Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Shoplifters

Reviews - Shoplifters


Reviewed By Stephen Pye

Hirokazu Kore-eda is the pre-eminent Japanese film director at the present moment and in time may be seen as one of its greatest. His latest offering 'Shoplifters' was shown at the Alhambra on Sunday evening: at the same time the film was being reviewed by the national press following its general release after winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year. The reviews are, without exception, ecstatic. You may still have a chance to watch the film, so this review will not contain spoilers! If you do get to see it you will witness one of the world's greatest practitioners of the art of portraying the family. The family unit is a very important aspect of Japanese society, and always has been. This film reminded me in part of Yashujiro Ozu's (1956) amazing film 'Tokyo Story' which follows an aging couple as they journey from the countryside to visit their two children who live in the capital and have very busy lives and important occupations. The elderly couple see this as a journey of a lifetime and are enthralled at the prospect of the visit. The film then slowly reveals that their children see their parents visit as a family duty which they are not enamoured by, and with deep sadness their parents become aware of this. So "families" are never quite what they seem on the surface and are more often than not conflicted in some way.

This notion of the "normal" family is completely subverted in Kore-eda's brilliant new film. We are drawn in to the life of a family living in cramped conditions in a poor part of Tokyo. The family barely subsist and part of their income is derived from shoplifting. Japan prides itself on being a very safe society when it comes to the safety of people's possessions, so this film, which is a box-office hit there, must be profoundly shocking. The film though is deeply tender and affecting and exhibits one of Kore-eda's greatest talents, the direction of children. The two central characters are both children under the age of ten (Sasaki and Jyo) and their performances are beautifully poised and naturalistic, and in the end quite heart-breaking.

No spoiler then, but the family here is not what it seems at all, and in the films dramatic denouement all is revealed; and yet deep, abiding and unsentimental love remain the hallmark. The film challenges us then in terms of how we perceive the family unit. Mostly families are fissiparous to some degree; and in our increasingly atomised society, we would do well to identify how our understanding of family interacts with society as a whole. 'Shoplifters' does this, and, unlike our human institutions, is flawless.

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