A man and a boy are watching each other from opposite sides of the supermarket. They move slowly between shelves and with the non-verbal language they are confirming each other that they are ready for action. The man directs his steps towards the register, while the boy raises his hands in the eye height and begins to make “magical” movements with his fingers and palms. While a man has is having an innocent conversation with a salesman, asking for help, the boy packs his backpack with stuff from the shelves and then leaves the store.
A few minutes later, he meets again with a man, Osama. who starts looking at what his stepson Shota managed to steal from the store. Nothing overly valuable, basic necessities for home, mostly food. Osama notices that they forgot to steal the shampoo. Still, it does not worry him, obviously, he and Shota have been doing this for some time and will easily get shampoo – already next day when they are performing their “magic” in another supermarket in Tokyo.
Hirokazu Kore-eda in the opening scene of the film Shoplifters presents us with the emotional and toxic dynamics of an unusual family on the brink of poverty ready to do everything for survival. For Kore-eda, this is far from foreign, it is the thirteenth feature film in his opus, in which through the depictions of unusual family relations he dissects and depicts the development of the Japanese society.
Families without blood connections
On the way home on a cold night, Osama and Shota notice a three-year-old girl, Yuri, abandoned in her apartment. The girl is clearly cold and hungry and after Osamu offers croquet, the duo takes her home to feed and warm her, although at home they already have enough mouths to feed and warm up. In an old ruined house other than the two thieves live Nobuyo, Osama’s wife, a girl named Aki and her grandmother. Aware of their difficult situation, they decide that they can’t keep Yuri after dinner. Osama gets the task of returning the girl to her apartment, but after hearing all the noise and breaking from the apartment from which he alienated the girl, Osama decides that his unconventional poor family is a much safer place for Yuri.
Kore-eda focuses his film on a group of these six characters, gradually during the first ninety minutes of the film discovering who they are and how they found themselves in the current situation. Each of them, harmoniously with their generation and possibilities, try to contribute financially to the group and, of course, most of the jobs they engage in are far from moral. However, Kore-eda does not ask the viewers to judge them, but on the contrary – he gives us more than enough reasons to stand on their side and hopefully some happy ending where these characters will be able to get out of trouble and live a better life after everything they’ve been through.
Sweet and grim lives of morally questionable
Shoplifters is a film that penetrates much deeper into the lives of these characters, and the difficult financial situation is just a superficial narrative line that gathers them. Thus, in the background of the film, we learn how and why Osama and Nobuyo are married, what happened to the real family that the girl Aki had and from where the grandmother got ruined house where they live. Kore-eda with his screenplay deeply plunges into each of his characters and draws out their lust, passions and traumas, gradually introducing viewers into the essence of the life of these characters and the true problems, which are far from the finer exposure to immorality.
In addition to the strong development of the story, the director reflects personal traumas and generational diversity, each of its characters through carefully selected scenography. So the scenes with Shota and Juri are always placed in dynamic environments open to change, Aki is placed in the neon glamour of the youthful life, Osama and Nobuyo in the drab from which they try to penetrate the desires to get away from nature while the grandmother itself is always on the verge Nature.
Return to causal reality
However, where Shoplifters especially manages to shine is in the last 30 minutes of the film. While the first hour and a half of the film was a journey through the sweet and gloomy lives of this extraordinary family, from their traumas to their moments of common happiness (such as the day in which Osama and Nobuyo finally had an empty house, or day in which “family” together goes to the beach) the finale of the film brings us back to a reality where every immoral action carries a legal reaction. Kore-eda takes away the pink glasses from his viewers so that everything we see in the first two acts of the film in the finals is relentlessly questioned.
Shoplifters is a very carefully arranged family drama, nominated for this year’s Oscar in the category of Best foreign film. It is very difficult to predict the chances of Kore-eda winning this award, because unlike the other categories in which the nominations were mediating, for the best foreign film the competition adorns large and significant films from the Venice and Cannes festivals. Shoplifters may have proved once before the films Cold War and Capernaum and won Palme d’or. However, for AMPAS prize film will have to surpass huge directorial names such as Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Life of Others).