'Shoplifters' Review: A fresh, humane, poignant and a must watch

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Tanmay Shukla

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

The 2018 Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters is a sort of film that illustrates the expansive scope of cinema as a medium. The director Hirokazu Koreeda is not experimenting with the elements of film, he is captain of the ship—he knows exactly where he wants to go and the path he is going to follow. He is confident and patient as a filmmaker. It is all about the screenplay. It’s so well written that there is no need for any non-linear narrative, fancy camerawork, disorienting editing or extravagant production. What it needed was excellent acting and fastidious direction which it has and you have a masterpiece from Koreeda. The screenplay of Shoplifters written by Koreeda himself is a work of sheer genius. The observations are empathetic and compassionate. There is an attempt to understand people in poverty beyond economic hardship.

Shoplifters starts with Osamu, a middle aged man, and Shota, a young boy, who are shoplifting from a grocery store. Shota is carrying a bag-pack which he stuffs with his theft. Osamu has a wife Nobuya. Both work at low paying jobs. Love doesn’t glue them together, exigency of their predicament does. Aki is a teenager and she works at a strip club. The family largely runs on Grandma Hatsue’s pension. The sixth and newest member is Yuri, a homeless little girl who was abused by her parents. To write more about what happens will only diminish the impact of all the surprises that Koreeda throws at us not to keep you at the edge of your seat, but to challenge the typical notions of family.

As Shoplifters progresses it takes complete hold of your emotions. You don’t realise this because there is no contrivance. The rhythm and flow doesn’t imitate real life, it emerges from the same, so it seems. Every action is precisely and purposefully written that progression of story doesn’t come to notice until you look back. The performances Koreeda has prized out of his ensemble cast is faultless and it is primarily on acting the success of Shoplifters is dependent upon when you have a sublime screenplay full of powerful moments. Sakura Ando as Nobuyo still manages to stand out in what is overall refined performance across the cast and the emotional frailty of this idiosyncratic family is naturally expressed.

Shoplifters is full of funny exchanges, but there are quite a few intense ones too. In one scene, Aki is with a guy who was a customer at the strip club (one-way mirror). Aki is lonely and finds his company comforting. He is quiet but Aki is still happy. She shares a bond with the grandma whom she tells everything that happens in her life. In another scene, Nobuya and Osamu have a moment together and they make love. Osamu is too old for Nobuya but something has been building between them after all. Everyone even in this family finds something in togetherness.

Shoplifters explores what the threads holding a family together are made of and the answer reveals that its contents aren’t as simple as we believe them to be. It is sympathetic and warm-hearted film until its catastrophic culmination. It is so as by now we care about them and the revelations are too significant to be ignored, and we feel for them. “Maybe the bond is stronger when you choose your family.” When we look in the eyes of Shota and Yuri, it seems to be the truth.

Note: Shoplifters was recently screened at MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2018.

Rating: 8/10

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