Thursday, December 20, 2018

film review: Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku)

Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Written by: Hirokazu Kore-eda

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

In ultra-conformist Japan, one family rebels against society by stealing anywhere from grocery shops to the backseats of cars. On the outskirts of Tokyo, Osamu (Lily Franky) and his son Shota (Kairi Jyo) shoplift. Meanwhile, his wife (Sakura Ando), an aunt (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandma (the late Kilin Kiki) chip in by scamming and performing in private peep-shows. Their lives turn one night when Osamu and Shota come upon a tiny girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) in the cold. They take her into their family and groom her to be a shoplifter.


Shoplifters is an affectionate and unapologetic sketch of a felonious family. The former quality is the film's strength, while the latter is its weakness. This band of thieves look out for each other as they share a crowded home. The film's fly-on-the-wall approach captures many intimate moments, like the grown-ups making love one rainy afternoon, or the father reassuring his young son that it's okay to like women's breasts after he catches him staring at a woman's curves on the beach. Life is sunny and good. These family members excude a warmth and support not found in the so-called "normal" families glimpsed in the movie, namely the missing girl's.
However, the family is bound by criminality, where the father teaches the youngsters that stealing is fine and school is for suckers. Nobody suffers any guilt for anything. Nobody cares about the future.

Writer-director Kore-eda seems to endorse this amoral family and perhaps idealizes it. I think I understand why. Japanese society is one of the most rigid on Earth, where "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down," goes the old saying. His band of thieves are thumbing their noses at this uptight conformity, but is this family truly admirable?

Kore-eda's fairy tale contrasts with the cinematic style of Shoplifters, which is social realism: shot in quasi-documentary verite-fashion with zero music on the soundtrack to cue the emotions. Too often, the film comes off as cold, detached and downright slow.

Shoplifters won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes last spring, and represents Japan in the 2019 Academy Awards. True, this drama boasts fine performances, filmmaking craft, and the storyteller's love for his chracters. But the message of Shoplifters is troubling and, in my mind, indefensible.

Shoplifters opens Dec. 21

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