Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s extraordinary and brilliant new film about a disparate Japanese makeshift family may start in a gentle and slightly confusing manner, but by the time the final credits role you will be totally engrossed in the movie that won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes last summer.
The family live crammed into a small dilapidated shanty house that its overlooked by apartment buildings that are transforming the rundown area. Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and his young son Shota (Jyo Kairi), have been out shoplifting at a grocery store and are returning home when they stumble across a 4-year-old girl freezing on a balcony. Taking pity on her, Osamu takes her home to give her a hot meal.
His enthusiasm to help is not shared by his wife Nobuyo (Ando Sakura) who is already struggling to feed their own family on their very limited income.. They just about get by on her factory job, Granny’s pension and Osamu’s occasional casual labor gigs, but the moment she espies burn marks on the small girl’s arm, she quickly changes her mind and decides she should stay.
Little Yuri (Sasaki Miyu) is no hurry to leave and is happy to move in and be part of the family. Grandma (Kiki Kilin) dotes on her, as does Nobuyo’s older sister Aki (Matsuoka Mayu), who works behind a one-way mirror in a strip club. Most important though is how Yuri latches on to Shota who is persuaded by his father to train her in the family tradition of shoplifting for food.
By the time Yuri’s disappearance from her own family starts making the TV news the family are so determined she shouldn’t go back to that unsafe environment that they naively cut her hair to disguise her and rename her Rin.
The actual family dynamics are something of a mystery until in the last half hour of the film when Shota is in custody at the Police Station and there is one big revelation scene with multiple endings and emotional wrap-ups.
Although Koreeda opts to include large swathes of the story which are never fully explained, his compassionate eye for the minute details of this dysfunctional family’s life makes this movie so utterly compelling. He doesn’t question the morality of the family kidnapping the child but lays out the facts for us to draw our own conclusions.
With pitch perfect performances, partculary from Ando Sakura as Nobuyo and Lily Franky as Osamu, and naturally scene stealing appearances by Sasaki Miyu as Yuri, The Shoplifters is so worthy of the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Picture that it is bound to get.