Shoplifters [Manbiki kazoku]

Hirokazu Koreeda
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Hirokazu Koreeda
Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Kirin Kiki
Screening Date:
  • 9 Apr 2019
  • Categories:
    Crime, Drama

    New family drama from GFS favourite Koreeda. A Japanese family of small-time crooks take in a child they find on the street.

    Film Notes

    Shoplifters review – Kore-eda's audacious latest steals the heart

    Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is a complex, subtle, mysterious film that builds to the most extraordinary surprise ending, a twist-reveal worthy of psychological suspense noir. Yet the film is nothing like that generically. In fact, it is another of the intricate and nuanced family dramas in the classical Japanese style, of which Kore-eda has made himself a modern master. Its significant plot shifts happen unobtrusively, almost invisibly, except for those big, heart-wrenching revelations in its final section. I admired Shoplifters very much the first time I saw it at the Cannes film festival earlier this year (it was the winner of the Palme d’Or), while also feeling that his masterpiece was still his 2011 film I Wish, which has a pellucid, almost transcendental simplicity that Shoplifters didn’t quite have.

    I Wish is still my favourite Kore-eda film, but, on a second viewing of Shoplifters for its UK release, I can see how the comparison was ungenerous. This is a brilliant and audacious film, one of his very best, a study of family trauma and fear of poverty, reviving themes from earlier films such as Nobody Knows (2004) and Like Father Like Son (2013). For all its calm gentleness, the film, which is based on a news story, is devastatingly clear-sighted about modern Japan, its dysfunctions and hypocrisies. Watching this, I found myself thinking of the Pink Floyd lyric: “Quiet desperation is the English way …” It’s the Japanese way as well.

    Lily Franky (from Like Father Like Son) plays Osamu, a man with a shifty, wheedling grin. He is effectively the Fagin-like head of an extended family of roguish people all nursing secrets and lies. This household appears to be a middle-aged husband and wife, a teen daughter (or perhaps younger sister to the wife?), a young son and a grandma – all living together in a cramped apartment rented from a suspect landlord who has to keep changing the names on his properties’ title deeds as part of his tax dodge of “flipping” notional ownership.

    Theoretically a casual labourer on construction sites, Osamu actually makes his money selling the things he steals on daily shoplifting expeditions with his boy, Shota (Kairi Jyo). His wife, Noboyu (Sakura Andô), works in a hotel laundry and she, too, steals things left in clothes’ pockets all the time. The younger woman is Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) who brings in her share of the family finances by taking part in a soft-porn peep show in town. Hatsue is the grandma, who supports this family with her pension and who also guilt-trips the grownup children of her late husband’s second wife into giving her money, which she mostly pours into pachinko slot machines. Hatsue is wonderfully played by veteran Japanese character actress Kirin Kiki. It was her last performance; she died in September this year.

    One day, coming home on a freezing night after a hard day stealing from supermarkets, Osamu and Shota come across a little girl of perhaps six or seven shivering in the cold. Impulsively, Osamu decides to take the poor homeless little waif in for a few days. She appears to have marks on her body consistent with abuse and she wets the bed: another classic sign. Osamu’s wicked old heart is evidently melted, and he says that they will keep this little girl, Juri (Miyu Sasaki), and train her up in the ways of shoplifting, which include making odd little hand gestures to your thief-partner to indicate when and what you intend to steal. And this despite the TV news broadcasts about this little girl having gone missing.

    But it is not just a question of Osamu finding redemption in doing good, nor is it a simple irony in Osamu’s crook-family fulfilling the function of the social services and the caring state – the state that would disapprove of and indeed prosecute Osamu if it knew what he was up to. The point is that Osamu has, in his amoral way, stolen Juri in just the same way as he steals everything else. And it isn’t the first time he’s done it. His ambiguously benevolent abduction of Juri is part of a larger pattern of concealment in which the whole family unit is involved. Nothing is what it seems.

    It is a movie made up of delicate brushstrokes: details, moments, looks and smiles. Shoplifters is the story of a group of frightened, damaged people who have made common cause with each other, banded together under the convenience flag of family, under the radar of the law, making the best of things from day to day, until they realise they have been making the worst of things. A rich, satisfying and deeply intelligent film.

    Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 21st November 2018.

    'Shoplifters': Cannes Review.

    Hirokazu Kore-eda turns in a masterful ensemble piece about a ‘family’ living on its wits.

    What makes a family a family? That’s the question at the core of prolific auteur Hirozaku Kore-eda’s latest drama, which neatly wrong-foots the audience as it progresses. At first, it seems to be gearing up as a bittersweet fable, a contemporary Japanese update of It’s A Wonderful Life, but as the layers of the story about an alternative family living on its wits are peeled back, we are confronted with a steely critique of society’s (and humanity’s) failings – one not seen in the director’s work, with this level of clarity, since his quietly devastating 2004 work Nobody Knows.

    Some of the credit must go to the stellar casting and performances. It’s difficult to single out one of the six actors in this alternative family unit as it’s a true ensemble display. But Kore-eda’s deft command of tone is a key factor too in a film that may turn out to be one of his most exportable. Internationally, it could surpass even Like Father, Like Son – which tapped into a similar debate about the difference between bonds of blood and bonds of affection that are built patiently over months and years.

    Kore-eda’s economy of means comes through in the film’s captivating first five minutes, where we see father Osamu (Lily Franky) and Shota (Jyo), his son of perhaps 13, entering a supermarket and shoplifting like seasoned pros, each covering for the other. Returning home on this freezing night, they find a hungry little girl called Juri (Miyu Sasaki), all alone on the balcony of a ground-floor apartment, and invite her back to eat in the home they share with grandma Hatsue (veteran Kilin Kiki), Osamu’s younger street-smart partner Noboyu (Sakura Ando), and the latter’s apparent half-sister Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), who turns out to be a sex worker in a peep show club.

    Somehow, Juri ends up staying the night, and when they discover the bruises and scars on her arms, it seems only natural for this odd family to keep the adorable poppet on in a cluttered house where love, support and gluten cake (the little girl’s favourite food) are in plentiful supply, and nobody needs to go to school.

    The impulse to give a vulnerable young child a better life is so strong, and Yuri’s gradual embrace of her new brother, mother, father, aunt and granny so affecting, that we follow the lead of her adopted family and put aside, for the moment, the uneasy thought that she’s been kidnapped. Yuri even looks cute when inducted into the father-and-son shoplifting act – again, the audience’s misgivings are defrosted by the glow of Kore-eda’s warm comedic touch. By the end, we realise that we’ve been bamboozled into smiling most of the way through a heartbreaking film.

    The director’s work with DoP Ryuto Kondo and production designer Keiko Mitsumatsu is key to the film’s probing of intimacy, especially in the scenes set in the cluttered home of this family of chancers who all live on top of one another in a tiny old house where boxes are piled high and cables snake across the floor. The effect is to generate warmth by cramming people together and piling things up – but that sort of warmth goes quickly cold when the bodies separate and the towers of junk topple. An eclectic soundtrack by legendary Japanese rock musician and electronica pioneer Haroumi ‘Harry’ Hosono of Yellow Magic Orchestra plays intriguingly against the grain at many junctures – laying cool nightclub swing jazz, for example, over that initial shoplifting scene.

    LEE MARSHALL, Screen International, May 2018.

    The wonderful, improbable Palme d'Or triumph of Hirokazu Kore-eda's 'Shoplifters' at Cannes.

    On the last day of every Cannes Film Festival, word begins to leak out about which filmmakers from the competition have been called back for the closing-night awards ceremony. Many of us already knew, going into Saturday night's show, that Pawel Pawlikowski's "Cold War," Alice Rohrwacher's "Happy as Lazzaro," Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman," Nadine Labaki's "Capernaum" and Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Shoplifters" were certain to go home with awards, though which film would win what remained a mystery.

    Festival juries are notoriously difficult to predict, but several other critics shared my hunch that the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize, would go to either "Capernaum" or "BlacKkKlansman." Both were among the most enthusiastically touted films in the competition, and they offered the jury a chance to anoint either Labaki, a Lebanese director who had just launched herself into the big leagues, or Lee, a veteran American auteur who had famously (and angrily) lost the Palme nearly 30 years ago for "Do the Right Thing." Would they go with the striking new talent or the overdue veteran?

