Rated: 15 Cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki Written and Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda Length: 121 minutes
“Sometimes it’s better to choose your own family,” is the phrase uttered by Nobuyo Shibata, the father figure of the tight-knit family in “Shoplifters,” and it is perhaps the quote that truly summarises the message and direction of the film. Created by Hirokazu Koreeda, this 2018 release tells the story of a struggling family who take in a young girl named Yuri, after she is left out in the cold by her abusive parents.
“Shoplifters” presents a conflict in a way that encompasses the entire film. Though most explicit in the dialogue, the family’s uncertainty of whether they are morally right to take a young girl away from her parents and save her from harm is argued throughout not only the writing, but the cinematography and performances also. Thematically, the opening scenes of the film are dark and cold, as re-iterated by the characters themselves, as they wrap up to avoid the biting February months. It is here where we first encounter Yuri, the catalyst for later events in the story. This young girl is first seen on an isolated balcony, not fully visible to the father and son duo of Nobuyo and Shota. After they take her in and the story progresses, she begins to connect to this seemingly struggling but happy family. She is no longer Yuri, but sister and daughter to those around her. As the colour scheme of the film begins to lighten and more scenes are featured in daylight, the environment that the family find themselves in appears ever-comforting. The beauty found in such warmness can’t help but be experienced by the viewer also, and the family portrayed on-screen begins to feel more and more like one that you, yourself are a part of. We are shown that perhaps it is best if you choose your family.
I believe that the immersion of the film is where director Hirokazu Koreeda excels. The emphasis on the joy found in family and the connections that are made by Yuri, allow us to forget the values that support their situation. Not only is Yuri not one of Shibata’s own children, but the reason the family make it month-to-month is because of Nobuyo and Shota’s successful shoplifting. The opening scene of the film is a clear portrayal of how lucratively this father and son are able to steal from a large supermarket. In this scene however, Koreeda makes one of his most interesting stylistic choices. It becomes clear that when they shoplift, the events the audience observe are from the perspective of the young boy, Shota. The playful way that his father signals to him, the camera that rests just behind his shoulders and the delicate way that he drops his stolen goods into his rucksack all add to the idea that stealing is second nature to him. Further reasons for doubt are presented to the viewer when later, Shota tells Yuri that “school is only for children who can’t learn at home.” Furthermore, it appears to be without question that Yuri begins accompanying the father and son when they go shoplifting, and it is celebrated by the family when they are successful. Despite appearing as a loving home, we can’t help but wonder whether choosing your own family could be worse than believing in the ones we have.
I believe that an aspect which truly makes this film believable is the performances, and how these characters interact with one another. Many of the scenes take place in the family’s home, and despite being a small house for the six of them, the family shows their compassion between one another in the way that they seamlessly interact, despite their often being multiple conversations taking place, further emphasising the care that each character has for one another. As well as this, the performances by Shota (Jyo Kairi) and Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) are entirely immersive. Their characters articulate themselves in a way that seems far too old for their age, as if weighed down by the secrets that the family hides from those around them.
“Shoplifters” is a brilliant study into the morality of family and love, as well as the desperation that accompanies poverty. Hirokazu Koreeda clearly understood the message he wished to convey when creating this film, and the overall story can truly only be told by the film itself.