Movie ReviewsShoplifters – An Empathetic Family Drama

Keith NoakesDecember 22, 2018

They will steal your heart.

Synopsis: After one of their shoplifting sessions, Osamu and his son come across a little girl in the freezing cold. At first reluctant to shelter the girl, Osamu’s wife agrees to take care of her after learning of the hardships she faces. 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… (Mongrel Media)

Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, and Mayu Matsuoka

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: PG (Canada)/R (United States)

Running Time: 121mins


Fresh off winning the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters is now available for the rest of us. This Japanese film is about family and the connection we have with one another. The Shibata family was a makeshift family of misfits facing many hardships while living on the outskirts of Japan. To make ends meet, the family would resort to questionable practices but despite all of that, they still seemed happy. It’s kind of amazing how they were able to get away with what they did for as long as they have, however, this of course was not going to last forever.

There was just something about seeing this family in their element. They were just so compelling to watch. Perhaps what the film does the best was its authentic depiction of an incredibly flawed family. Most of them may not have been related but that’s what they were, a family. Osamu (Franky) and Nobuyo Shibata (Andô) were a couple who lived with Nobuyo’s younger sister Aki (Matsuoka) and a young boy named Shota (Jyo Kairi), who Osamu found along the way, in a small house owned by an elderly widow named Hatsue (Kirin Kiki). Though all five of them were very close, they dynamic would be challenged once an extremely young and seemingly abandoned girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) came into their lives.

From there, their lives would begin to unravel. The circumstances around Yuri’s abandonment were suspicious as she appeared to have been abused. Meanwhile, the equally young Shota was taught at a young age how to steal (some may argue that this was also a form of abuse) and as far as he was concerned, the cycle was beginning once again with Yuri. This new position afforded Shota some new perspective about his own life and as far as he was concerned, he did not want Yuri to relive the same life he had while second-guessing his own life when faced with the consequences of his family’s actions. With Osamu and Nobuyo’s seemingly perfect life was falling apart, the truth began to surface and it wasn’t necessarily pleasant. Although this revelation may be a gut-punch for some, it took some time to get there and the path there may be a little too subtle therefore not be as impactful.

Missed landing aside, the film is simply beautiful to watch thanks to some excellent cinematography using a variety of different shots. The subject matter may be grim but in keeping things grounded, it avoids over sentimentality. Ultimately, the film would not have worked if not for the performances across the board and the amazing script that treated its characters with grace. Everyone was excellent here as their great chemistry sold the family dynamic. While Franky and Andô shined as Osamu and Nobuyo respectively, Matsuoka was good as Aki, and Kiki had some fun lines as Hatsue, Kairi and Sasaki as Shota and Yuri were the most compelling. They had the most to do and definitely carried the film.

Overall, this was a beautiful drama about a makeshift family of misfits trying to make the best out of a terrible situation. It excels in its simplicity and genuineness but takes a little too long to get going and may be a little too subtle for some. Once it does, it doesn’t quite hit the landing. However, the amazing script and excellent performances make you care for and empathize with these characters while keeping you hooked throughout.

Score: 9/10

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