    In the end they chose the overdue veteran, though not the one some of us were expecting. In a development as startling as it was altogether marvelous, the jury president, Cate Blanchett, announced that the Palme d'Or had gone to Kore-eda's "Shoplifters," one of the quietest, loveliest and most emotionally enduring films in the competition.

    Did anyone see this coming? To judge by his genially shell-shocked reaction, Kore-eda himself certainly didn't.

    If anything, this beloved, prolific Japanese auteur had pulled off an upset as stealthy and light-fingered as his movie, which follows a makeshift family of supermarket thieves dwelling in cramped but loving quarters. A tender ensemble piece whose skillful performances dovetail into a perfectly symphonic whole, "Shoplifters" is a work of such emotional delicacy and formal modesty that you're barely prepared when the full force of what it's doing suddenly knocks you sideways.

    Like so much of the director's work, "Shoplifters" was so unobtrusive in its mastery that it seemed destined to be taken for granted, much like the director's four previous Palme contenders: "Distance" (2001), "Nobody Knows" (2004), "Like Father, Like Son" (2013) and "Our Little Sister" (2015). Mais oui, another lovely humanist marvel from Kore-eda. What else is new?

    There were other factors at play too. Being the first Cannes of the post-Harvey Weinstein era, the festival was dominated by discussions of gender parity and on numerous occasions became a bold platform for the #MeToo movement. Never was this more powerfully achieved than at the closing ceremony, when the actress-director Asia Argento took the stage and delivered a fearless speech excoriating Weinstein, the festival that had been "his hunting ground" and those in the theater who had yet to be called to account.

    It was the kind of stunning, searing moment that makes any segue to the business of awards seem awkward at best, tacky at worst. In other words, it was emblematic of an industry trying to celebrate its best and brightest with one hand and holds its sins up to the light with the other.

    Even before Argento left her indelible mark on the awards ceremony, many had theorized that Blanchett's jury — perhaps the most scrutinized and second-guessed jury in recent memory — would be particularly keen on giving the Palme to one of the three films in the competition directed by women. To do so would be a small step toward righting the representational balance of a festival that has only awarded the Palme to one female director, Jane Campion. (Her 1993 film, "The Piano," shared the prize with Chen Kaige's "Farewell, My Concubine.")

    That was one reason, though hardly the only one, that many were predicting Palme glory for Labaki's "Capernaum," her third feature after "Caramel" and "Where Do We Go Now?"

    A formally ragged, emotionally harrowing slab of Lebanese neorealism about a young boy who tries to sue his parents for bringing him into a world of unbearable cruelty and poverty, "Capernaum" sent a jolt of emotion through the festival when it premiered Thursday night. Already tipped as a strong contender for the foreign-language film Oscar (it will be released in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics), it offered the jury a popular, broadly accessible choice for the Palme.

    A subtler, more beguiling Palme possibility would have been "Happy as Lazzaro," a bittersweet fable from the Italian writer-director Rohrwacher (who won the festival's Grand Prix, or second prize, for her 2014 film, "The Wonders"). Following a young innocent whose selfless compassion throws the cruel machinery of capitalism into stark relief, the movie became an early critical favorite with its sly, mischievous fusion of magical realism and classic humanist storytelling.

    It was unfortunate that only three of the 21 films in competition were directed by women (the third was Eva Husson's generally reviled war drama, "Girls of the Sun"), which shows that more work needs to be done on the festival's part and, more importantly, on the part of the global film industry.

    Still, an impressive two of the three did end up winning awards Saturday night: "Capernaum" took the jury prize, effectively third place, while "Happy as Lazzaro" shared the screenplay award with "3 Faces," an ingenious fusion of mystery and social critique from the Iranian director Jafar Panahi (who wrote the script with Nader Saeivar).

    In singling out "Capernaum" and "Happy as Lazzaro" for awards, Blanchett's jury succeeded in recognizing two of the competition's more popular films while sending a clear message of support for female filmmakers. But looking elsewhere for the Palme sent a message, too, defusing any possible charges of tokenism and alerting the outside world that this jury would ultimately hew to its own path.

