Crime drama, not rated, in Japanese with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 4 chiles
“If it’s in a store, it doesn’t belong to anyone yet,” philosophizes Osamu (Lily Franky), the patriarch of the Shibatas, a Tokyo family scraping out an existence on the margins of society. Their day jobs include working in construction as well as in a commercial laundry and a sex shop peep show. For the balance of life’s necessities, they turn to shoplifting.
We meet Osamu along with the preteen Shota (Kairi Jyo) as they execute a well-grooved shoplifting run on a local grocery store. They seem to have a good father-son relationship, although there’s a curious bit of business where Osamu coaxes the boy to call him Dad and Shota can’t bring himself to do it. But less ambiguous is the next addition to the family. On their way home through the icy slums, Osamu and Shota hear a child crying, and discover five-year-old Juri (Miyu Sasaki) alone and shivering outside her locked house. On impulse, they scoop her up and bring her home with the groceries.
So begins Shoplifters, the Palme d’Or-winning film from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda. At home we meet the rest of the family, the mother Nobuyu (Sakura Andô), and Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), Nobuyu’s younger sister. Presiding and grumbling over the whole ménage is Grandma Hatsue (Kore-eda regular Kirin Kiki, who died in September), whose pension seems to be the family’s safety net.
The plan is just to warm Juri up and bring her back to her home, but when they notice scars on her body, then go back to her house and overhear her mother yelling, “I never wanted her,” they decide to keep the kid. They give her a new haircut and a new name (Lin), and even when the missing child story breaks on the news, they — and we — feel she’s better off where she is. Soon Shota is taking her out and showing her the shoplifting ropes.
But just when you’re warming yourself at the glow of good feelings, off-kilter though they may be, Kore-eda starts pulling back curtains and revealing multiple layers of character and backstory. If at first the revelations seem minor, they keep on coming, building from unsettling to devastating. Despite its obvious culture of criminality, this odd patchwork family is appealing. The actors, from the little girl to the grandma, project a warmth and humanity that give the seismic revelations of the movie’s endgame a touching and lingering resonance.