(Release Info London schedule; November 19th, 2018, Curzon Bloomsbury, 21:00)
Conflicting emotions and family ties lie at the heart of an exquisite drama. Shibata Osamu (Lily Franky) is the head of an impoverished family of thieves and fraudsters. Three generations are cramped into a dilapidated house stuck between anonymous apartment blocks. His wife, Naboyo (Ando Sakura), works in a laundry and steals whatever she can from clothes pockets. Young son Shota (Jyo Kairi) accompanies dad on shoplifting expeditions. Teenage daughter Aki (Matsuoka Mayu) works behind a mirror in a sleazy peep-show joint. Grandma Hatsue (Kiki Kiliu) is addicted to pachinko gambling machies. After one of their shoplifting sessions, Osamu and his son come across a little girl in the freezing cold. Yuri (Sasuki Miyu) is a neglected and frightened 4-year-old girl rescued from the street and informally adopted by the family. At first reluctant to shelter the girl, Osamu’s wife agrees to take care of her after learning of the hardships she faces. Everyone's happy, especially Yuri, but she's still a missing person and someone else's daughter. When authorities eventually come calling, Yuri's given a disguise and a new name, but this is far from the end of the matter. Although the family is poor, barely making enough money to survive through petty crime, they seem to live happily together until an unforeseen incident reveals hidden secrets, testing the bonds that unite them. When the young son is arrested, secrets are exposed that upend their tenuous, below-the-radar existence and test their quietly radical belief that it's love-not blood-that defines a family.
This is a family of misfits living in the margins of contemporary Tokyo. Making a life for themselves by shoplifting from local grocery stores and foraging food where they can, the film’s central family find their impoverished but tranquil life threatened when they take a young girl under their wing, and her abusive parents fight back for custody. On the margins of Tokyo, a dysfunctional band of outsiders are united by fierce loyalty, a penchant for petty theft and playful grifting. It's about incidents of families illegally receiving the pensions of parents who had already died years ago. The film depicts a family from a different angle. It's the story of what family means, a story about a man trying to be a father, and furthermore, a coming-of-age story of a boy. The impoverished family in the film reminds us of "Nobody Knows".
"Shoplifters" might be similar to "Nobody Knows" in the sense that this film also explores closely the sort of punished families we regularly see in news reports. The film describes a poor family, or the lower levels of the social. The family in the film ended up gathering in that house not to collapse there. Shine a light on such a family from a different angle. The later scenes showing the family being split up are heartbreaking. We haven't seen such anger at social injustice shown so nakedly in Koreda's recent films. Maybe not since "Nobody Knows". The core emotion might have been anger. Since "Still Walking", Koreda dugs desperately deeper and more narrowly into the motif of personal things and after finishing "After The Storm", he puts the end to this approach of not broadening his vision to society, of minimizing as much as possible. The result is a kind of fable; poetry within reality. The music captures the fantasy side of the story.
Only the crimes tied us together. In Japan, crimes like pension frauds and parents making their children shoplift are criticized severely. Of course, these criminals should be criticized but why people get so angry over such minor infractions even though there are many lawbreakers out there committing far more serious crimes without condemnation. Especially after the 2011 earthquakes, we didn't feel comfortable with people saying repeatedly that a family bond is important. The film explores it by depicting a family linked by crime. The theme of this bond is central and other elements are added to it. The film highlights sharp social and economic divisions in contemporary Japan while asking the question of what makes a family.