    Late into the ceremony, with only two films and two awards remaining, I assumed that path would lead to "BlacKkKlansman." The improbable true story of a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s, Lee's blisteringly funny, topically urgent drama, which ends with a fierce denunciation of white supremacy in Donald Trump's America, felt like it might well be this year's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the Palme in 2004.

    Giving top honors to one of the few American films in Cannes this year might even have helped the embattled festival restore its tarnished reputation as a dream destination for Hollywood blockbusters and awards-season hopefuls. Also, as a friend quipped: "Would youwant to be on the jury that gave Spike Lee second place?"

    But in the end, that's exactly what they did. Kore-eda won, and there was a sweetness to his victory that transcended even the simple pleasure of seeing a great filmmaker receive the highest honor in world cinema for one of his very best movies. It took discernment, for one, to see the shared virtues of "Shoplifters" and "Capernaum," both wrenching portraits of young children on the streets, but also to see that one had been dramatized with a more assured hand.

    A win for "Shoplifters" also partially acknowledged the unusual strength of the Asian-directed films in competition, which included "Ash Is Purest White," a gripping gangster melodrama from China's Jia Zhangke, and "Asako I & II," an emotionally astute romantic triangle from the Japanese newcomer Ryûsuke Hamaguchi.

    Both were shut out of the awards, and so, most disappointingly, was "Burning," a hypnotically unsettling psychological thriller from the South Korean writer-director Lee Chang-dong, which set an all-time record of 3.8 out of 4 stars on the Screen International critics' panel (in which I was a participant).

    Blanchett's jury made impeccably smart choices for director (Pawlikowski for "Cold War"), actor (Marcello Fonte for Matteo Garrone's "Dogman") and actress (Samal Yeslyamova for Sergei Dvortsevoy's "Ayka"), but they also clearly admired more films than they could accommodate. In addition to the tie for screenplay, they awarded a "Palme d'Or Spéciale" to the veteran filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, whose "The Image Book" was the most abrasive and adventurous thing in Cannes by several light years — another of his dense, synapse-frying meditations on the decay of language, imagery and civilization as we know it.

    Compared with that option, "Shoplifters" might seem in retrospect like an unusually safe, palatable choice. Amid the hype, rage and politically charged bluster that dominated this year's festival headlines — over #MeToo, over Trump, over Netflix, over selfies — perhaps what this jury needed was the catharsis of a good, collective cry.

    All well and good, but what makes Kore-eda's movie so quietly devastating, the work of a master in full command of his art, is that its emotional rewards stem from a deep engagement with the world rather than a retreat from it. It's the rare movie indeed that can unite a jury without even remotely smacking of compromise.

    Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, 21st May 2018.



    What you thought about Shoplifters [Manbiki kazoku]

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    43 (66%) 21 (32%) 1 (2%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 65
    Film Score (0-5): 4.65

    Collated Response Comments

    There were 132 members and guests at this screening. Your 65 responses producing a hit rate of 49%. The scores make Shoplifters the most popular film of the season so far, beating the 4.63 for Land of Mine.

     “I enjoyed this beautifully made film. The actors portrayed the complex characters with great skill. The children, so well directed, were totally believable. The themes of independence & interdependency, of morality, of family & of love all explored and challenged brilliantly and gently”. “I saw the film, just like the family in it, as a tight knot in an old section of rope. A knot that conceals the strands that bind together. A knot that is picked at, pulled at and eventually unravelled into an inevitable straight line of conformity...The film maker rightly concentrates on capturing a moment in time along this rope... Many more knots came before and many will come after. Knot bad at all”.

     “There is a point some way into this film about a caring and affectionate if amoral family, at this point somewhat resembling a Japanese 'Shameless', when one wonders what price they are going to have to pay for their feckless, charming and guilt free existence. The answer is that they will lose it all in a storm of moral questions for the audience after an incident caused by the one family member who suspects someone does actually own the things he's stealing. They surely represent what a family should be; supportive and loving but they have crossed a lot of conventional moral boundaries to get there. In the end the elders all remain as generous and unjudgmental as the authorities are not. A fascinating film beautifully played by all cast members but particularly Sakura Ando that invites a deep questioning of our relationships with our 'family' ...whatever that means to you. Interesting to go home and watch the last episode of 'Fleabag' afterwards”.

