Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Runtime: 2h 1mins | Drama
In Tokyo, a family of five stricken by poverty manage to get by with stealing from a range of local shops. Whilst returning home one night, Osamu and his son find a young girl playing outside her home, and decide to take her in after presuming abuse and neglect.
With his thirteenth feature film, director Hirokazu Kore-eda was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, giving it a pretty high level of expectation going in, and it is fair to say it exceeds any expectations. Kore-eda is known for wonderfully naturalistic and real stories, almost as if a social realism for Japan. Some have even drawn comparisons between Shoplifters and the style of Ken Loach (himself winning the Palme d’Or in 2016 for I, Daniel Blake). However talented Loach may be, there is a certain scope that Kore-eda reaches in this most recent feature that social realism doesn’t always seem to capture.
Although a construction worker by trade, Osamu steals to either sell or keep food on the table for his wife, Nobuyo, who brings in some money by working for a laundry service. Their relationship to the younger Aki isn’t fully explained from the start, which is one of the most exceptional aspects of the film. It’s careful with exposition, and instead of giving us exactly how the relationships work from the start, there is time for the audience to figure it out over the first act and a half. Even through the subtitles the dialogue is authentic, and as a result it gives us a real look into a part of Japanese culture that many don’t see.
The theme of careful consideration continues into other areas of Kore-eda’s direction. Many sequences are unbroken or very lightly edited, allowing the characters to just flow in their environment. Many of these shots have little movement as well, so the blocking and acting really needs to be high quality to delivery – and it does with ease.
There are a few unexpected twists and turns towards the end, and there’s the occasional point in which you might think it will end, but doesn’t. This isn’t to be mistaken for a over long film, instead it finds a way to keep you guessing and intrigued every time a new element evolves. This acts a wonderful addition to a decorated career by Kore-eda, potentially reaching the height of his talent.