We are very pleased to be showing this film so soon after it has left the cinemas. It is an outstanding film, which won the Cannes Festival Palme D’Or and has Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Best Foreign Language Film. It came 12th in the Guardian’s top 50 films of 2018.
Over the course of his career, Hirokazu Kore-eda, the director, has returned compulsively to the subject of the family and the ways in which it can be dismantled and reassembled. In I Wish (2011), brothers torn apart by parental separation dream of being reunited through the supposedly magical power of bullet trains passing at high speed. An ancient tale of babies swapped at birth was given a modern twist in Like Father, Like Son (2013), which balanced themes of nature and nurture against a melancholy paean to paternity. And in the lovely Our Little Sister, (2015), three twenty-something siblings meet their 14-year-old half-sister when their estranged father dies.
Family is once again at the heart of the matter in Shoplifters. Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) are a couple living a hand-to-mouth existence in a poverty-stricken corner of Tokyo. Both have jobs, working in construction and laundry respectively. But their income is supplemented by petty pilfering, in which Osamu has made young Shota (Kairi Jyo) his apprentice and accomplice. Together they trawl the local shops and supermarkets, one causing a distraction as the other spirits away food or perhaps shampoo. There’s a little finger-rolling gesture that Shota performs before lifting an item, and later we will see this gesture repeated by the young neighbourhood girl, Juri (Miyu Sasaki), upon whom Osamu seems to take pity one evening. She is cold, hungry and bruised. So Osamu takes her to his ramshackle home, where she is tentatively welcomed by the extended family which, along with Shota and Nobuyo, includes elderly Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) and a young woman, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka).
Kore-eda has said that Shoplifters started life as a tagline (“Only the crimes tied us together”), and has described the core themes of the film as marking a return to the wider sociopolitical concerns of 2004’s Nobody Knows, which was inspired by a real-life case of child abandonment. Certainly, Shoplifterspresents a starkly realistic depiction of marginalised lives – of characters pushed beyond boundaries financial, legal and interpersonal. There’s an echo, too, of Like Father, Like Son (which also featured Lily Franky), with changeling allegiances lying at the heart of Osamu’s relationship with Shota.
Yet behind such down-to-earth concerns there’s a fable-like element at work, emphasised by Ryûto Kondô’s glowing cinematography, which tames the sharper edges of the drama. In Kore-eda’s hands it becomes something closer to a fairytale by the Brothers Grimm, gently unravelling the knotty puzzle of a family in which nothing is quite what it seems.
‘I found her,’ Nobuyo says of the child, ‘It was someone else who threw her away.’ There’s something in that melancholic phrase that perfectly encapsulates the tone of Shoplifters, a film that exists in that strange netherworld between crime drama and family story. It’s an eerily moving piece, masterfully blurring the divide between the unforgivable and understandable, finding tenderness in the bleakest and most traumatic of circumstances.
Venue: William Loveless Hall