films to come out of 2018. Kondô was able to perfectly capture the moods of each scene with memorable shots that stuck with me long after I left the screening. I even set one shot in particular as my laptop background! Outside of just creating beautiful looking images, Kondô perfectly encapsulates the feel of every location, from the warm hues inside the family’s home to the cold nature of locations in the second half.
Shoplifters is a film that is able to effortlessly make you connect with these characters in both creative and beautiful ways.