Now out on DVD and HD from Magnolia.
Family is a favorite theme for Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda: from the switched-at-birth kids in Like Father, Like Son to the joy of getting to know a half-sister in Our Little Sister to the feeling of disappointing a parent or child in After the Storm. In his Cannes award-winning (and Oscar-nominated) Shoplifters, family is what you make of it. A small group of misfits who have ties to one another, yet are unrelated by blood, live in a crowded house together.
Young Shota (Jyo Kairi) has learned the furtive art of shoplifting from Osamu (Lily Franky, a frequent presence in Kore-eda films), who pesters the boy to call him Dad. One evening, after a productive visit to the grocery store, they overhear a couple yelling and see a quiet, scared little girl left out on a balcony. Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) is rescued and taken in by the makeshift family, who quickly becomes attached to her. Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), the jaded mother figure, feels a particular affinity with the neglected child.
Nobuyo confides to Grandma (Kirin Kiki, in one of her final roles), “Sometimes it’s better to choose your family.” This statement is repeated in the 2018 film, and is at the core of Shoplifters. Nobuyo and Osamu may make ethically hazy life decisions, but they truly care for Grandma and the family they have built. Their lifestyle is uncertain, but their connection to one another is tighter than that in homes of some more traditional families.
While Grandma is the figure who ties the group together (since they live in her house), Nobuyo is the head of the household. Ando plays the character as someone aware of the precariousness of her situation, yet opens her heart to a child who has been abused as she was. Osamu yearns for Shota to see him as a father and Nobuyo becomes a loving mother to Yuri. When things fall apart, Nobuyo wipes tears from her face in such a way that stuck in my mind days afterward. Ando’s performance in the emotionally raw close-up is that distinct and memorable.
Shoplifters is an excellent introduction to Kore-eda’s style, for any unfamiliar with his earlier work. From the first scene to the heart-breaking last, the filmmaker draws us into the world of these unconventional characters. It is hard to let them go.
Shoplifters releases on HD and DVD from Magnolia Tues, Feb. 12. The DVD package contains no special features, unfortunately.