    “Moving performances all around. Captivating, intriguing pattern of events and an unravelling of a complex set of circumstances. Shame it had to end so bleakly!” “Brilliant acting throughout. A very moving film. I waited for a happy ending, but that’s just me. I loved it!” “Another astonishing film from Koreeda: a different take on what “Family” means – true bonds versus societal rules”.

    “An interesting take on what it means to be a real family”. “Extremely sensitively done. Very complex issues – what is family life that is meaningful? Love, care? What is right or wrong? Morals! But has put me off noodles for life!” “Interesting and thought –provoking about the nature of relationships, family and caring”. “Wonderful acting. Very moving”. “Another excellent Koreeda film. Beautifully acted and tenderly told. The abrupt unravelling of the unconventional but seemingly closely knit "family" was a real surprise, having not read the notes beforehand! Couldn't help but feel sad for the young children, particularly Lin/Yuri, who was clearly far more loved by the couple than her real parents”. 

    “Hirokazu Koreeda has a unique talent of producing films about the society in Japan in the 21st century which was exemplified in the Shoplifters. Well-chosen scenery settings for this film, although limited, projected the topic of the film.  Co-ordinating different age groups, in particular the young girl, can be a challenge for a Film Director, but the acting talent of the young girl was very natural, blending with all the other talented Cast. It was so surreal to watch this film like looking through a window pane of a unusual family unit living in squalid conditions..  The family unit all struggling to meet their own needs within a poor living environment concur to take the young girl under their wing. The young girl was ‘kidnapped’ from the back porch while her parents were out of the house but appears to be so much more contented, cared for and loved in a poor environment with strangers than with her neglecting parents. Why was there a low key search to look for the girl? The teenage boy, Shota was kidnapped when he was a very young boy from a Nissan truck and yet it appeared no search was made for him as a missing person. How can two young children that go missing, fall under the radar so easily and not be found. It prompts me to ask how many children do go missing in the world and are never found. Is it not time to overhaul the Social Services system world-wide with a better strategy than is in place today? Koreeda stressing how inadequate the Social Services in Japan is, yet it is a worldwide problem due to lack of funding and other resources. Koreeda has highlighted this problem emphatically”.

     “Japanese films are about stillness – life from stillness. This was no exception. I loved it, especially the interiors”. “What a beautiful film. Not a real family, but in some ways nicer and more caring than blood relatives”.

     “Moving, authentic, beautifully shot and acted and a powerful story as well”. “So natural”. “Heartbreaker”.  “Absorbing, penetrating observation of the cast; this one will linger. Outstanding all round!” “What a delight despite the heavy subject!” “Such a good study of relationships and what really matters within them”. “A lovely film. A very different side to Japanese life we normally see or hear about”. “Insightful, very human, endearing”. “Lovely film”. “Thought provoking. A beautifully made film”. “Complex but compelling – what is family?”

    “Lovely contrast of a family who are not much related but got on well with a real family who hurt and abuse each other. Great performances by the children especially”. “Fascinating to watch, great cinematography. Each character was so interesting. Loved Grandma and the two young children – seems all it takes to make a family is love”. “Very moving. Superb acting, especially the children. However I expected a happier ending!” “Absolutely amazing, moving, thought provoking ….and depressing”.

    “Very moving and subtle”. “Made one reflect on what makes a family and strong relationships”. “Heart-breaking. Ending was a bit of a let-down with the little girl not being rescued”. “Slow moving and went on too long…but well-acted”. “What a convoluted web. Quite disturbing. Amazing acting by the children”. “Very moving but a sad ending – they were all so happy together. Rather slow and long”. “Fascinating and excellent acting”. “Enjoyed this film very much. Shocking to watch the family unravel. Sad for the children”. “Another good Japanese film. Tangled plot with a rather sad outcome”. “All round superb acting. Clever depiction of family relationships, real and imagined!” “Great acting but I find all Japanese films very slow moving”. “Too long drawn out. Difficult to follow. Subtitles in some parts unreadable”

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